In 2017, an assessment conducted by the International Journal of innovative studies in Science and Engineering Technologies in Kenya highlighted that with the use of ICTs, e-extension services can be availed to nearly the entire population of farmers in the country without the need for extension officers.
The fact that most farmers in developing countries have mobile phones is an opportunity to provide mobile-based extension services that address key issues faced by the smallholders. Multiple technologies such as SMS, voice messages, installable applications and the web can be combined in order to equip farmers with a diverse range of agricultural extension services.
In a bid to increase access and use of critical services by smallholder farmers in Kenya, the Eastern Africa Farmers' Federation (EAFF) has been implementing market-oriented agricultural e-extension and advisory services through their e-Granary mobile platform. South-south technical co-operation of the platform has been supported by CTA, the Pan African Farmers Organisation (PAFO), and AgriCord since January 2018.
With a target group of smallholder farmer members of EAFF’s national organisations who produce grains and staples for domestic markets, the project has two main components:
- Access to agricultural extension services via mobile phones by 10,000 smallholder farmers (cumulatively);
- Capacity building and knowledge management.
E-granary works for smallholder farmers and service providers
To be able to deliver e-Granary services to farmers, EAFF brought different partnerships on board: for markets, finance, crop insurance as well as different government institutions for improved policies.
To meet its objectives, EAFF chose to use the e-granary model that provide:
- Assurance of a ready market for the farmer and the buyer. The model provides farmers with better prices for their produce – US$6 to 9 more per bag compared to brokers.Buyers are assured of traceable products both in quality and quantity by marking collection areas on maps and using GPS. In 2018, 150,423 farmers have registered with the platform, which is a huge increase from 28,905 in 2017.
- Affordable financial services to farmers. Through the e-Granary services, registered farmers can actively access e-extension services and training on best agricultural practices throughout the farming season. This is coupled with subsidised inputs, pest and disease management tips which translate into increased production.The increase yield and sustained production attracts insurance companies to farmers and helps build trust for financial companies to provide farmers with loans.Through e-granary, farmers not only benefit from weather index-based insurance but also a multi-peril cover for their crops by paying only $16.43 per acre. In 2018, 4,694 farmers accessed the e-Granary financial services compared to 2,400 that were reached in 2017.
- Capacity building to ensure that farmers understand agronomy, best post-harvest practices, as well as the financial services and products provided by e-Granary; this is done through face to face trainings, provision of educational materials, radio programmes and e-extension services.In 2018, 1,516 Trainers of Trainers (ToTs) were trained through e-granary, including mostly leaders, managers and representatives of farmer groups to cascade agricultural information to farmers. More than 5,000 copies of educational materials were distributed to farmers, and six radio programmes were aired on post-harvest handling technics for cassava, common beans, maize and soybeans as major commodities in the e-Granary, and on financial literacy.E-extension via mobile phones is carried out through SMS and voice messages to farmers on weather forecasts, market information and disease outbreak. Registered farmers can call back and relisten to messages and the service has a dedicated helpline/call centre for query resolution by agronomy experts. To register, farmers dial the USSD short code *492#.
- The use of collected data by service providers in delivering their services. The supply chain information offered by e-granary has allowed large agribusinesses like Export Trading Group (ETG) to work with smallholders in a systematic manner by supplementing their logistics supply chain with gathered information on production.
“I think this technology is a very important element in this sector of agriculture which represents endless opportunities. It is also good as it will improve the living conditions of the people, especially farmers,” said Nicola Bellomo, the European Union Ambassador to Rwanda during the launch of e-granary in East Africa, which took place in Kigali, Rwanda on 28 November 2018.
Post-harvest handling reduced the rate of produce rejection on markets
Before, farmers were reluctant to follow quality procedures after harvesting. Most of their bags were rejected by buyers mainly due to higher moisture content and existence of discolored grains.
Through e-granary, field visits were conducted to aggregation centers for farmers to understand produce quality requirements which had far been one of the major hindrances for them to access the market. Since then, the rejection rate has reduced from 30% to 5%.
Going forward, EAFF is evaluating how to differentiate its mobile advisory service and maximise its value to farmers. Full automation of the e-extension services via the platform is on course and EAFF looks forward to keeping involving government entities, private companies and NGOs as partners in the project.
The project is expected to hit 20,000 registered farmers, once season-based crop SMSs and Interactive Voice Response messages are ready to be sent through the platform in Kenya, following which they will be deployed in Uganda.