KALRO bets on technology to change farmers fortune

KALRO ICT Director Boniface Akuku.

Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) ICT Director Boniface Akuku recently won an award on mobile applications the organisation had developed under his leadership. He shares how KALRO is using ICT tools to help farmers.

1. Your innovations are poised to change the fortunes of farmers. what’s your education background?

I hold a Bsc. degree in IT from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Msc. In Computer Science. I am now a PhD candidate in Information Systems and a certified systems engineer.

2. You recently won a prestigious tech award. what’s this award about?

The Africa Tech Award took place on March 5 at the Century City Convention Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. It recognises the achievements of organisations and individuals using technology to deliver real results and return on investment for businesses in Africa.

The awards shine a spotlight on those creating and using digital platforms to create more profitable and connected businesses across Africa. The Africa Tech Week Awards brings together business leaders who are influencing technological change in South Africa and disrupting the status quo across all industries.

Those honoured at the ceremony aim to inspire other businesses and start-ups in the tech industry with world-class business cultures that drive innovation.

The winning companies and individuals are those who have demonstrated innovation and development through the use of technology.

Through harnessing digital disruption in a considered and strategic manner, these organisations and individuals are creating solutions that will ensure Africa isn’t left behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The main focus of Africa Tech Week is educating business people, entrepreneurs and governments operating in Africa to ensure Africa can overcome the unique challenges faced on the continent.

Using technology to take advantage of the opportunities available in the modern world, can ensure Africa survive and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

3. What made you stand out according to the judges?

I am not quite sure but I think it could be as a result of key achievements and impacts KALRO has made using ICT tools and innovations.

Under my leadership and with support of my boss, Dr Eliud Krieger, the Director General, KALRO has played a key role in addressing the gap between research and practice, mainly in the development of virtual platforms, ICT innovations and digitising the development of agricultural research value chain in Kenya.

As a result, this enabled KALRO to share and disseminate research knowledge to farmers. The platforms are widely used by farmers and stakeholders. Previously, I had been recognised as climate information prize winner in 2016 for developing platform that tackles climate change impacts on farmers.

4. You developed 20 applications that have helped farmers increase agricultural productivity. tell us about these apps

The downloads of the apps are high. This is a testament that farmers and the agricultural value chain actors are using these mobile apps. Recently, farmers in Nyeri, Kieni East, confirmed that their production increased substantially after applying the knowledge they obtained from KALRO mobile app on beans production.

5. What inspired you to develop these apps?

For long, agriculture has been very conservative, and agriculture must be digitally disrupted using technology to change it. Similarly, KALRO has a wealth of knowledge developed from research that should be made available to those who need the knowledge especially farmers. Subsequently, in today’s world, use of ICT has revolutionised many industries across the locally and globally and agriculture should not be an exceptional. However, one of the challenges faced is access to research data, information and knowledge (Agricultural technologies and management practices).

We also believe appropriate use of ICT has potential to attract many young people to consider agriculture as a business. Further, the agricultural sector is fast maturing in adopting digital technologies. Finally, KALRO has purposely decided to bridge the gap between research and what has happened in practice at farm level.   

6. Which areas of the country have they been rolled out and how are they changing lives of farmers?

Nyeri County is a perfect example. The indigenous Chicken app is the most downloaded followed by Avocado. Consequently, there has been a surge in poultry business in Kenya in the recent past and this could be partly attributed to the apps.

7. For farmers who have never heard of these apps, how can they enroll and get the benefits?

The apps are free and available on Play store. Type the word KALRO and install on the phone. Other digital platforms are available through our website.

8. There’s a gap between research and farming; how have you managed to bridge it?

Digitising research knowledge increases access, utilisation and re-use of the research output. In addition, creating awareness that the required information is available as part of public service delivery.

8. Data is the next big thing in agriculture. KALRO wants to ensure farmers have access to critical data that can transform their ventures.

Besides encouraging and initiating strategies and efforts to make research data, KALRO is in the process of establishing a platform including big data analytics and cloud ICT infrastructure. Additionally, data access layers, decision tools and visualisations will be developed enable the different stakeholders and experts to access the data and data services.  

9. Most researchers have been accused of keeping critical research findings in labs instead of sharing the info with farmers who need it. your take on this…

Improve access to information is always the way to go. It is better to seek solutions, and part of the solutions are what KALRO is doing.

10. What are some of the big plans you have for farmers 2019?

To continue to digitise the development of agricultural value chain in Kenya, have more ICT technological innovations and harness big data techniques such as predictive analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence as well as other advanced digital approaches that can increase access research information and knowledge. This is because digital revolution and use of much data as possible are part of plans ahead.  

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