Phone Apps for Smart Farmers.

The surge in smartphone ownership is riding on the back of the over 90 per cent mobile penetration in the country, according to data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA). By June last year, mobile subscriptions had reached 39.7 per cent of the population of about 45 million.
Agriculture, along with health and transport, are among the economic sectors that have attracted the development of the largest number of apps. It has increasingly attracted the attention of young tech-savvy people due to rising food demand and the sector’s profitability, hence the development of applications that ease farming and allow access to vital information. They include the following:
iCow This was among the earliest apps. Developed a few years ago, this voice-based WAP-enabled application allows farmers to get vital information on animal breeding and feeding methods. Farmers register their cows free of charge through the iCow portal and get regular SMSs on breeding and production patterns.
“We found out that most dairy farmers do not get the most out of their livestock because they depend on rudimentary livestock management methods,” observed Ms Sue Kahumbu, the creative director, Green Dreams, the company behind the application. iCow’s objective is to increase farmer productivity through access to knowledge and experts and to encourage the development of a younger generation of farmers.
M-Shamba A similar, but more recent app, M-Shamba, is an interactive platform accessible in both smart and low-end phones. A regular SMS provides the subscriber with information on production, harvesting, marketing, credit, weather and climate. The information is customised based on location, allowing farmers to know what to grow within the season in their region. Farmers can also share information on various platforms
Currently, more than 4,000 rice farmers are using M-Shamba to adopt new technologies in rice farming. The creator of M-Shamba, Mr Calvince Okello says: “This unique technology gives farmers information. The info is stored in a chip in the phone memory and enables the farmer to obtain the latest information on various aspects of farming.” Mr Okello was a biomechanical and processing student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat) at Ruiru, when he developed the application. Subscribers pay a monthly fee for the service.
MbeguChoice With the challenges of climate change, app developers are also creating solutions to help farmers adapt to the effects of changing weather patterns.
MbeguChoice, seed choice in Swahili, is a free app developed jointly by the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, seed companies and Agri Experience, with support from the Kenya Markets Trust. Mr Philip Leley, an adviser to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, provided the developers with technical information and said that the app gives information on special characteristics for drought tolerance, and the best altitude and area for growing a particular crop.
If a farmer searches for drought-resistant crop varieties to plant during the rainy season, the app will show the best five kinds of seeds, depending on the area and the altitude. The database that powers the app has information on more than 200 crop varieties.
The developers intend to expand the app to keep farmers updated about market information on crop and fertiliser prices as well. The online database is also available via a website and the project is backed by seed producers who hope it will help to increase their business. Officials behind the project say that if successful, it could be extended to other countries.
Full story issue 36 of Smart farmer magazine

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