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Kenyan farmer wins award for platform that tackles climate change

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By Lee Mwiti | April 18th 2016
By Lee Mwiti | April 18th 2016
FINANCIAL STANDARD
Boniface Akuku

Boniface Akuku, 46, is firmly walking the agro-tech path.

He is a farmer, an information technology PhD student at the University of Cape Town, a climate change activist and an entrepreneur.

He is also this year’s winner of the Climate Information Award, funded by UKAid and that carries with it a Sh1.5 million cash award.

Mr Akuku was recognised for his innovative virtual platform, Pawa-Farm, that provides weather advisory services for small-scale farmers. Its mission is to help farmers handle climate risks, such as prolonged droughts or floods.

“Climate bodies like the Kenya Meteorological Department gather and provide weather and climate . The problem is that farmers do not know how to handle this data,” Akuku said.

“Pawa-Farm takes this information, processes it and advises farmers on, for example, when there will be drought or too much rain. The platform also advises them on what to plant in order to minimise losses.”

To benefit from Pawa-Farm, a farmer must have access to an Internet-enabled device or a mobile phone to get SMS alerts.

The platform is a social enterprise, so it does not make profits. Farmers are currently accessing the service for free.

Pawa-Farm is already being used by 5,000 farmers in Makueni. Akuku intends to scale it up to other counties soon.

Environmental conditions

“The whole concept has proven very simple and useful. Farmers register the environmental conditions they live in and the farming activities they undertake. However, those with smartphones don’t need to register this information since their locations are easily accessed through GPS,” Akuku said.

“They then get alerts about impending weather conditions and recommendations on what they should plant.”

Akuku came up with the idea after growing tired of not getting the full benefits of farming, since the rains did not fall when expected, and he lacked sufficient information on drought projections.

After suffering numerous losses, he embarked on an academic journey to gain knowledge on climate change. He said a system like Pawa-Farm back then would have helped him make informed decisions about what to plant, saving him the losses he suffered.

“People have been depending on chance and luck to farm for long, and this has led to below optimal productivity,” he said.

“Climate change is such a dangerous thing since, according to the World Meteorological Organisation’s 2011 report, by 2050, global warming will have increased by 0.4 per cent. Compare this with the fact that since the world began until now, global warming has increased by a meagre 0.2 per cent.”

This means that in the next 35 years, global warming will occur at the same rate it has since the beginning of the world, Akuku added.

Kenya is already witnessing the effects of extreme weather conditions. Last year, crop production dipped due to drought and unfavourable weather patterns.

A bill on climate change has been tabled in Parliament that calls for the creation of a National Climate Change Council. The council will, among other things, co-ordinate the formulation of national and county climate change action plans, strategies and policies. It will also make these available to the public.

Akuku is one of the lobbyists for the law.

“ICT is an enabler and driver of innovation, which drives the economy. Virtual platforms like Pawa-Farm will also change the way climate change information is handled and help combat its threats.”

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