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Bright days ahead for sunflower farmers on Safaricom’s platform

Makueni Governor, Kivutha Kibwana witnessed the
Makueni Governor, Kivutha Kibwana witnessed the purchase of the first crop. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Farmers are looking at better days ahead after Safaricom launched a mobile-based platform, DigiFarm, aimed at making it easy to produce and sell.

Through DigiFarm, farmers can get a market for their produce, credit to buy farm inputs and seek extension services.

Speaking to Business Daily, Safaricom’s director of enterprises, Rita Okuthe said DigiFarm has potential to transform the lives of farmers and the overall economic growth of the country.

“Our aim is to ensure that all DigiFarm services are available throughout the county so that farmers can get access to right information, affordable credit facilities, quality farm inputs and most important to ensure they earn money from their produce,” said Ms Okuthe.

Since its launch in 2017, DigiFarm has registered one million farmers with over 200,000 using the service regularly and 14,000 of them have accessed credit facility.

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“We see a great opportunity to reach a market of approximately 20 million farmers,” Ms Okuthe added.

The DigiFarm service pack also includes soil testing at a subsidised cost of Sh300, with a detailed report, complete with recommendations, available to farmers five minutes after submitting the samples.

Makueni sunflower farmers are among the first to benefit from this innovation after DigiFarm entered into a deal with vegetable oil and soap manufacturer, Bidco Company, to offer a market for their produce.

Bidco has entered into a partnership with DigiFarm to buy the sunflower to supplement the produce it obtains from farmers in neighbouring Tanzania.

The sunflower production journey in Makueni started in November last year when Bidco, through DigiFarm, contracted 640 farmers to plant the crop for the pilot project.

Bidco has allocated Kenyan farmers a 2,000 metric tonnes quota out of the 10,000 metric tonnes of sunflower seeds it requires to manufacture its products annually.

“We are ready to buy all the sunflower seeds grown in the country,” the head of agribusiness at Bidco, John Kariuki, said during a ceremony to buy sunflower seeds at Kathonzweni township in Makueni three weeks ago.

The farmers who agreed to put at least one acre under sunflower, were given seeds and Sh5,000 as seed capital each

The money was in the form of e-vouchers loaded into their handsets. It is redeemed at DigiFarm kiosks that stock agrochemicals and other farm inputs.

DigiFarm then gives growers credit scores based on their historical farm data.

These scores are used in determining the amount of credit for which individual farmers qualify.

A team of DigiFarm extension officers, known as village advisers, monitor the progress of their investments in all the farms.

Those in need of pesticides are advised to go for it at DigiFarm kiosks which have mushroomed across the region.

The successful pilot project covered 941 hectares, and yielded 941 metric tonnes of sunflower seed valued at about Sh35 million.

In Marakwet, DigiFarm facilitated production of potatoes. By end of March, the farmers are looking at selling over one million kilogrammes of potatoes.

In Meru, DigiFarm is working with farmers to start avocado farming in March.

Makueni Governor, Kivutha Kibwana witnessed the purchase of the first crop. The farmers are paid for their produce through M-Pesa.

Makueni was identified as a model county for sunflower seed-growing in the country.

“We are glad that the farmers now have a guaranteed market for their produce, therefore eliminating the perennial problem of brokers exploiting farmers with very poor prices.

“DigiFarm is a revolution in agriculture in Africa and the entire Third World,” said Prof Kibwana.

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