Farmers attending a community video session on Agriculture in Nyanza,Kenya,funded by Connect for Change. A similar project in Bungoma, Kenya, found that video had the highest impact on farmers compared to mobile and PCs.
When it comes to Information and Communication tools and media, video has proved to be of the greatest impact to a group of farmers in Cheptais, Bungoma County, Western Kenya. Gerishom Boiyo, ICT officer at the ACK Western Region Christian Community Services (affiliated with the Anglican Church of Kenya) says that they have been working with farmers for a while, but only started introducing ICTs in 2011. He was presenting at the ongoing ICT in Agriculture conference in Kigali, in a session on wholesome adoption of ICT in agriculture as compared to mobile only use of IT in agriculture.
In 2011, the group had 60 farmers who have now grown to 800 farmers currently. The farmers mainly grow onions and tomatoes and have recently started venturing into passion fruit farming.
Boiyo says that the group of farmers was first introduced to radio shows, where they would listen to educative shows on farming practices and methods that would lead to better production. Later on, the farmers were introduced to informative agricultural videos.
The result was in a surprise jump in attendance of the meet ups. While radio used to attract 20 to 50 people in occasional meetups, video shows attracted between 100 and 200 people and saw membership of the group grow quickly. “More farmers were interested in video, which they found not to be as abstract as radio. On radio they say space crops, by say 2 inches and the spacing is not clear to the listeners, but on a video demonstration they can see the actual spacing, ” he says.
Other ICT measures adopted by the farmers include the use of 3 ICT centres and the use of the mFarm mobile app for price information and group buying. Boiyo explains that the three ICT centres were at first called “hubs”, but the farmers did not understand what the hubs were, hence the use of “centres”.
Here, farmers are at first trained on how to use computers, with young farmers separated from the older farmers, who find the learning pace of the former intimidating.
The farmers then use the computers here to save their information and to maintain their records. Before, the farmers used to write down their records on paper, which they would later lose or forget. A central system that records and shows the farmer’s trend and performance over time has been deployed, helping the farmers in tracking their profitability.
Internet is also used by the farmers to research on their products, though there have been challenges, including frequent loss of Internet connectivity and what Boiyo calls “use of computers for other purposes”. There is also a content challenge, in that searching for information on the Internet returns global results rather than localised solutions. The group is in search of content providers who can bridge the gap in relevant content.
On mobile, the farmers have been using mFarm to get market prices and to collect their produce and sell it in groups. Once harvested, the product is taken to a collection centre, where it is collectively sold. The farmers now have a better bargaining power with middlemen and has even seen them prefer doing business with buyers from Kisumu and Kakamega who offer them better prices.
Boiyo however says that some farmers sometimes do sell by themselves rather than through groups at low prices. This is when they are faced with an immediate need for cash, such as school fee or illness. Attempts had been made to link the farmers to financial institutions, but the farmers shied away from dealing with them due to high lending rates and high expectations from the institutions.
The biggest impact of these measures has been in the youth in the area getting interested in agriculture. Before, they used to sell inherited land and buy motorcycles or move into urban areas, but are now going back into farming, with some even selling their motorcycles to buy land and start farming.
Going forward ACK plans to expand the use of mobile and start using smartphones, specifically using the Open Data Toolkit for collection of information from groups of farmers through select model farmers.