New technologies set to boost farmers’ incomes

Samuel Kamya, founder of Eska app, explains how it works. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Eska detects crop diseases, Arinifu’s digital brooder monitors health of poultry, while Soko+ links farmers to the market

Kenyan farmers can increase their annual profits by between 7.1 per cent and 76.3 per cent with the use of digital farming technologies that can be helpful in keeping records and monitoring crop and livestock health, according to a 2015 research conducted by UK innovation foundation Nesta.

Such technologies, which include mobile applications, enhance farming activities and improve yields.

Therefore, government institutions such as the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and industry experts are driving the adoption of these tools in a bid to reduce post-harvest losses through provision of timely and accurate information directly to the farmers’ phones.

Eska, a mobile app developed by botanist and biochemist Samuel Kamya, is used to detect crop diseases and deficiency of important nutrients such as phosphorus.

It was launched in August 2017, at a time when Sh150 billion worth of produce went to waste in the country due to pest infestation and inadequate market access.

“As a botanist, I understand the problems that farmers go through in order to benefit from farming; they have to overcome pest infestation, attack by diseases and a lack of nutrients. These problems can be solved by using software, so we developed an app that is powered by artificial intelligence,” said Kamya.

Once installed on an android smartphone, the user taps its icon, which accesses the smartphone’s camera. When pointed to a plant under investigation, it displays the results on the screen. By monitoring crops, the user is able to quarantine and deal with the infection decisively.

Users can also choose to destroy infected plants before they spread the disease any further sparing the uninfected crops. In order to monitor the health of poultry such as chicks, a digital brooder can come in handy. Arinifu, a technology company based in Nairobi develops the devices.

It is made up of a small analogue computer, some sensors and infrared lamps that can be used to monitor chicks brooding space and relay real-time information to the farmer through short message services (SMS).

This enables farmers to monitor the condition of the chicks and adjust them accordingly, predict the risk of disease infection, as well as suggest the right time for vaccination.

In this, farmers are able to prevent any infections or unfavourable conditions for the chicks. “Currently, we only deal with farmers in Nairobi and Kiambu County targeting about 40,000 poultry farmers as we look for more means to spread our services in the whole country,” said George Chege, an agronomist at Arinifu.

Besides monitoring health, these digital advancements can also help farmers source for markets for their produce. Soko+, an online digital commodity trading and information system, has linked more than 16,594 Meru farmers to bulk buyers across the country enabling them to earn more income and improve their livelihoods.

“We encourage farmers to aggregate their produce in bulk through formation of groups so as to improve their bargaining power in the negotiation process and earn better prices by reaching into desirable markets,” said Martin Murangari, the Operations Manager at Soko+.

However, farmers still face some challenges that limit their access to new technologies. “We have released that many farm management mobile apps are frequently accessed by users in developed countries instead of Kenya farmers due to a lack of Internet access,” said Simon Mulwa, ICT officer at Kalro.

- African Laughter

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