Over 80 % of Kenya’s population rely on agriculture for food and livelihood. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the sector also contributes 26 % of the Gross Domestic Product ( GDP).
The 2019 Economic Survey from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that between 2018 and 2019, the sector’s marketed value of production increased by 11.4% to Kshs. 497.9 billion in 2018, making agriculture the backbone of Kenya’s economy.
Kenya’s Vision 2030 recognises the significance of the sector towards achieving an average agriculture to GDP growth rate of about 10% per year up to the year 2030.
However, issues such as climate change, inadequate farming knowledge, and the right market have been a key challenge for farmers. Therefore production though growing has been on a slow trend especially for small scale farmers.
Mobile technology has taken root and it is now being used to improve smallholder farming across the country. This is meant to improve operations, reduce weather-related and post-harvest losses.
In 2017, Safaricom in collaboration with several partners ventured into agriculture by developing a product aimed at facilitating the delivery of solutions to farmers countrywide dubbed DigiFarm. The product is aimed at addressing the inadequacies experienced by most smallholder farmers in different parts of the country, by providing solutions that would help them turn their agricultural activities into profitable ventures.
According to Safaricom’s 2019 sustainability business report, over one million farmers have subscribed to the platform, with more than 300,000 being 30-day active customers. DigiFarm has also opened 144 depots around the country to enable farmers access quality inputs. To date, 61,435 loans have been approved, and 23,107 have been redeemed at DigiFarm depots.
The platform’s buyer-driven model seeks to drive behaviour change by encouraging smallholder farmers to grow crops based on market demand. It further allows them to produce with a level of certainty, with a minimum guaranteed price communicated before planting commences.
According to beneficiary farmers in Marakwet, Digifarm offers soil testing services, check off loans for inputs required, yield insurance on the farm, extension services through DigiFarm village advisors, and a ready market for their produce.
“Before Digifarm came to our aid, the highest price that we ever sold our green grams at was Kshs 45 per kilo to the brokers. This has since changed as Digifarm buys our produce at Kshs. 100 per kilo,” says John Ndiso, a farmer in Makueni County.
Aimed at increasing the income of small scale farmers through financial services such as credit and insurance, Digifarm has partnered with two insurance providers to give a yield index insurance to farmers covering them against perils that might lead to loss of the crops. The two partners are Pula and Acre Africa.
“We use the long term average which is the historical production averages per region to calculate the yield guarantee per value chain. The yield guaranteed becomes our sum insured and informs the premiums payable. The farmers also qualify for a 50% government subsidy on their premiums for the majority of the value chains under the Kenya Agriculture Insurance Programme,” says Pula Insurance Advisors Project manager Jacobeth Barno.
The other challenges that are being addressed by the platform include: knowledge gaps on best farming practices, shortage of quality seeds and affordable inputs as well as difficulty in accessing markets.
Early this year, Digifarm partnered with the Makueni County government to pilot the buyer-led model, resulting in over 600 sunflower farmers signing up to produce raw material for purchase by Bidco Africa, a leading manufacturer of fast-moving consumer goods including edible oils.
The partnership saw a great adoption of the platform in the eastern region county, with more than 240,000 farmers registering. This made Makueni the leading county in Digifarm membership countrywide.
Other counties with running pilot projects are: Bungoma, Nyeri, Homabay, Kakamega, Nakuru, Kericho, Nakuru and TransNzoia. Farmers in these areas plant sorghum, french beans, soya, and maize respectively.