Taita Towet, who farms somewhere in Bomet County, has come to be known as the SMS farmer.
This is because he relies on his phone to get information on crop husbandry, pests and diseases directly from the experts.
We find Towet browsing his phone keenly as he looks at a message he had received.
“The leaves of my tea plants are turning yellow,” he had posted on the WeFarm app, where he is a member.
The answer from the experts showed he had applied the NPK fertiliser excessively.
For many years, Towet, who farms in Konoin, was relying on extension officers to visit his farm when he had a challenge, but not any more.
“All I do to get information is to send a message to a given number (22301) for free and wait for an answer, which comes in less than five minutes.”
Kennedy Otieno, a rice grower from Kisumu, says most farmers are making losses because information that could make their agribusinesses more productive and profitable is too expensive.
Farmers have to pay an expert to get information on whatever crop they want to improve or plant.
Otieno, who grows the crop at Ahero Irrigation Scheme, says he used to part with Sh4,000 for extension services.
“Farmers are many but extension officers are few making the experts charge highly for their services. I weighed my options and shifted to WeFarm,” says Otieno who farms on two acres, adding his production has increased from 20 bags to about 25 due to easy access to information.
TIMELY, ACCURATE, WELL-RESEARCHED RESPONSES
Otieno says he has signed up his farm workers who instead of always calling him to ask for advice, they turn to the app and only call him for decision making.
“WeFarm is a free peer-to-peer service that enables farmers to share information via SMS. They ask questions, and receive crowd-sourced answers in real time,” says Njoki Thuo, an agricultural officer with WeFarm, noting one doesn’t need a smartphone to use the service.
She says the system guarantees farmers timely, accurate and well-researched responses.
“Before farmers get their feedback, they are filtered. We have experts in the system whose work is to ensure that farmers get correct answers,” she says.
According to her, most farmers send questions on dairy, poultry, maize and markets.
However, there are few challenges like when people abuse the system by sending irrelevant questions that include on politics and relationship.
“Such questions waste time for the experts but if they come, the system helps us flag them, then we warn the senders and if they repeat, we de-register them.”
GOOD PLATFORM FOR FARMERS
Kenny Ewan, the founder of WeFarm, says once a farmer is signed up to the system, by sending an SMS to the given code for free, they can ask questions immediately.
“Our intention is to make access to information as easy and faster as possible, the reason we don’t charge,” he said, adding through the system, one can tell key trends and most discussed issues in the sector, including diseases, droughts and crop diversification.
WeFarm, which has over 90,000 farmers in Kenya, is also in Uganda and Peru. Ewam says they are expanding it to Brazil, Colombia and India.
Prof Matthews Dida, a plant breeder at Maseno University, says the platform is a good way of engaging farmers and solving their agricultural problems.
“I have known of several systems that are interactive and farmers could engage experts to get agricultural information.
The only challenge is that most farmers are not aware of such platforms or shun them because of high charges. A free service is a good gesture.”