In the past two decades the narrative of the African agriculture has been marred by a state of hopelessness. A continent with over half a billion small scale farmers and vast resources has been at pains trying to feed itself how could this be? Growing up in the rural area of western Kenya I noticed that the small scale farmers were practicing the same convectional farming over and over again; Reliance of the ever uncertain rainfall, borrowing seeds from the neighbors reserve grains, planting the same crop (cereals), low yields, poor market linkage and a subsequent exploitation by middlemen resulted in a vicious cycle of poverty among small scale farmers.
Fast forward 21st century and the revolution of ICT has transformed African agriculture. From a state of hopelessness to hope through easy access to seeds, fertilizer, credit, insurance, and market linkage hence improving farmer’s livelihood by eradicating hunger and poverty.
With the ever growing urban population and steady influx in the cities, there is a change in lifestyle leading to change in taste and preference of what we consume hence the demand for more varieties of agricultural products especially horticulture is on the rise.
However, small scale farmers are not knowledgeable about the right seeds, agronomic practices of the high value horticultural crops, and their new emerging market which fetches higher prices compared to the traditional crops. Though the will is there but the technical know-how and the agronomic practice is still a challenge to the small scale-farmers.
Introducing Farm IT (www.farmit.co.ke)
Farm IT advises new horticultural farmers throughout the crop life cycle starting from the input stage where we advise on the right seed (depending on the region, climate, local or hybrid, yield per acre, and resilience to disease) during the planting and growth stage we advise on (seed rate, spacing, fertilizer usage fungal and pest control what to do during flowering stages, maturity period, and harvesting) then we form farmer venture groups where we link the venture groups to the market.
Our Unique SMS Platform, an Agronomist and Star Farmers; to implement this service, Farm IT uses a unique SMS based platform where the agronomic advisories and market networks are shared through SMS. the small scale farmer has to send an sms alert indicating the date the crop will be planted. then we map/monitor the crop and send the agronomic tips depending on the crop life stage. This ensures we reliability of the information sent and in a timely manner.
What’s done so far?
We already have an agronomist and star farmers who will be mapping, drafting and advising on the right seeds, reliable agronomic practices, and linking farmers to the market. We have already acquired a short code (40225) where these messages are streaming in, developed a dashboard where we can monitor the conversation from each farmer, and we are in the process of forming venture groups.
In addition to this we have created our website (www.farmit.co.ke ) and we are increasing awareness about our project through the social media (https://twitter.com/FarmIT6) where we have over 145 agricultural institutions following us.
If successfully implemented, farm It will align itself to the SDG through eradicating hunger and reducing poverty among small scale farmers by production of high and quality agri- produce and the resultant market linkage.
Farm IT will also create a platform for affiliate marketing and a vast network of agri-value chain stakeholders removing barriers of market access. The data from the conversation between the farmers, agronomist and star farmers can be harnessed and used as a basis of research especially from the undocumented practices.
Farm IT sustainability Model
Farm IT is currently targeting 10,000 farmers to subscribe to its service, each farmer pays 10 KES per SMS received for the advisories and market linkage per crop life period. We are planning to offer affiliate marketing services to other agricultural service providers such as banks, insurance etc.
Our success indicators will range from the yield per acre of the horticultural produce from the new farmers and the rate of successful transaction between the Market and the venture groups. we also want to measure our success based on the number of farmers subscribing to the service and the number of messages received from the farmer in form of questions.