Management Magazine
Technology

Farming on the screen

Easily accessible mobile applications are moving farmers into the realm of technologically backed farming.

BY WANJIKU KIMANI

The Kenyan agribusiness sector is a lucrative, yet underestimated industry, being well known for the widespread flower, tea, and coffee export markets. Currently, agriculture is the second largest contributor to Kenya’s GDP and contributes more than 50 per cent of revenue gained from exports. This in itself is enough reason for one to consider delving into the industry, and with more youth entering into agribusiness, it is shedding its longstanding label of a backward career, thanks to penetration of technology in almost every aspect of farming. The following are ways technology is causing a revolution in agriculture.

Budgeting

The first step in any business is a business plan, which is closely followed by a budget including all necessary expenditures and income streams so as to decide if it is viable. In terms of farming, this is achieved by an application called Budget Mkononi. This simple application provides instructions on how to farm a specific commodity, estimated costs of inputs, as well as a monthly cost summary that summarises saving requirements, and the breakdown of each cent spent. Farmers may feel inadequate if they do not have an accountant on hand to explain tricky issues, but this application offers farmers a way to manage those costs themselves and be able to prioritise their necessities as time goes by. By combining guidance from smart agriculturists, technologists and along with data techno, this is a modern techno-efficient yet supportive product, especially for youth farmers. 

Market information and consultancy 

By looking at a farm as a complete ecosystem, with processes and procedures, just like an office-based organisation, one can see the need to fully map the practices involved on all levels of the business. One application that lets farmers do just that – especially small hold farmers – is Digifarm which works to ‘digitise the entire agriculture value chain, end-to-end’, according to a comment from Safaricom’s M-Agri Business lead. One of its major aims is to provide trusted advice on what plants to grow, therefore being a reliable source of knowledge and information. Another form of support they offer is loans through inputs via numerous technologically backed depots as well as connecting them to relevant markets, decreasing the level of disconnect between the supply and demand. 

Although not necessarily an app in the normal sense, M-Shamba uses SMS and voice tools to link farmers to markets and help them grow high-quality crops, according to the requirements of that specific market. Mbegu Choice which translates into ‘Seed Choice’ gives updates about crop and fertilizer prices as well as the most appropriate seeds to plant given the location and weather patterns. M-Farm gives information on the best pricing for products, connects sellers with buyers and lets farmers buy goods directly from competitively priced suppliers and manufacturers.

Financial services

Farming industry in Kenya requires much financial backing to make it successful. A major problem small-holder farmers face is access to financing, with institutions being wary due to the risk involved and lack of comprehensive data to back such projects. According to Mercy Corps, the advent of digital services available to farmers “can facilitate quantitative measurement of the risks and rewards of lending to farmers.”

This is possible with technology, which keeps records of buying behaviours, geospatial information, analyses of the movement of their products through the value chain combined with weather and soil data. For creditors to take risks, enough data must be gathered and analysed, organised and stored.  One provider of such service is FarmDrive; an innovative Kenyan app which was developed with the main aim of connecting farmers to “loans and financial management tools” through their mobile phones.  It allows users to keep records of their expenses, income and farm yields, as well as apply for loans after the collation of credit scores for smallholder farmers. 

Pest and disease control

One of the reasons that farming is such a risky business is the threat of diseases and pests, which can often leave farms decimated, and farmers in debt. Agrio is an app that uses artificial intelligence to identify various threats to plants. By uploading images of crops to the ‘cloud community’, the farmer can receive advice from experts in the agronomy sector or information from algorithms “for automatic disease, pest and nutrient deficiency identification.” Farmers are then able to make informed decisions as to the choice of pesticides and fungicides, saving on costly mistakes and reducing overall losses. Plantix is another app which provides similar solutions including health checks, access to a community of experts and a comprehensive disease library of common problems with plants and their various treatments. 

The sure march of technology cannot be slowed, and its impact is being felt even more strongly in agribusiness, with more young people viewing farming as a viable venture. Their desire for more connection and easier access to information and resources means digifarming is quickly becoming the new frontier and farmers would do well to keep abreast with each exciting development.

Wanjiku Kimani is a Digital Marketer and journalist with Edge Media in Nairobi. Email: wkimani1989@gmail.com

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