Most of the farmers especially those in rural areas are not adopting the new technology in their operations
By Zablon Oyugi
Mobile phone users around the world are constantly bombarded with a stream of new applications promising to better communication, entertain, and even keep them in shape.
Farmers in Kenya are no exception. Recently, there have been new developments of mobile phone applications to help the growers in their farm productions, connect them to service providers such as agricultural extension officers and even source markets for their farm produce among others.
However, most of the farmers especially those in rural areas are not adopting the new technology in their operations.
In other words, in as much as digital farming is deemed fit by experts towards increasing quality, quantity, sustainability and cost effectiveness of agricultural production, the farmers especially, smallholders have not taken up it up due to several challenges.
Mobile apps low uptake reasons
Today there are various mobile applications to aid farmers from production process to marketing but limitations such as lack of smart phones and internet access by some farmers, poor sensitization by app developers leading to lack of knowledge among farmers, according to Simon Mulwa, ICT officer at Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).
“We have released many farms management mobile applications for use by our farmers to guide them in their farming activities, but we have realised that these apps are frequently downloaded and used by people in developed countries as compared to Kenya farmers,” said Mulwa.
This is because in developed countries users, of which majority are farmers, do not face some of the challenges our growers are facing.
According to Mulwa, over 60,000 users were recorded to have downloaded dryland crops, indigenous chicken, and range pastures seed production mobile phone applications that the organization launched in April 2018 with more than a half of the number being users from the US, Russia, UK, and India.
“We have noticed that lack of internet access alone makes most users to rely on already downloaded apps they are shared with by friends. Many farmers who visit our stand during national agricultural trade fairs are willing to directly receive the apps from us than going to download them,” said Mulwa adding that farmers need more sensitization and support.
Yes, most debilitating challenges that smallholder farmers in Kenyan and other countries in Africa have been grappling with for ages are related to their extremely limited access to credit, markets, and quality agricultural inputs.
But this has brought another argument that staging mobile solutions as a be-all, end-all solution to low agricultural production and marketing in the country could be misleading and should not delay the implementation of other important solutions.
“For each of these challenges our farmers are facing, mobile solutions can only be one small part of a broader set of solutions, and this could be another reason why farmers seem not to prioritise mobile phone apps towards finding answers to their chronic problems,” said Milton Patrice, an agricultural extension officer in Western Kenya.
To him, the advent of apps should be considered as a complement to good agricultural and development policies, rather than a replacement for them.
He says, access to markets, for example, cannot be “fixed” simply by providing price information, but rather roads and other forms of infrastructure need to be built and improved.
“Without good infrastructure, the final cost of inputs delivered to farmers where they are will always be high pushing up the cost of production.”