Management Magazine
Technology

Technology stirs up farming

The future looks very bright for small-scale farmers as the initiatives embracing the power of technology keep increasing by the day.

By THRITY ENGINEER – MBUTHIA

When one goes into business, the first step is assessing the viability of the business. Is there a potential market for the product? If it is one sector that has a ready answer to that question, it would be agribusiness. Food is a necessary and essential commodity for human beings and animals too. 

Perspectives

Mary is a self-proclaimed foodie. She loves a great steak with mushroom sauce and fresh veggies. Having grown up in the city, Mary has no clue how cattle or goats are reared. She has no idea whether mushrooms grow below the ground or above the ground and how much sunlight they need. Asparagus, french beans and peas are some of her favorite vegetables, but again she can’t tell you much about how these vegetables are grown. Mary does like her ingredients to be fresh and has often wondered what it would take if she invested in her own farm. Where would she start? She has no clue.

Emily is a dairy farmer in Eldoret. She has a full- time job as a finance director but has set up a farm with a focus on milk production, and wants to expand into production of dairy products like cheese and yogurt. Emily’s challenge is that her educational background has not prepared her for agribusiness, so she doesn’t understand diseases affecting dairy cattle or how to increase milk yield based on the quality and type of feeds. Her farm hands have been misleading her and she has lost a lot of money.

Mutua has a small farm where he plants watermelons. He grows and sells water melons to support his family and is able to pay school fees for his five children. Mutua wishes he could sell the water melons in Nairobi where he is sure to get better returns, but does not know where and how to go about this. He also needs a loan so that he can scale up his business. This is proving impossible to get.

Emily and Mutua are small scale farmers who are trying to support their families and invest in agribusiness. Yet the dearth of information in this area, is hampering their efforts – from the low yields and low profitability, to challenges of accessing markets, credit options and farming equipment. Mary could be a potential investor but does not have the relevant knowledge. 

One million farmer initiative

The World Bank Group recently partnered with various stakeholders in the country to introduce the one million farmer initiative aimed at increasing food production. The initiative wants to use digital technologies to assist farmers to access important information that can help them with their farming projects and provide details like possible routes to market. The initiative is in its infancy stage where the first phase includes selecting a group of tech innovators and putting them into an incubation program that will allow the development of specific tech that is designed to assist small-scale farmers.

In 2017 SAP launched a program called SAP Rural Sourcing Management solution with the aim of connecting smallholder farmers and suppliers within the supply chain and to reduce wastage of food produced by ensuring it gets to market.

According to the Founder360 website which focuses on entrepreneurs, innovation and technology advances, the agricultural sector in Kenya employs close to 40 per cent of the total population. It also notes that small-scale farmers do not have access to modern implements and information thus they rely on traditional methods of farming. It goes ahead to highlight startups that are focusing on assisting agribusiness and small-scale farmers in different ways.

At farmers’ disposal

Farm Drive is one such start up that aims to support small scale farmers to access credit facilities even if the farmer is unbanked, providing access to much needed capital to improve production. It embraces the use of data and analytics to access the risk factors before it gives out loans.

Ujuzi Kilimo uses the internet of things (IoT) devices that can monitor and provide data on weather, soil conditions and pest control measures. The vast amounts of data collected and analytics provided mean farmers are making data driven decisions and these can be made in real time. Farmers can also get information on market prices and plan adequately.

Twiga Foods is a mobile based supply platform that connects retailers to the producers of fresh produce, meaning good quality products get to market at lower prices resulting in benefits all the way to the end consumer. 

Websites like Mfarm.co.ke have blog posts that provide information on how to get into first time farming. Safaricom runs a platform called DigiFarm which helps farmers access information and credit among other benefits.

With all these initiatives embracing the power of technology, the future looks very bright for small scale farmers. Emily can expand her business and diversify the portfolio of products, Mutua can invest in better quality inputs and get more profits and Mary can venture into agribusiness without fear, knowing there is great support available. With changes in global weather patterns, delayed or scanty rainfall, the country needs food security and reserves to ensure its citizens have access to affordable and good quality nutrition. 

Let us embrace technology for we must eat! 

Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia is a PhD student of management and leadership at Management University of Africa. She is also a certified executive coach and marketer.  Email: info@thrityengineer.org

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