An over reliance on rain fed agriculture is hurting farmers in Makueni, but there’s hope.
About twenty-five kilometers off a road intersection at Emali in Makueni County lays kwakakulu village. There, Mr. John Ndisu, a green gram farmer gracefully winnows his bowl to separate the good grain from the chaff.
This season, the now-retired banker is among the forty-seven out of a hundred and nineteen green gram farmers in kwakakulu who were lucky to harvest something. In fact, with an output of sixty-five kilograms, his one-acre piece of land yielded the highest return in his area, outperforming his peers, whose produce averaged somewhere between four and ten kilograms only.
For the other remaining framers, it was a grim picture of desperation. Failed rains meant that they harvested close to nothing.
But all is not lost. Telco giant Safaricom has come to their rescue, in typical superman fashion, through a crop insurance plan underpinned by Digifarm, a mobile agribusiness service that Safaricom developed in partnership with Iprocure, FarmDrive, and Arifu.
“This means that even though the harvests were sub-standard, predominately due to adverse weather conditions, specifically drought, Insurance still covers that particular risk, meaning that the farmers will still get paid” explains Mr. Peter Wambua, a local Digifarm Village Adviser, who is also a green gram farmer himself.
To enroll with the service, a farmer provides information relating to the nature of their farming lands. Information such as land size, location, and weather conditions, etc. This information is then matched against scientific data, essentially guiding the farmer on what they should plant, where, when and how.
When digifarm first set up shop earlier this year in Makueni, it was also involved in providing seeds and fertilizers and educating farmers on the best farm practices including soil testing techniques so as to achieve the full potential of their planting cycles.
They were also introduced to crop insurance propositions, which is still a relatively new and unfamiliar concept yet to be adopted not only in Kenya but throughout much of Sub-Sahara Africa.
More importantly, digifarm provided badly needed market linkages, essentially cutting off notorious middlemen who routinely took unsuspecting farmers for a ride.
“Previously we used to sell one kilogram of green grams for forty-five shillings at most, and sometimes middlemen would negotiate us down to as low as thirty shillings,” says Mr. John Ndisu.
“However, at the Digifram depot in Makindu, one kilogram of green grams will fetch up to One hundred shilling.” He added.
“Rainfall is no longer reliable, but now we have digifarm, am now even thinking of pursuing sunflower farming, since it is a drought-resistant crop,” Mr. Ndisu told Maudhui House.
Since its rollout, 1.3 million smallholder farmers in Kenya have enrolled with digifarm, of those, 210,000 hail from Makueni County which boasts of the largest number of smallholder farmers in the country and even as more farmers continue to enroll in this rural prosperity train, hope is being restored to a sector once neglected.