A new survey reveals that Kenyan farmers urgently need the government’s support to increase their use of digital tools, in light of increasing environmental and economic pressures facing Europe and Africa’s farming industry.
The independent ‘Farmers and Digitalisation’ survey, was conducted by Savanta ComRes and commissioned by Vodafone Group and focused on more than 600 farmers across 13 countries in Europe and Africa, including Kenya.
The farmers were asked about their current attitudes towards digitalising their farms, environmental challenges faced and current geopolitical and societal pressures impacting supply chains and rising equipment and materials costs.
As expected, climate change tops the list of threats facing farmers in Europe and Africa. 100% of all farmers surveyed in Kenya, say climate change is impacting the financial viability of their farms to an extent.
Farmers in Africa are similarly concerned about climate change, with 93% feeling the same way. Other threats cited by the farmers include fuel and energy costs – impacted by the war in Ukraine – as well as low market prices for crops and livestock, and lack of support from the public sector.
Building more resilient and sustainable farms will take a digital approach
Technology and connectivity are powerful tools when it comes to addressing these challenges. It is therefore encouraging to see the survey reveal farmers are already using digital tools to reduce fertiliser use, water use, and to improve soil health. What’s more, over two-thirds of farmers in Kenya’s 98% feel that digital technologies can help farming succeed in the future.
The use of digital farming technology will increase according to results, with farmers saying they’re willing to invest more in this area to help them combat issues like climate change. 93% of farmers in Kenya plan to invest more in digital tools in the next 12 months.
As farmers continue to mitigate the impact of these crises, research shows this community is turning to smart agriculture solutions. Smart tools used on farms can help farmers elevate costs, and reduce the use of energy, fertiliser and water, which is critical at this time.
Technologies include drones, vehicle trackers and autonomous vehicles, as well as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and smartphone applications, enabling the monitoring of weather and soil conditions, as well as costs and market prices.
Smart watering, irrigation and crop feeding solutions also help drive efficiencies and increase the visibility of key farming data for this community.
Barriers to further digital adoption
There, however, are barriers for widespread and continual adoption of digital agriculture tools. 97% of Kenya farmers surveyed want more government support to help address issues like the cost of devices and other hardware which was cited as a particular barrier by 50% of farmers in Kenya.
Results show that it’s not just about financial support: 64% of farmers in Kenya want training on how to use digital solutions. Connectivity is also a key ask with 31% in Kenya saying that better mobile internet connectivity is something their government can do to encourage them to use more digital tools on their farm.
Joakim Reiter, the Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer, Vodafone Group, says the survey should read as a plea for help from farmers who are facing unprecedented challenges. It’s vital both the private and public sectors work together to provide this community with access to the digital technologies, information and training they require to develop their practises.
“We must transform restrictive regulatory policies and practices around digital, cloud and data services, and create an enabling environment that supports innovations like cloud computing. By doing so, farmers will have the opportunity to access the critical agricultural insights they need to farm more effectively,” he says.
Vodafone supports farmers via cloud platforms, digital marketplaces and advisory services
For farmers, data is at the heart of this digital revolution. MYFARMWEB, Vodafone’s interactive, cloud-based platform enables farmers to visualise data collected from agricultural IoT sensors across their farmland, currently serving over 8,500 large-scale commercial farming operations worldwide.
Earlier this year, Vodafone announced the launch of a pilot of MYFARMWEB across five farms in Europe, joining customers in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, New Zealand and in the West Coast of the United States.
Vodafone’s Connected Farmer digital platform helps improve productivity, revenue and resilience for small scale farmers by connecting them to information, inputs, credit, and buyers, supporting a further 2.3 million smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The platform also offers access to information, good agriculture practice content and demo plots for training and practical change management. During the COVID-19 pandemic Connected Farmer supported more than 200,000 farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa by helping farmers apply for, and secure seed, fertiliser and crop protection subsidies from their local governments, playing an important role in improving rural food security.
Safaricom has been at the forefront in helping smallholder farmers to transition into agribusiness
On his part, Safaricom CEO, Peter Ndegwa, notes that new technologies and digitalisation are transforming agriculture and offering new opportunities, and hence the need to scale up the adoption of digital technology to ensure sustainable agriculture and consequently ensure food security besides strengthening entrepreneurial opportunities for Kenyan farmers.
“As Safaricom we have been at the forefront to help smallholder farmers to transition into agribusiness through Digifarm – an integrated mobile platform that offers farmers convenient, one-stop access to a variety of services including discounted inputs and advice on input use, financing, and information on crops and animals,” Mr Ndegwa says.
His sentiments are echoed by Vinod Kumar, the CEO, Vodafone Business, who indicates that from working with farmers across Europe and Africa over the past eight years, the telecommunications firm understands the harsh realities of how the challenges echoed in the survey are threatening the future of not only their farms but the entire industry.
“While it is positive to see this community already embracing digital solutions, more must be done to guarantee that Europe and Africa fully embrace precision agriculture. By helping farmers to digitise their operations, we’re helping to reduce the barriers preventing faster connectivity roll-out, which in turn helps farmers alleviate costs and increase yields to ensure a more robust and sustainable future for the agriculture industry,” Mr Kumar says.