24 December 2013

Kenya: Ikilimo Bridges Information Gap for Farmers in Kenya

In 2009, Ursula Suter was visiting the farmlands of Kinangop in Central Kenya, providing educational and information solutions with her laptop as part of Avallain, a firm she had co founded alongside Ignatz Heinz . Here, she came across a farmer who called her a "crazy woman", and told her to take her computer away. Instead, the farmer waved a phone saying "If I can take photos of my plant, send them to you and you can them tell me what's wrong with my crops, come back."

Four years later, Ursula is back with iKilimo, a cross platform solution that will provide curated information to farmers through their mobile phones. Information provided includes tips on how to increase productivity, tips around mechanisation of their farms and how they can improve their production. Also to be provided via the application is financial information with the aid of an organisation that specialises in the same, Swiss Consult.

With agriculture being the mainstay of a lots of African countries, there still exists lots of gaps when it comes to production. Grain production, and indeed most production in African countries falls far below global averages. There is also the issue of how best to utilise small pieces of land, seeing that many African farmers are smallholders.

Many of these issues can be tackled by sharing relevant information with farmers. Getting information to farmers also presents the challenge in that information from research institutions hardly makes it to the farmers, with few channels linking farmers and researchers in existence before the likes of iKilimo. iKilimo will provide information via SMS and a HTML5 mobile app, including a web app and a downloadable Android app. The information is categorised in the fields of animal production, plant production, farm equipment, food processing, high value crops and marketing.

iKilimo's animal production section will provide information on farm animals, care required, illnesses and their remedy, vaccinations and animal closures (housing).

Plant production will deal with popular crops, seeds, pests, handling and harvesting.

High value crops will provide information on weather resistant crops, mostly traditional crops such as sorghum and cassava.

Farm equipment will deal information on farm tools needed for various animals and crops, their care and where farmers can obtain such tools.

The marketing section will provide information on markets, market prices and market contacts.

As a promotion, Avallain Africa is waiving subscription charges on the first 5,000 SMS to be received from the application.

Speaking during the launch, Shelmith Mumbi, Content Manager at Avallain says "iKilimo will bridge the existing gap between farmers and the volumes of published or online literature that is usually not encouraging to read. Increased use of the Internet through mobile phones has prompted many farmers to seek information and services from various websites."

Also present during the launch were senior Ministry of Agriculture officials. The ministry's crop and extensions department played a major consultancy role in development of the application, helping the iKilimo team identify needs of the farmers and information gaps.

Avallain Africa has also previously developed iAfya, an information tool in the health sector,done by African health professionals. iAfya has seen more than 1 million texts sent out across Africa in the previous year.

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