3 Reasons Why Mobile Technology is Helping Farmers in Kenya

Farming in Kenya is a huge part of the nation’s livelihood.  Almost 75 percent of working Kenyans make their living by farming and agriculture is a $9.32 billion industry.  In Kenya, like most other developing countries, agricultural production is limited in terms of financing and education. Farmers rarely have access to credit, and most do not understand basic farming cycles or have access to long-term weather forecasts.  Because of these factors, most farmers do not produce the yields they should and are thus under producing and missing out on obtainable profit.

This is an on-going trend in the agriculture industry.  However, companies like Syngenta are spending time and resources to “create value for resource-poor small farmers in developing countries through innovation in sustainable agriculture and the activation of value chains”.  And most importantly, they are using technology to do so.

In Kenya, the Syngenta Foundation has established Kilimo Salama, a program aimed to “to support smallholder farmers in dealing with weather risks by developing and piloting agricultural microinsurance products.”  The project is a partnership between Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, UAP Insurance and Safaricom (a Kenyan mobile phone company).

Basically, in Kenya, farmers have an easy, low risk option to purchase crop insurance through SMS technology.

The process is fairly simple and easy to understand, this is how it works:

  1. Purchase product with 5 percent premium built in
  2. Receipt sent via SMS to farmer’s cell phone
  3. Tailored farm advice messages throughout the year sent directly to farmer’s cell phone
  4. Insurance payouts based on season’s weather (and other factors).  If a payout is necessary, a SMS will be sent to farmer’s phone letting them know they are eligible.  Farmer returns to place of purchase to get money.

The founders of the program had the mindset of “Creative thinking, innovative solutions and strategic partnerships are all key for tackling the challenges and problems of the 21 century.”

The Kilimo Salama, or “safe agriculture” program satisifies the mindset – it is creative, innovative, strategic.  I would argue this program works for the following three reasons.

  1. Partnerships help extend reach
    Kilimo Salama’s parternships are what make it successful.  Each of the three partners brings something different to the table.  Syngenta Foundation drives the efforts, UAP provides the insurance, and Safaricom insures the program runs smoothly.  Shared products and services, man power, network of followers, and established communities help to extend reach and make the program successful.
  2. Incentives farmers to plant and increase productivity
    An easy to use program incentives farmers to plant more because it minimizes risk. With already limited resources, farmers can purchase crop insurance at the point of sale for a minimal price.  Also, if payouts are needed there isn’t a lot of associated paperwork and farmers know exactly how and where they are going to receive their funds. The program extends the community-based lifestyle and allows farmers to make business decisions through people they trust, in a location they trust.
  3. Improved communication and education
    Not only does the program aim to provide insurance to farmers, it also serves as an extended form of communication to rural farmers.  If a farmer registers for the program, they will also receive SMS alerts about changes in weather, better farming practices, etc.  The program is bridging the gap and providing small farmers the necessary information and education to stay competitive and make profit.  Furthermore, the program utilizes widely-used forms of communication to streamline efforts and “shows that even a simple tool like a mobile phone can make a big difference in the lives of many”.

In my mind, the program is great because in rural Kenya, Kilimo Salama is the “new social network”.  Through SMS technology, farmers in rural Kenya no longer have to rely on obtaining and sharing information with the guy next door. 

  • SMS is the new community gathering. 
  • SMS is the new source of information and peace of mind. 
  • SMS is a means for farmers to connect with a larger network of people.  

The program is creating a dynamic social network that reduces risk and increases the livelihood of farmers in Kenya through partnerships, incentives, and improved communication and education.

[This blog was originally drafted as a class assignment for a graduate-level course in global communications and social media at Georgetown University.  To read the class blog, click here.]

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