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New app seeks to weed out counterfeit seeds and provide options

By Jeckonia Otieno | April 23rd 2016

Imagine you are from Homa Bay and you visit your farmer friend in Nyandarua. You notice his farm is flourishing with sweet potatoes. You immediately start wondering why you cannot replicate the same back in your farm in Kabondo.

You pick a few vines and plant them in your farm. You then tenderly care for the crop hoping for the same results.

After a few months, the crop fails miserably and you are left wondering where you went wrong.

The simple reason for your crops failure is that the two areas are different ecologically. Crops that do well in one area might not necessarily do well in the other.

To address this problem, a novel app that seeks to eliminate such situations by ensuring that farmers are informed about the best choice of seeds for their regions has been developed.

The app, known as Mbegu Choice, seeks to make it easier not only for farmers to get the right seeds, but also for seed companies to supply the right seeds to areas better suited for them.

Launched in June 2015, the app is rapidly gaining currency and is expected to drive rogue seed suppliers out of business as farmers will find it easier to decide on the kind of seeds for their farms and when to plant them.

Noel Templer of Agri Experience Limited, a consulting firm for seed system development in Sub-Saharan Africa, says lack of proper information on seeds for farmers led to development of the app.

Templer says Kenya is not food secure because farmers lack knowledge on proper seeds for their zones. About 43 per cent of Kenyans are food insecure.

"Farmers find it difficult to get the right variety which leads to recycling of seeds that are not compatible with a particular zone. Mbegu Choice seeks to address this problem," says Templer.

But it may be hard for farmers in the rural areas to use the app.

"Farmers in the village who have android phones or internet access, can get the information easily," says Templer.

To make it easy to use, the app comes in two languages – English and Kiswahili - and can be downloaded from Google Playstore.

Once the app has been successfully installed into a mobile device, English, it asks for the county where the farm is situated, the ecological zone, and the crop to be planted.

On filling these details, the app displays an array of results on seeds that can grow favourably in the chosen area.

The app provides additional details like speed of maturity, special characteristics and whether the seed is drought tolerant or not and if best for long or short rains. This filters the results for the farmer to ensure he gets the best desired seed.

Currently, the app only caters for food crops but will be expanded to cover vegetables.

Templer says with the app, companies will shift their focus to different areas of the country by doing more research and supplying the right seeds for the right areas.

"We've worked with the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (Kephis) and Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) to come up with this app," says Templer.

With this system, counterfeit seeds may be history as the app will eliminate the challenges of getting proper information on crops.

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