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Small scale farmers bet on new data platform to increase returns

BUSINESS
By Mark Oloo | Apr 26th 2015 | 3 min read
By Mark Oloo | April 26th 2015
BUSINESS

An initiative aimed at ensuring effective management of resources through automated record keeping is bearing fruit in Meru County.

Sokopepe, a social enterprise set up by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), an NGO that works with farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, is helping farmers turn the tide through record keeping, which now enables them determine if certain crops are profitable.

Through an innovation known as Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS), Sokopepe supports small scale farmers, who rarely keep records, to nurture that habit.

Sokopepe maintains a central server which captures and maintains critical data relating to farming throughout the production cycle captured through a smartphone or computer. Speaking last week during the launch of a county agricultural production report produced using data from FARMIS, Meru County Government, through Director of Agriculture Dionisia M’Eruaki, said through such initiatives, food insecurity will be reduced.

According to the report, most farmers in Meru use cash and their own savings to finance agriculture. Only 0.02 per cent of the farmers finance their agricultural activities using loans. This could be limiting because poor access to capital means farmers cannot acquire inputs on time or they may not afford recommended amounts of fertiliser and certified seeds.

Empower farmers

However, with ready records kept through the platform, farmers will have the capacity to make informed decisions on what to plant, where to get credit and markets. ALIN and partners involved in the FARMIS innovation say access to farming information, markets and credit awareness are key to stemming food insecurity. They have been using training institutions, churches, documentaries and exhibitions to sensitise farmers on the value of record keeping.

Under the FARMIS initiative, each farmer invests in a farm book which captures information about the name of the farmer, location of the farm, size and key farming assets and tools. This enables the system to create complete profile of the farmer.

During the growing season, the farmer records all aspects of the crop production cycle such as land preparation; treatment and weed control; harvesting; post-harvest activities; and marketing. The amount of money spent at each stage is recorded. The same information is captured in digital form through a smart phone or computer and posted to a central server maintained by Sokopepe.

So far more than 6,000 farmer profiles have been captured. The piloting of the FARMIS innovation is being done in five selected sub-counties in Meru namely: Imenti Central; North Imenti; South Imenti; Buuri and Tigania West.

Funding support for the work has been provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Land O’ Lakes/Kenya Feed the Future Innovation Engine. With the completion of the pilot period for the project, Sokopepe Deployment Coordinator Anthony Mugo says they plan to expand the service all sub-counties in Meru, while working closely with the county government and other stakeholders.

“Having seen the value added by having accurate primary data directly from farmers, we believe such data can inform many aspects of planning that can empower small scale farmers to improve their incomes, livelihoods and food security,” said Mugo.

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