Providing Mobile Agricultural Support to Kenyan Farmers
In September 2014 ‘The Mediae Company’ was awarded a grant by TradeMark East Africa Research and Advocacy Challenge Fund (TRAC) to implement their project “iShamba”. Alongside their partner, TorchBox of the UK, iShamba aimed to be the first subscription-based nationwide Kenyan Farmers Club that could directly meet the information needs of Kenyan farmers. By understanding and profiling the exact needs of farmers across the country, iShamba is delivering a tailored service to each customer based on their preferences, interests and location.
This targeted service works through a platform that digitally manages the information, and through an SMS distribution and call centre facility that allows the dissemination of information without the need for a Mobile Network Operator (MNO). The project aimed to assist over 20,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya who would subscribe to the iShamba service. iShamba adds the next tier of services to the highly successful Shamba Shape Up television program which attracts around 4 million viewers in East Africa with engaging, accessible information about new practices which are adopted by farmers.
The project, while still undergoing implementation, has been regarded as a success, with iShamba empowering smallholder farmers with access to quality agricultural information. The market price information improves their bargaining power by providing timely information on crop prices in local markets. Farmers benefit from special offers and discount prices offered by key EAC-based agri-product suppliers who are keen to use iShamba as a direct channel to new customers. An impact assessment by Research Guide Africa indicates that potato farmers that received iShamba SMS in 2015 saw a yield 50% greater than those that did not.
The project implementation was structured into 4 milestones as indicated below, with all milestones having been completed.
the development of iShamba content and database
involved the launching of iShamba service and the establishment of an operational call centre
the implementation of iShamba to at least 15,000 subscribers with 5% of the users adopting a new crop or variety or improved practice
the improvement in yields of participating iShamba farmers by 10% supported by a 10% increase in participating smallholder farmer’s value of production (determined by output)
- Agricultural best practices for 20 crops and over five livestock species were developed and digitized along with weather information for all counties content in Kenya. Famers are also able to check the market price information for 42 commodities that were also digitized.
- iShamba has designed content for marginal areas where farmers are more vulnerable to climatic risks, thereby providing them with access to information specifically for their situation. Weather information by county level has also helped to serve as an early warning system to marginal areas (and those prone to flooding).
- Input suppliers, veterinary companies and agribusinesses such as grain buyers / processors benefit by being able to interact directly with several thousand potential customers (farmers).
- iShamba won two awards at the Mobile Innovation Awards i.e. Effective Integration of Mobile in an Omni Channel Strategy award & Regional Award (Africa).
- The original brief in the data management of iShamba’s content was to provide information to subscribers on 20 different crops; however, it became apparent that the information would need to be tailored to 7 Kenyan region’s climates, increasing the workload seven fold.
- Obtaining weather and market price information in a usable digital format proved a challenge. Weather information has now been sourced from ‘aWhere’ and after investigating many alternatives, an agreement was put in place with National Famers Information Service (NAFIS) for market prices, backed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
- The original project was designed to be a subscription service paid for by the farmer. Over the course of the year a few business models have been tested, and iShamba is now a freemium service to farmers, working with the commercial sector to surface their products to farmers at the times they need them most.
In spite of these challenges, iShamba managed to deliver on their milestones in a timely manner.
iShamba is still evolving; however its profile has been raised among its commercial partners, regional agri-product suppliers and especially EAC-wide farmers. It has just recently established a strong partnership with SIDAI Africa which owns over 100 franchises around Kenya; SIDAI Africa offering to sign up all its existing customers to the iShamba service. The key value of this project is that farmers are enjoying the access to, and benefits from, tailored information that would be otherwise time-consuming and hard to source.
“If you subscribe you get market prices for a couple of crops in a couple of locations, you get weather information, and we also send agri-tips, which are very local and time sensitive,”says Rachel Cowell, Product Manager at iShamba.