The digital farmer of the future, today

When he ventured into farming, Geoffrey Kimathi went for the usual crops farmers in Meru choose – maize, beans and bananas – and was doing it for the usual reasons – food for his family and any surplus for the market.

He realised he could do more in 2014 when he got access to piped water and ventured into growing snow peas for export. Kimathi would join other farmers for training at a centre in Nkubu and was
thus able to improve his horticulture.

But there was something missing. “Unajua shida yetu ni pesa – capital ya kuanza hii kazi (You know, our main problem here is lack of access to finance this work)”, said Kimathi. While he had access to the right information to improve his work, his most persistent problem was access to farm inputs; the herbicides, pesticides, fertiliser, certified seeds he needed to make great husbandry.

He then heard about a product called DigiFarm by Safaricom, a phone activated product that gives access to information to smallholder farmers on affordable inputs, e-extension services, access to credit, markets and insurance. Farmers receive targeted information because it is geo-specific down to an administrative ward.

They can access tutorials using the app on planting, the application of herbicides and pesticides and then how to harvest once the produce is ready using the e-extension services. “The idea is to have farmers engaged in precision farming based on science,” says Fred Kiio, the head of M-Agribusiness at Safaricom.

Kimathi has certainly experienced a difference in the way he runs his farm as he now has access to loans and can no longer forego using fertiliser on his farm as he did in the past and can get certified seeds. From one kilogram of beans, he says, he now harvests up to 300 kilograms.

“The cost of production has reduced,” he said.

Kimathi’s experience and the frustration he witnessed his neighbours go through is typical of farming in many parts of Kenya. “What we are asking ourselves as Safaricom is: ‘How can we leverage on technology to overcome these challenges?’ We are building a socioeconomic business model to impact the social fabric of the country and transform lives. At the same time, we also want to use technology to create a business model that can generate income for the shareholders. It’s both a social and economic discussion that we are having,” says Kiio.