Despite being the largest agricultural country in the East African market, the Kenyan market is experiencing a lot of hardships in creating more room for high production. Small scale farmers particularly need that help, to scale up from subsistence farming and enable them achieve full economic benefits and make farming a profitable venture.
Losses associated with drought, floods, poor farming practices and pests and diseases pose a threat to small scale farmers’ income. This is why Digifarm was launched, to enrich the lives of these farmers.
DigiFarm offers smallholding farmers access to a suite of information and financial services, including discounted products, customised information on farming best practices, and access to credit and other financial facilities. It aims to digitize the entire agriculture value chain, end-to-end. Simply put, connect the guy who produces, to the guy who buys, to the guy who processes.
DigiFarm has registered one million farmers and held a pilot this year, giving farmers in Makueni high quality seeds and fertilizers to plant green grams in an acre of land.
Green grams is a drought resistant crop that takes two heavy rains to mature - about 3 months.
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The harvest would then be sold back to digifarm. We spoke to farmers of Makueni to really understand if digifarm is the solution they seek to the prevailing industry impediments.
John is one of the local small scale farmers who was contracted Digifarm last year. He has been a farmer for 15 years. He used to farm maize but the yield was low, so he turned to KS20 green grams. He says he was excited by the Digifarm initiative and planted the 5kg of green grams in an acre piece of land.
“The rains were low this season. I managed to get 65kgs that I harvested and sold the produce to Digifarm early August. I have been farming in large scale, normally over 15 acres. Usually I get 4 100kg-bags.”
He had the highest yield among the farmers from Emali-Malala ward where they had some rains though insufficient. Other areas farmers harvested less than a kg.
“The biggest problem is market. Selling our produce used to be hard. There are so many brokers exploiting farmers. For instance a kg of green grams was as low as Sh40. But with Digifarm, we get Sh100 per kilo, the highest price ever. Sometimes the brokers would pick produce and take to the market only to say the price lowered and we would have no alternative.”
He says that Digifarm has been very helpful, despite the low rains and is a breakthrough to the farmers. The farmers were educated on how to grow green grams, given a facility for loans and access to a shop.
Pests and diseases
Stella, another farmer in Makueni was unfortunate to not receive any yields. She joined Digifarm in April this year. She also farms maize, cowpeas, pigeon peas and has been getting good yields in the past.
But this past season the rains were very low. She only harvested 4kgs. This, she says, was not enough to sell but to eat at home with her five children.
“The rains were low, but that’s not all. Pests in the fields caused a lot of damage. I plan to be more vigilant in spraying pesticides on the crops this next season.”
The nearest depot where pesticides are sold is in Makindi and Sultan, a huge distance from Makueni. Although Emali has no depot, plans are underway to set up one, to give farmers access to agronomists who advise them on issues such as what pesticides to get for their crops.
Steven is an unsatisfied farmer, unhappy with the season’s yields. He says, for him, the help he would require is a tractor or a way to facilitate farming. He has more than 40 acres but can only farm about 10 acres. From the harvest, he got 4kgs per acre.
“John is the hardest worker in this village. I retired 17 years ago, but John just left work 10 years ago. He still has the zeal and strength of a young man. I used to work like him too. But over the years rain has been unpredictable and I have been farming less and less.”
The effects of climate change are very clear. That is where Digifarm comes in. In collaboration with Pula Insurance, they bundle insurance products with farm inputs, such as fertilizer, seeds, or credit.
Because of this, those farmers who were covered by insurance will be able to pick up new bags and enjoy a successful harvest in the latter part of the season. The concept of insurance is still unfamiliar to most farmers but knowing that in case the crop fails, the insurance will compensate has warmed them up to the idea.
Beatrice, like her 3 counterparts, says she got nothing this season. She is disappointed with the yields but still knows there is need for Digifarm. With rain she says even 5 or 6 bags would have been possible.
“They came here, did soil testing and taught us how to farm. They said soil testing is beneficial for good yield.”
Poor yields, weak plants and more fertilizer expenses are all a result from this lack of information farmers have. Information on how to farm effectively using moderm technology will go a long way to preserve Kenyan soil.