The youths are fast embracing Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to modernize and improve agricultural activities in the country to keep the sector at par with the global trends.
Young people are more than ready to master these new technological concepts on ways to apply the latest solutions to emerging challenges in the production and marketing of agricultural produce with a view of making maximums returns.
At the same time, these technologies can help demonstrate to youth that agriculture can be a viable and profitable business opportunity, increasing the desirability of agriculture-related career paths.
Youth in the Njoro area, Nakuru County are embracing agriculture more now that technology in farming is within their reach and can be done at the comfort of their smartphones.
Thanks to a new digital App dubbed Kenya Agricultural Observation Platform (KAOP) that is hands-on, accurate, and guiding them in their farming to plan before, during, and even at harvest and get good yields in their farms.
The KAOP technology developed by the Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) is an integrated online platform that uses geo-data from satellites to generate real-time and location-specific agro-advisories to farmers enabling them to make more informed farming decisions.
So far, the platform has attracted at least 5,000 users around the country is able to inform farmers on when to carry out their farm management practices within the precinct of where their farms are and at the comfort of their fingertips.
With the erupting effects of climate change, the App that is easy to use has seen more farmers embrace it and adapt to it unlike before when they used to gamble their luck on traditional methods of predicting weather patterns.
Margaret Wambui, a young maize and bean farmer from Njoro says that since she discovered the application in 2019, she is laughing all the way to the bank having doubled her returns from harvesting 4 bags of beans to 8 bags.
Wambui who learned of the KAOP from a Nakuru farmers’ WhatsApp group, says since she downloaded the App, she has been able to make solid decisions as it brings out accurate advisories on rainfall, what the weather is like, and even the temperatures.
“It has helped me in avoiding unnecessary costs like when I am doing routine management practices I do it at the right time unlike before. I have been getting information on the rainfall and weather and this has helped me when am planting my crops and even when am harvesting,” she said.
Wambui who also runs an agro vet in Njoro area says, she is able to assist and advise other farmers who buy from her shop on what to expect as they purchase farm products when necessary.
“The idea of just listening to Radio on what the weatherman has predicted was limiting me as I had to be at one place but now with this smartphone that is user friendly and only requires a little data bundle, I can access information anywhere anytime. I urge the young people to join farming as a business or even to help their parents who are farming and yet do not have the smartphones to check on this useful information”, Wambui says.
Bernard Shanzu another farmer from Rumwe, Njoro says the challenges he had been experiencing previously on weather are no more since he started using the KAOP application.
“Previous predictions on when to plant and also harvest has been affecting me and even my neighbors continuously culminating in me getting very low yields. Sometimes we could look at clouds and start planting only to realize that the rains were not coming and that the clouds were just passing”, he said.
Shanzu says that a visit to Wambui’s agro vet is what has transformed his farming and now he is able to use the KAOP application. I have been following the APP religiously since I got it, getting the right information and this has really helped me as I grow my beans, he says
“From my comfort, I can be able to press what County, Sub County and Ward where my farm is and be able to get weather predictions and advisory for the next 14 days and be able to plan without a problem” Shanzu noted.
Collins Kipchumba, an alumnus of Daystar University and is also a farmer says the app can be of use to many farmers especially in terms of improving their yields.
He however urged KALRO to ensure that all farmers know about the App especially since he noticed in his area, neighbors rely on him to check the information at the app as most of them do not have smartphones.
“The biggest challenge might be a smartphone but even as they spread the word, I hope that they can be able to develop an app that will not need a smartphone and does not require data so that all farmers can benefit from it”, Kipchumba says
Stephen Muriithi, an Extension Officer in Nakuru acknowledged that their advice to farmers on good agriculture practices has really been boosted by the KAOP application.
“There was a huge gap in giving information due to the traditional methods being used by farmers on which time to plant, harvest or even spray insect side and most of them had on several times had to redo the planting because of the wrong timing”, he said
With the unpredictable climate change and the indigenous knowledge no longer working, Mureithi said that KAOP will and is a popular and sure tool for not only the extension officers but also for the farmers as it gives a basis for making decisions.
“It is simple to use for most farmers and for those a bit aged and cannot be able to download the App on their phones, one would not lack at least family member who has a smartphone and can assist in giving information,” Mureithi said.
Kibet Maina, Chief Officer for Agriculture in Nakuru County said as a county that solely relies on rain-fed agriculture, the App is timely especially now that they are rooting for more young people to join Agriculture.
“Currently the average farmer is 60 years and above and this is not good. Without the youth we may not have a good succession plan when it comes to agriculture,” he said.
He explained that the County has introduced various technologies in order for the youth to come on board such as the hello tractor where one can call on tractors to dig their farm, Digi farm that links farmers to markets, as well as put up farmers call center which is manned by officers in the agriculture sector to answer farmers queries.
The KAOP platform which farmers have embraced, he said is giving an opportunity for them to synchronize planting thus bringing uniformity in planting and harvesting.
“We are going to work with KALRO to bring more farmers on board as the platform is going to assist farmers not only in predicting weather and how it is behaving but will see farmers able to choose what crops they want to grow,” Maina said
KALRO ICT Specialist Irene Kimani said the KAOP application can be downloaded on the play store and once done, the system is able to predict precipitation and temperature and plot dynamic charts given GPS coordinates of any location in the country for the next 7 days, 14 days and 30 days
“KAOP enables farmers when to plant-based on the 7-, 14- or 30-days forecast, enables them on when to use pesticides and other chemicals and enables them to do proper harvesting of the various crops they have in the field,” she emphasized,
Since the launch of the KAOP in 2020, Kimani confirmed that there have been over 5000 downloads and the beauty about the download she added is that one can register as a farmer and get advisories including making inquiries.
The App. Kimani says will not only give one the weather in their particular County and Sub- County but at the Ward Level where one’s farm is situated. “It is available 24/7 and one can check from any position or location by just getting the exact forecast they need for the particular area meaning it real-time”.
According to KALRO, the KAOP has also an integrated SMS advisory system that has been able to send numerous agronomic advisories to farmers for example on crop varieties, soil preparation, sowing rate and time, irrigation, fertilization, pest and diseases control, harvest time, and storage options based on weather forecasts.
The system has more than one million users and is available to the general public not only on Google play store but also on a web application, www.kaop.co.ke.