Five years ago, a season like this, John Losunyen was queuing for relief food somewhere in Isiolo county , in the central part of northeastern Kenya.
Luckily, today, that is not the case as he is currently tending to his tomatoes on a two and a half acre farm where he also rears poultry and keeps cows.
With training and the use of mobile phone technology to access markets and get farming information, Mr Losunyen has been able to fend for his family.
The use of mobile phone applications in agriculture is changing lives by providing crucial and handy information which farmers are using to boost the productivity of many farmers across the region.
Data shows that demand for food is set to grow as the global population increases, more people live better lives as their economic situations and standards of living improve, couple with increased urbanisation.
There is a need to innovate to feed this population and one of the market leaders in innovation in agriculture is a United States global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, which come with advancements that are immensely changing the lives of farmers in East Africa.
From technological innovations, like iProcure Ltd, smallholder farmers are able to get quality inputs for better productivity.
Through the last mile distribution of farming inputs, iProcure is a digital platform through which farmers can order for inputs and have them delivered through co-operatives to ensure that they get genuine and affordable inputs. iprocure’s ojective is to get tools closest to the farmers.
“iProcure aggregates demand for inputs from smallholder farmers, sources for the inputs directly from local wholesalers and manufacturers and delivers them in locations as close as possible to the farmers, “ says Feed The Future.
This tackles the bottlenecks that come with a supply chain where there are middle men involved, with the cost being passed on to the farmer.
This innovation is lowering costs and ensuring affordability and timely delivery for smallholder farmers, even in remote areas, leading to farmers enjoying savings of at least 30 per cent on genuine input purchases.
The innovations by Feed The Future also are cushioning farmers against agriculture shocks such as droughts and diseases which more often than not diminish banks’ appetites to lend to farmers.
Feed The Future also has an implement called Tutrack which has been helping tomato farmers specifically get information on how to get rid of pests.
Tutrack is a pheromone-based mass-trapping system for Tuta absoluta consisting of a lure and a trap.
The innovation is unique as the lure is specifically designed for the Kenyan market and was developed on the request of, and together with, Kenyan smallholder farmers
According to Titianne Donde-Ommes, chief of party at Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine, farmers are now getting a 100 per cent harvest from a piece of land which previously produced nothing.
“We had a pest that had wiped off tomatoes in farm in Migori county, but when they used Tutrack, the yield increased tremendously,” she said.
Another innovation is EasyMa 6.0 milk weighing systems, which is a technology that is assisting farmers get real time digital weighing scale connected to dairy enterprise.
“Before, you would get a farmer’s milk weighing for example 1.3 litres and it would often be rounded off to one litre, but now the technology makes sure the weight is captured to two decimal places and they get paid to the last drop,” she said.
The innovations have also enabled farmers access extension services, livestock insurance and financial products.
Those in the arid and semi-arid areas have realised that insuring their animals by ensuring a continuous supply of grass helps a great deal in curbing nomadic pastoralism.
Takaful Insurance of Africa has helped farmers like Mohamed Kadir, a herder in central Isiolo to get fodder when vegetable levels in the area go below 20 per cent.
Takaful pays farmers more as the vegetation cover reduces thus making sure they are not forced to migrate in search of pasture and facing all sorts of problems affiliated to pastoralism.
Even after a couple of droughts cycles in the past year, Mr Kadir currently has a flock of 100 sheep and goats.
Another farmer, Fatuma, has 10 sheep and goats who provide her with milk for sale making it possible for her to meet her familys’ basic needs.
“Without the insurance, I would have to uproot my family from here and travel very far in search of pasture when droughts hit,” says Ms Fatuma.
Financial services to farmers are often very limited — only 6 per cent of commercial financial institutions in Africa are dedicated to agriculture lending despite the continent having close to 50 million farmers.
Agriculture is the backbone of East Africa’s economies as it accounts for about 44 per cent of the gross domestic product in Burundi and Tanzania; 30 per cent in Uganda; 24 per cent in Kenya and 38 per cent in Rwanda.
The sector employs over 75 per cent of the rural population – majority of whom are poor. Development of the agriculture sector presents a great opportunity for poverty reduction in a sustainable manner.
According to the Food And agriculture Organisation, current projections indicate that the world population might increase by more than two billion people, reaching 9.15 billion people by 2050, with incomes also growing at a faster rate.
To face these changes, global food production needs to be ramped up on a large scale and innovation is one of the ways to deal with this.
“I have seen innovations change the life of farmers, the income they make is more, and costs are less compared to those farmers still stuck on the traditional farming methods,” says Donde-Ommes.