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Extension services in Kenya go hi-tech to boost yields

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Nicholas Waitathu | Jun 24th 2014 | 3 min read
By Nicholas Waitathu | June 24th 2014
FINANCIAL STANDARD

NAIROBI, KENYA: The agriculture sector is acquiring a modern face as the Government, social enterprise institutions and communication firms introduce farmers to new technologies.

This, stakeholders say, will go a long way towards revolutionising the agriculture sector, which has long relied on traditional farming techniques that are unable to keep up with current climate and population pressures.

Further, the new applications will help bridge the digital and generational divide in agriculture.

Already, a large number of young people have taken up farming and succeeded in it because they can use devices like their mobile phones to access the latest data on produce prices, and avoid being duped by unscrupulous middlemen. This is critical because, according to the ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, the average age of a Kenya farmer is 61, a situation stakeholders warn could be the undoing of the sector’s productivity if not tamed.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Sicily Kariuki said the Government will fast track uptake of innovations by farmers.

Ms Mary Kamau, the director of extension and training at the ministry of Agriculture, speaking at the launch of the Agritec-Africa International Exhibition and Conference last week in Nairobi, said: “Young people have become the main beneficiaries of the new technology and are, therefore, contributing to the high productivity.”

THE REFORMS

Further, she said, farmers are receiving information while undertaking farming activities, unlike in the past when they had to wait for extension officers to visit their farms and guide them on what to do.

Information dissemination to farmers was since independence to the mid-1980s was the prerogative of the Government through extension officers.

However, the introduction of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) changed things.

The reforms advocated by the institutions led to the liberalisation of the agriculture sector, reducing the Government’s presence in it.

But now, nearly 30 years later, the Government has revived the recruitment of extension officers, and enriched their services with modern technology.

Ms Kamau said the Government has introduced an e-Extension platform that has 654 extension officers stationed in 654 wards in all counties.

The officers have computers and smartphones to enable them assist farmers in their areas of jurisdiction.

Each officer is required to register more than 2,000 farmers who will benefit from the ministry’s data and pointers on crop management, marketing and weather patterns.

Mr James Wanjohi, the assistant director in the e-Extension department, said the new system has so far reached one million farmers.

PHONE APPLICATIONS

“The programme intends to recruit 5,600 extension officers. We have already engaged the counties and they are willing to take up the matter, with a view to increasing agricultural productivity.

“The partnership between the national and county governments and private sector is geared towards reaching more than five million farmers.”

Private sector players, accredited by the Government, have developed mobile phone applications for small-scale farmers.

Farmers can now access information on food production, marketing, disease and pest prevalence, nature of the soil, availability of planting materials, early disaster warnings and rainfall patterns.

Kamau confirmed that the ministry has so far approved more than 20 m-Farming innovations.

“We are determined to ensure farmers at the bottom of the pyramid as well as those in arid and semi-arid lands benefit from the latest information,” she said.

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