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Why the modern farmer must embrace mobile technology

Friday June 9 2017

Kenny Ewan, CEO of WeFarm.

Kenny Ewan, CEO of WeFarm, the free knowledge-sharing service that enables farmers to connect with others around the world. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By BRIAN OKINDA
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Kenny Ewan is the CEO of WeFarm, a free knowledge-sharing service that enables farmers to connect with others around the world to share ideas, solve pressing agricultural problems and spread innovation. He spoke to Brian Okinda on how farmers can use technology to better their yields

What are the main challenges bedevilling smallholder farmers and how can they be overcome?

Smallholder farmers face many issues that include battling diseases, dealing with drought and other effects of climate change, locating advice on product pricing and local markets, facing water and electricity shortages and working long hours, leaving little time for non-farming tasks.

But technology can lessen this burden by helping farmers’ access crucial knowledge on livestock and crops. It can help them source for inputs or battle a disease without leaving their farms or spending any money.

How is technology especially that based on mobile phone, central in eliminating challenges farmers in Kenya are facing?

The most successful services use technology to match vital needs with improved speed and efficiency. Mobile technology is an important way for us to deliver vital agricultural information to farmers that can no longer wait for the extension worker’s next visit.

Through the mobile phone, they do not have the time to travel long distances to get diagnostic information.

How do you rate information and communication technology use in the agriculture sector in Kenya?

Exciting! There’s such a vibrant entrepreneurial community building in Kenya, and a lot of attention is increasingly being focused on the agriculture sector.

However, I believe there is still too much focus on top down approaches and a belief that the agricultural communities we are working with just need to be told what to do.

We must do things differently. We believe farmers have the deep knowledge most relevant to help each other and what they need is a platform to connect in a way that is convenient and cost-effective.

Do you think the Kenyan farmer is ready for a mobile phone agricultural revolution?

Absolutely. Farmers in Kenya are incredibly smart and motivated.

One of the reasons WeFarm has managed to attract so many users in relatively short span of time is that farmers are hungry for information about ways they can improve their farms, produce higher yields, diversify their output and find low-cost solutions to their everyday farming problems.

They understand mobile services are there to help with greater ease and efficiency.

WeFarm is a mobile phone technology through which farmers share peer-to-peer extension services? Explain how the system works?

How WeFarm works is simple. Farmer Joseph is out one day and realises his tea farm has been attacked by a pest he has never seen before. So, he sends a free SMS to the WeFarm number.

WeFarm then shares Joseph’s question with other farmers around the world who answer it. His problem is solved.

That’s what WeFarm is, it’s simply a way to receive valuable information to help you increase productivity on your farm.

What do you tell farmers who still believe in the old way of doing things when it comes to access to extension services, marketing, among others?

Technology does not exist to replace extension workers, or the old way of doing things, instead it provides a valuable, complimentary service that enables the modern farmers to access the information they need, whenever they need it.

The modern farmer cannot do without mobile technology as it is the getway to the success of his venture.