Kenya is betting big on technology to transform agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy, in a bid to enhance production and boost livelihoods for millions of farmers.
Under an ambitious plan dubbed a digital-for-agriculture (D4Ag), the country looks to sign up to register 1.4 million farming households on online platforms and 2,300 agro-dealers to supply farmers with quality inputs.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya said the plan aims to boost production by ensuring that farmers adopt best practices and obtain quality inputs.
The online system is expected to shut the door on brokers, while ensuring that the government’s subsidised inputs programme attains the objectives for which it was set up. By enhancing farmers’ productivity, the plan will boost food security, increase incomes and lift standard of living for millions of farming households.
Kenya is known as innovation hub in the region. And in terms of farming technologies, the country is living up to this billing; it boasts of more than 100 distinct D4Ag solutions, accounting for 25 percent of the farming technologies in the region.
Mr Munya says data and digital solutions will play an important role in agricultural transformation in Kenya going forward.
Technology, he notes, is necessary in supporting the sector “to achieve its primary objectives of increasing incomes for 3.3 million households and impacting 15 million Kenyans.”
To achieve this transformational goal, the government plans to launch a catalogue of electronic solutions such as digital food balance sheet, an integrated agricultural information system and big data centre where all information on the state of the country’s food security is kept.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) is the driving force behind the digital project. The agency runs three e-agricultural platforms, including the Kenya Agricultural Observation Platform (KAOP) website and 30 mobile apps in 30 value chains.
Mr Munya says the digital plan is part of the government’s 10-year Agricultural Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (ASTGS) that seeks to create a vibrant, commercial and modern agricultural sector that guarantees 100 percent food security.
In early September, the Ministry of Agriculture launched the agricultural digital strategic roadmap and the national value chain e-voucher programme (NVCSP) in Kisumu County.
The e-voucher, that is being piloted in 12 counties, is aimed at taming cartels manipulating distribution of inputs such as fertiliser that are subsidised by the government.
The first phase will cover 200,000 farmers, while the second phase will bring in 17 more counties, with all the regions expected to be involved in two years.
The e-voucher plan will see agrovets vetted and registered to ensure that genuine dealers are linked to farmers, who will be issued with vouchers on their mobile phones on validation by the extension officers. The farmers will then be given a pay bill number to which they will make payment and receive a text message confirmation from Safaricom.
“Farmers will take the message to registered agro-dealers and they will be given the farm inputs that they require,” said Joseph Komu, project co-ordinator of the national value chain support.
The farmer will pay 40 percent of the input cost while the government foots the remaining bill.
The State has developed a digital agriculture strategy based on seven priority digital use cases, which seek to accelerate registration of eligible farmers for e-incentives such as the e-voucher programme.
The digital strategy further seeks to provide tailor-made extension services on digital platforms. This comprises receipt of a simple SMS and an interactive mobile application that keeps tabs on emergency food reserve stocks using the national food balance sheet.
The total cost of the digital programme is projected to be about Sh2 billion by 2023. The budget represents 10 percent of the cost estimated for ASTGS enablers. The development partners have pumped at least Sh300 million into the project to date.
An additional Sh3.4 billion is required for disbursing the e-incentives if the existing Sh5 billion allocation in the ministry budgets for input support programmes is redirected to the plan.