10 May 2013

Kenya: Digital Farming - New APP to Help Horticulture

A new mobile phone based agricultural software has been launched to help the over 50,000 horticulture farmers in Kenya in data management.

The farmforce (FF) software seeks to replace the tedious and cumbersome paperwork that horticulture farmers dealing in green beans and peas export have had to go through. This is in order to comply with food safety standards stipulated by the European market which among other things has been time consuming and a big challenge.

According to Dr Marco Ferroni from Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) FF will provide full traceability of the use of chemicals throughout the growing cycle.

In 2012, the EU began testing 10 per cent of all Kenyan exports of green beans and peas as some previous shipments contained pesticides residues above the legal limit which is known as Maximum Residue Limits (MRL). This led to the decrease in green beans and peas exported from Kenya and farmers had a serious loss of income.

" FF will facilitate the documentation of disease and pest detection, prescription of chemicals, the reconciliation of chemicals used against warehouse stock levels and the recording of application details including dosage and operator," said Ferroni.

He added that the mobile application will also alert field staff with warnings if ever the compliance rules are not followed such as if the maximum number of applications of a chemical were exceeded or the pre-harvest interval is not observed.

All the data is entered by field officers via a mobile phone and immediately available online so that management can address compliance issues immediately, besides reducing efforts required for compliance audit by regulatory bodies and governments entities where allowed gain online access to full traceability data.

SFSA have been developing the mobile technology for the last two years express that the technology will critically contribute to improving small holder production and compliance with food safety standards while enabling the linkage of farmers to formal markets hence ensure they stay in business.

" 70 per cent of farmers in Kenya have mobile phones and this technology can work in the management of farm produce and meet with the much needed standard as expected," said Dr Wilson Songa agriculture secretary.

" I hope that extension officers in Kenya will be trained and be conversant with the technology so that farmers will reap the benefits immediately. This technology will work well with the e-extension program to move the country to another level in extension services."

Since last year, the Kenya horticulture sector has taken major steps to rectify the problems and meet the MRL requirements but according to the chief executive officer, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya (FPEAK), Dr Stephene Mbithi, manging production with thousands of scattered smallholder remains a formidable challenge.

" Smallholder production has suffered severely and the industry has become increasingly reluctant to engage. However, mobile technology solutions like FF encourage the industry to transform our out grower operations which will now be based on real-time management information and traceability," said Mbithi.

Charles Mwaniki, a horticulture farmer in Thika said the mobile technology guides him in using the right seeds and chemicals among others and he is able to meet the MRL requirements.

" Many horticulture farmers deliver products as a group and if any of us does not meet the required standars, we all suffer but with this technology we can trace the source of the products," said 30 year-old Mwaniki who is also an IT specialists.

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