A consensus has developed that many of Kenya’s smallholder productivity problems can be traced to poor soil quality and crop nutrition.
This phenomenon puts smallholder farmers and extension agents at a particular disadvantage because most do not have the expertise or resources to assess how soil health is affecting the productivity of their crops, the quality of their fodder and the well-being of their livestock.
To address these issues, iSDA launched its first pilot project in Kenya this August, in collaboration with AgroCares and the Women Farmers Association of Kenya (WoFaAK). The purpose of the pilot is to help some 25,000 farmers gain much-needed understanding of the nutritional content of their soils, crops and livestock feed. Information will be gathered across five counties with the aid of a portable digital scanner, supported by smartphone technology and analysis of this information using big data techniques.
iSDA has appointed a Project Manager (PM) with responsibility for project oversight. The PM is supported by other members of the iSDA team, including soil scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre, along with iSDA’s Data Scientist and Agribusiness Advisor.
WoFaAK is a member-supported association consisting of over 15,000 progressive women farmers, entrepreneurs and professionals. WoFaAK has used its existing relationships to manage dealings with county government and district agricultural agencies.
AgroCares is providing the spectral devices and training on their use, along with technical support as needed. Its in-kind contribution includes staff time to support the design of the project, knowledge sharing, and interpretation of the data collected during project implementation.
Activities on the ground in Kenya are supervised by WoFaAK field staff with support from lead entrepreneurs known as “Champions.” The Champions have helped select a number of Village Enterprise Advisors, or VEAs, in each county. Each advisor has been assigned a cluster of farmer groups and a quota of samples to be tested during each cropping season. They are also entrusted with helping smallholders implement recommended changes to their farming practices.
In order to build an effective understanding of the pilot service offering, marketing materials of various kinds have been developed for use in the field. Some of these will highlight the importance of soil testing, and where to find and request soil testing services. iSDA has also supervised the production of a short dramatic video aimed at helping farmers appreciate the importance of soil testing and the adoption of recommendations.
The PM and Data Scientist, working with the partners, designed data collection tools using the AgroCares platform and an Open Data Kit. The mobile tools have been integrated with existing partner tools to improve the quality of data collection by capturing geo-tagged field data. This data is submitted in real time in order to provide accurate and relevant information to stakeholders.
A back-end application has been developed to allow partners to design and deploy rapid digital surveys without the need for technical expertise or infrastructure. The application has been uploaded onto smart mobile phones and tablets and will be used to geo-tag VEAs, farmers and input dealers participating in the project.
These tools will be used to create a baseline study to benchmark yields and inputs. A reward system will be used to capture information on the best performing VEAs based on agreed indicators. Productivity gains will capture the increase in yields per acre resulting from the application of recommendations made by the spectral analysis device.
Understanding soil health will help farmers improve their crop management practices, including the use of improved agricultural inputs to remedy the deficiencies of the soils on their farms. Better farming techniques will lead to significant improvements in smallholder productivity and profitability, and increased investments by input providers tailored to smallholder needs.
The Kenya pilot will be followed by a similar pilot to be launched subsequently in Ghana. These pilots will play a critical role in the development of sustainable and innovative business practices that can be applied on a much broader scale across sub-Saharan Africa.
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