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Safaricom targets farmers in food security venture

Sunday July 1 2018

Mr Fredrick Kiio, Safaricom head of M-Agri

Mr Fredrick Kiio, Safaricom head of M-Agri Business. PHOTO | ELVIS ONDIEKI 

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Safaricom has ventured into agriculture by developing programmes aimed at facilitating delivery of solutions to farmers countrywide.

The telco giant’s services were initially limited to voice calling, text messaging, internet provision, mobile banking, money transfer, among others.

“What initially started as a humble social innovation plan to solve farmers’ problems has developed into a fully-fledged department in the organisation,” Safaricom’s head of M-Agri Business, Fredrick Kiio, said recently. “We are already offering two products; Digifarm and Digifarm for Enterprise.”

He added that the first product targets smallholder farmers while the second one is tailored for saccos and cooperatives that buy produce.

Mr Kiio said the Digifarm for Enterprise ensures that when a farmer takes milk to a collection centre, for instance, the facility has a bluetooth-enabled weighing scale. The system then takes details of the milk and corresponds it with the farmer, since through the programme, Safaricom already has the farmers’ registration and identification details.

“At the end of the day, the farmer gets an SMS notification of how much he has delivered. This gives one an idea of what to expect, while the collection centre also easily keeps tabs of what it has received,” Mr Kiio said.

The system effectively eliminates manual record-keeping by farmers and the organisations.

From an enterprise point of view, it ensures that a processing manager sees how much is collected and from which farmer.

The system is also integrated into stock management for the cooperative societies so that the enterprises involved can easily issue stock to farmers on credit and retain their payment details.
This has been achieved by digitising the end-to-end processes and integrating them with payment systems Mr Kiio said.

“Digifarm, on the other hand, is a business solution that addresses small-scale farmers’ matters using a simple mobile device that does not necessarily need to be a smartphone,” Mr Kiio added.

“The question we sought to tackle with the development of this platform is why the smallholder farmer has all along remained small. In the country’s rural setup, every person will tell you he or she is a farmer. However, are they proud? Not quite,” he said, adding that it was the key reason Safaricom sought to empower the smallholders.

Mr Kiio said a market research identified significant issues that hamper the farmers’ productivity, and which the programme is expected to address.

The issues include poor farmer and farm profiling, farmers not knowing what, where and when they should grow, lack of agricultural e-extension services, lack of quality farming inputs, costs, affordability and quality of the farm inputs and lack of access to local and international markets, most of which are controlled by brokers and middlemen.

“After you have registered and given us your profile as a farmer, you can start learning different aspects of agriculture and agribusiness that touch on most of these issues at the comfort of your bed or seat, through the platform,” he said.

Mr Kiio added that then, a farmer can learn about crop and farm management, animal administration, record keeping, pest and disease control, livestock production, proper ways to market their produce and other agricultural e-extension services; all which effectively increase yields and harvests.

The products and services are being offered through feature phones. However, Safaricom is developing the Digifarm app, which should be ready by the end of the year, he added.

“Digifarm essentially has been fronted to be the brand name for our M-Agri solutions; just like we have M-Pesa,” said the head of M-Agri Business at the company. “We are also toying with the idea in which our call centres will at some point be transformed to incorporate an agricultural e-extension segment.”

Digifarm, and its related components are expected to transform Kenyan farmers’ lives and effectively boost the country’s food security in the long run, according to the developers of the programme.