The smart extension officer in my pocket

Friday September 19 2014

Lucy Kaari in her maize farm in Tigania, Meru. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI

Lucy Kaari in her maize farm in Tigania, Meru. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By LEOPOLD OBI
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The road that leads to Makandi in Tigania West, Meru, is dusty and bumpy.

On both sides of the road, one can see pigeon peas, maize, beans and dolichos beans sticking out of the red alluvial soil.

It is apparent that the crops have done well this season.

The bumper harvest is evident at Makandi Trading Centre, a few kilometres away, where farmers in the region own a grain store.

Lucy Kaari, a farmer and a Village Knowledge Worker (VKW), attributes the improved harvest to a mobile phone software farmers have been using.

Dubbed Community Knowledge Worker Search, this smartphone application allows a VKW, who is an extension officer, to access substantial information on crop husbandry.

This includes information on diseases, number of seeds per hole, varieties of seeds to plant, spacing, types of fertiliser at each stage and pesticides to spray.

The village extension worker shares this information with local farmers.

The application also has question forms where technical agricultural queries that the extension officer cannot respond to are forwarded to relevant experts.

“This interactive technology has enabled us to access farming extension services at the click of a button.”

Lucy, who is the only extension officer in Makandi with a phone installed with the app, explains that to use the software, she opens it on her phone, keys in the password and the details she wants.
The information is then displayed on the screen and she shares with farmers.

The programme was introduced to the farmers by Farm Concern International (FCI) in collaboration with Grameen Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture officials.

MOISTURE METRE

“We collected 295 90kg bags of maize last season from our 14 farmers, which we later sold at Sh3,500,” she says. “This season, we are to get more because we were able to reach many farmers through the extension services.”

Farmers in the region recount that before the advent of the CKW Search, many of them were not aware of proper use of fertiliser, seed-spacing and use of certified seeds.

“The CKW Search has transformed our farming. We are now able to farm with precision and a purpose. We know why using certified seeds is important,” Mary Nkoroi, a farmer, says.

From her two acres, Lucy has harvested over 30 bags of maize this season, up from about 25 last season.

Besides the knowledge they share, the farmers have come together and formed a group, through which they collect and sell their products.

“In the past, individual farmers would sell to brokers a 90kg bag of maize for as little as Sh1,500. We now sell our produce through Makandi Commercial Village Group.”

The farmers have rented a building at a local centre and have it equipped with a weighing scale and moisture metre.

“For safe storage of grains, farmers must check the moisture content using a moisture tester. Grains must have moisture content of not more 12 per cent,” Eliud Mutembei, a manager at FCI, says.