Extension text messages revolutionise Kenya’s farming

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Informed farmers make better farming decisions and choices, which leads to increased farm production, yields and income. But what happens when farmers, especially those in rural and remote areas, don’t have access to the information they need to get the best results from their labour?

A revolutionary e-Extension platform and mobile app, developed by Australian Awards alumnus Simon Ndung’u through a partnership with GIZ Food Security in Kakamega County in Kenya, is ensuring farmers get timely and valuable information on their phones.

Each month, more than 20 SMS messages are sent for free to 10,000 farmers in Kakamega County alone. The agricultural extension officers—who play a critical role in communicating with farmers—develop technical content on how to improve farming practices. The e-Extension platform then disseminates messages to farmers efficiently and at a significantly reduced cost per transaction.

‘Today we can reach farmers quickly through e-Extension to promote modern, smart agricultural practices, including to marginalised farmers in remote and rural locations,’ he says, Sub County Agribusiness Development Officer, County Government of Kakamega, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives. ‘The ultimate goal is to reduce poverty.’

This major communications shift is important in Kakamega County, and the country at large, because of the agricultural extension officer-to-farmer radio. Simon says ‘in Kakamega County, the ratio is one for every 1,500 farmers when the desired ratio is 1 for every 400.’

Small-scale farmers produce around 75 per cent of Kenya’s food. The country’s rapid population growth, coupled with the impacts of climate change, are presenting major challenges for agriculture and food security. ‘Despite the challenges, we’re seeing agricultural productivity improve with the relevant, reliable and useful agricultural information the farmers are now using to make decisions on land, labour and capital,’ he states.

The farmers database already has more than 18,700 contacts, with farmers organised into 43 e-groups, including specialising in agri-nutrition, aquaculture agents, country farm inputs, fisheries farmers, agricultural stockists and horticulture farmers.

‘We’ve also developed 22 “Smart Groups” to drill down further,’ he says. ‘For example, we can target all female farmers below a certain age and from a certain region.’

‘We tailor-make and target messages for these different groups on a wide range of topics, including advisory and weather messages to smallholder farmers, and notify them of major events like field days, training sessions and exhibitions,’ he advises. ‘Using SMS enables us to reach a larger number of farmers quickly and cheaply.’

Messages also spread news of important deadlines, such as livestock vaccinations, and alerts about pest infestation, such as fall armyworm. The relationship with GIZ has been invaluable to the project’s success.

Simon established the partnership using the brokering skills he learned from the Master of Global Food and Agricultural Business he completed at the University of Adelaide (2016). His information and communications technology knowledge led him to be appointed Team Leader for the e-Extension project. Simon is also the Secretary of the Advisory and Quality Control Committee comprising six County Agriculture Sector Directors who assure the e-messages are in line with departmental policies. The committee also reaches out to, and liaises with, research organisations to stay on top of contemporary developments in agriculture.

The e-platform hasn’t replaced the more than 200 agricultural extension officers who still work diligently on the ground, but it has made their lives easier by providing another vehicle for communications.

‘The project is upskilling extension officers to use new approaches to enhance traditional extension practices,’ he says. ‘The officers were trained on the e-Extension platform and mobile app and are seeing the results first-hand.’

Simon’s work is directly supporting the Kenyan Government’s Big Four Agenda—which has food security as a major pillar—and is helping realise Kenya’s Vision 2030. ‘Realising the Vision will make Kenya a newly industrialised, middle-income country providing high-quality life for all citizens by 2030,’ he asserts. ‘These are exciting times.’

Photo Credit: Simon Ndung’u

Feature from Alumni News Volume 28.

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