Business

Mobile apps solving the many extension challenges

Mobile apps solving the many extension challenges
  • Throughout my various engagements in agricultural forums, I have noted complaints on extension services as the main drawback towards attainment of food security.
  • Needless to say, for the county governments, the underlying framework, personnel, funding and technical expertise were not in place.
  • The bottomline to this is efficiency. While the government’s interest in ensuring posterity of EAS and in turn being the custodian of information for all stakeholders supersedes that of the private sector, government is a titanic machinery that has to take into consideration other overarching developmental programmes such as Vision 2030.
  • The Agrochemical Association of Kenya has partnered with the programme to exploit their immense network and reach.

Are extension services dead? For those in search of a quick verdict, the answer is no. Digitisation and a shift in demographics have necessitated new approaches towards service delivery.

The use of manuals, brochures, journals and human capital has been replaced with mobile apps and video tutorials, thus dissemination of information, training, data collection and research through the old methods has fallen victim to digital disruption. But what of soil sampling and lab tests? More on that later.

Throughout my various engagements in agricultural forums, I have noted complaints on extension services as the main drawback towards attainment of food security.

With the promulgation of the 2010 constitution and the devolution of certain functions to the county governments, extension and advisory services (EAS) suddenly became the burden of the county governments. The National Agricultural Sector Extension Policy (NASEP) of 2012 abruptly became inoperable.

Needless to say, for the county governments, the underlying framework, personnel, funding and technical expertise were not in place. To further compound matters, the new governors had different priorities on setting up shop.

In examining what substantiates EAS as per the Ministry of Agriculture Guidelines and Standards for Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services of 2017, one begins to note the following functions have slipped from the grasp of government to private enterprise; provision of technical information, training and demonstrating appropriate technologies and innovations; diagnosing problems and recommending solutions; assurance of compliance to quality and safety standards; facilitating access to credit and inputs and assisting with business planning, among others.

All the aforementioned functions, other than policy enforcement and compliance to standards, have been assumed by the private sector.

The bottomline to this is efficiency. While the government’s interest in ensuring posterity of EAS and in turn being the custodian of information for all stakeholders supersedes that of the private sector, government is a titanic machinery that has to take into consideration other overarching developmental programmes such as Vision 2030.

PROVIDE CRITICAL INFORMATION

To reach many farmers, modern tools and techniques are required. EAS has morphed from farm visits to Internet of Things (IoT), mobile applications, trade fairs and exhibitions as well as big data.

Players leading the charge in EAS in this new arena include development agencies, research and training institutions, service providers, public private partnership with government parastatals and aggregators (cooperatives and saccos).

The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, in partnership with USAID and FeedtheFuture, developed 14 applications for crop production.

The apps provide critical information about planting, harvesting, marketing leads as well as identification and control of diseases.

Private sector and implementing agencies have not been left behind in this endeavour. Kenya Crops and Fertiliser App by Kelop Investment enables the identification of the type of crop for a specific region. It is an adaptation of Farm Management Handbook of Kenya. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP), which is jointly funded by Kenya and Government of Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), has regional offices in all counties; supporting 29 agricultural value chains.

The programme’s mandate is to improve smallholder entrepreneurial skills, provide access to markets and strengthen coordination within the agricultural sector.

The Agrochemical Association of Kenya has partnered with the programme to exploit their immense network and reach.

The ASDSP and Kalro are examples to showcase the lack of homogeneity in information dissemination among stakeholders, in effect, the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. So what about soil sampling and lab tests? These concerns are also being addressed through big data and Internet of Things (IoT).

The writer is the vice-chairman, farm inputs committee, Kepsa