Smart phones penetration and high rate of digital innovations have seen Kenya ranked the leading country in the use of technology in agriculture across the continent.
A report released by European Union-funded CTA firm, reveals that there has been a comparatively rapid growth in penetration of mobile phones in rural Kenya as more farmers turn to digital solutions in seeking guidance for their farming challenges.
“While Digitalisation for Agriculture (D4Ag) solutions are present in at least 43 out of 49 Sub-Sahara African countries, over half of the solutions are headquartered in East Africa and nearly two-thirds of registered farmers across all solutions are based in EAC region, with Kenya leading the way,” says the report.
Food and Agriculture Organisation country director Gabriel Rugalema says technology can help farmers in enhancing their productivity in the wake of climate change that has come with dwindling yields.
“We have seen the benefits that come with technology and embracing it will help a great deal in ensuring sufficient production,” says Dr Rugalema.
The report, which was released by the Dutch-based firm this week in Accra, notes that 25 percent of smallholder farmers in countries like Kenya and Senegal have reported access to smartphones with these numbers projected to grow quickly in the coming years.
The report says an inclusive, digitally-enabled agricultural transformation could help achieve meaningful livelihood improvements for Africa’s 250 million smallholder farmers and pastoralists.
“Technology could drive greater engagement in agriculture from women and young people and support employment opportunities along the agricultural value chain and it could help build resilience to climate change,” reads the report.
However, the survey raises concerns over low numbers of women who have adopted technology despite being the gender that forms the biggest segment of those participating in farming.
“The relative uptake among women is low especially considering the disproportionate burden they bear on the farm. In Sub-Saharan Africa where 50 percent of smallholder farmers are women, only 25 percent of them are registered users of D4Ag,” the report notes.
“Digitisation for agriculture” is the use of digital technologies, innovations, and data to transform business models and practices across the agricultural value chain and address bottlenecks in the sector.
Some of the hurdles that can be tackled by technology include low productivity, postharvest handling, market access, finance, and supply chain management to achieve greater income for smallholder farmers, improve food and nutrition security, build climate resilience and expand inclusion of youth and women.
Kenya’s Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga says those in charge of coming up with the technology should craft tailor-made products that will enhance adoption of agricultural innovation by women.
“Women are still affected by the cultural issues and the developers of these technologies should consider coming up with the ideas that will favour them and increase their use,” says Prof Boga.
The study reveals that companies that directly target female farmers and make this an important measure of their success tend to do better. Overall, the data suggest that companies are not sufficiently prioritising gender as part of their product design, marketing and user engagement efforts.
SMobile-based agriculture technology firms in Kenya are Digifarm, Farmdrive, icow and a host of other applications.
Founder and chief executive officer of Farmdrive Peris Bosire says they have designed a product that works well in addressing the challenges faced by farmers.
Farmdrive, which offers loans to farmers has come in handy at a time when banks have shied away from extending credit to farmers because they are deemed risky in terms of repayment.
“Our application does not only give loans to farmers but it also offers market solution to the growers and give them access to insurance,” says Ms Bosire, whose Farmdrive started two years ago and has so far issued Sh200 million in loans.