Nickson Muturi is the project manager for Business Development at Syngenta, and he is leading agricultural data projects across Africa, specifically focusing on mobile technology. He spoke to Leopold Obi.
To what extent is access to agricultural information through the mobile phone of benefit to smallholder farmers?
Farmers in the region have for many years relied on physical interaction with extension officers, which is one efficient way of sharing information but the truth is it is impossible to have agronomists in every village across the country and that is where digital technology comes in.
With technology, one is able to reach a large group of farmers irrespective of where they are. Mobile phone technologies such as SMS platforms spread agronomic expertise.
Use of data in agriculture is a growing trend. What ways is data significant in boosting farmers’ output?
Many farmers experience poor yields because they lack information on the crops they grow. The biggest challenge many face today is knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. This is the question we try to address by providing data to them.
With the right information, some of them have been able to increase their yields by up to 50 per cent. Farmers need cross-cutting and very simple technologies which have quality and helpful information.
How far are we towards turning agriculture into an attractive sector capable of enticing the youth?
When most young people come out of school, they don’t have experience or capital to venture into agriculture. But with the emergence of information sharing platforms, the gap is slowly shrinking and this is something we can be happy of.
When they are equipped with knowledge, accessible and quality information, they are able to venture into agriculture without any fears. Currently, over 60 per cent of those using digital platform in agriculture are the youth, therefore we are on the right track.
Recently, the continent held the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF). Of what value was it for smallholder farmers?
AGRF is a high-level meeting that attracts policy makers, stakeholders and farmers from far and wide. Through AGRF, policymakers are able to get a feel of what happens to farmers across Africa and they are able to redirect resources where it is most needed for the benefit of the farmer.
What new product does Syngenta have?
We have a new maize variety called SY594. We are also running a project across several counties in partnership with TechnoServe and banking institutions.
Under the programme, we give farmers financial loans inform of inputs, which they repay after harvesting. We have learnt that financial access among farmers is a big challenge but when they are given loans inform of cash, they channel them to other activities such as paying schools fees. That’s why we decided to give them the inputs but we train them first.