In an attempt to help farmers in Kenya and sub Saharan Africa improve their productivity, a group of scientists known as geospatial experts have develop an internet based information hub that will avail instant information to farmers on relevant seeds and potential markets for their produce.
Dubbed a “commons” approach, the service is aimed at offering appropriate farming techniques and markets to farmers as a motivation to improve their productivity.
With this service, what a farmer will need to do is text the word agcommons platform from his/her mobile phones to 368674; enter the name of his or her city, village or place one is located. The system will then return an SMS message with nearest location where the farmer can get the service requested.
They then enter the name of a city or place (e.g. Nairobi or Embu or Kisumu etc). Farmers are required to enter 1 for seeds dealers, 2 for treadle pump dealers and 3 to get nearby soil types
Alternatively, the farmer will visit the website platform (www.agcommonsplatform.org) that is designed to provide the farmers, extension and general population with a rapid mechanism to access relevant agricultural information on their fingertips in a convenient manner.
“This information will allow farmers to plan and decide more effectively which crops or livestock will perform best on their farms, anticipate and manage disease outbreaks and rainfall shortfalls, and make decisions where to sell the produce,” said the Director of Agricultural Geospatial Commons (AgCommons), Mr Laban MacOpiyo.
According to MacOpiyo, the approach will enable farmers to communicate their rich knowledge of various aspects of farming back to the groups and organizations working with them.
“Our concern has been how to take relevant research papers and journal reports from the National research institutions in the continent to the farmers to help solve their poor harvest and marketing problems,” he added.
AgCommons argues that if smallholder farmers are to be consistently successful, from one season to another, and from one year to another, they need to have access to essential geospatial information.
“We provide the National Drought Observation Committee with daily information on the drought situation from Mandera East in semi arid northern Kenyan,” Mr. Mandhi Sehmi of Kencall said.
To date, AgCommons in collaboration with the Green Applab has built and tested five programmes including a mobile tool for reporting pest & disease outbreaks in Uganda.
One of them is the Kencall helpline in Kenya that connects farmers with agriculture experts who thereafter respond to their questions. After analyzing the data, Kencall communicate back to the farmers with a solution to their problems.
The programmes range from an early-warning crop disease application to providing timely advice on management of crop disease.
These initiatives are aimed at improving the incomes and lives of Kenyan farmers and in the larger Sub-Saharan Africa region who have relied on their own instinct in deciding which crop to plant, when to harvest, and where to sell the produce.
The agcommons tool was developed following five studies that were conducted in 2009 in West Africa, Uganda and Ethiopia.
These studies came up with the following products which are being replicated to other areas and countries. These are:
- Map of infrastructure important to smallholder farmers, such as roads, irrigation equipment, water reservoirs, and markets in Ethiopia.
- Network of testing sites to increase bean, maize, cowpea and sorghum yields;
- An early-warning crop disease application to provide farmers with timely treatment advice in Uganda;
- New methodology and dissemination of data for mapping markets where improved drought-tolerant bean seeds are available for purchase.