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Kenya: Where there is no Internet, farmers use SMS to find farming solutions (Take Part)

When Paul’s goat stopped eating, he was worried. He says, “I live in the village, more than 10 kilometres away from town. There is no one to help with expert knowledge here.” So he consulted other farmers via a mobile text message. A farmer who had a similar problem advised Paul to deworm the goat. 

Paul is just one of the many Kenyan farmers who are using an SMS-based message service to solve their farming problems. An organization called WeFarm helps farmers consult each other, whether it’s about wilted leaves, possible plant diseases, or identifying sick animals.

After receiving this advice via SMS message, Paul says his goat is now fine.  

Kenny Ewan is the chief executive officer of WeFarm. He explains, “When farmers text a question to the WeFarm number, it is passed on to 20 to 30 farmers with an applicable profile and knowledge base, such as goat or coffee farmers, for example.”

In this way, a question reaches farmers with relevant expertise. Mr. Ewan says that the text service currently processes about 25,000 SMS messages a day and has handled eight million interactions in its first year. More than 76,000 farmers are using WeFarm.

According to Mr. Ewan, many rural farmers are happy with the text-based system for receiving extension advice. Within five hours, 60% of queries are answered.

He says the farmer-to-farmer service has been useful in improving many Kenyan farmers’ livelihoods by helping them diversify into new crops, save sick livestock, and start micro-businesses.

For many farmers in Kenya, Internet access remains a challenge. Not many farmers can rely on Internet research to find solutions to their farming problems. Mr. Ewan says peer-to-peer sharing of information through mobile phones is bridging this gap. He explains, “What we are trying to do is … to put in place a solution that can endlessly scale and provide an Internet-equivalent information source.”

He adds that peer-to-peer crowdsourcing and sharing of farming knowledge through mobile phones is a good approach to solving farming challenges because it is not top-down. He says: “What ultimately creates the big social change, I think, is the data … being able to track diseases and then being able to have a communication system that starts to pin them down and alert people.”

For Festus Tonui, this farmer-to-farmer connection helped him save his cow. Mr. Tonui lives on a farm in the Bomet region of Kenya, 15 kilometres from the nearest town. His cow was being attacked by a small white bird with a red beak, and the agrovet did not have a solution.

One hour after texting his question to WeFarm, Mr. Tonui had an answer: spray the cow once a week.

He says, “Since I do not have anyone to ask most of the farming problems, WeFarm is helpful to me. It’s a great place to learn.”

To read the full story on which this article is based, Where there’s no internet, farmers are texting their way out of problems, go to: http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/05/06/sms-farming-advice [1]

With files from WeFarm

Photo credit:  Antony Njuguna/Reuters