Feature: Kenya's affordable internet, smartphones a boon to farmers

Source: Xinhua| 2019-05-12 20:20:04|Editor: Xiaoxia
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NAIROBI, May 12 (Xinhua) -- When dairy farmer Titus Rono recently suspected that one of his cows was suffering from mastitis, his first reaction was to try and call the para-vet who attends to his animals.

However, he could not reach him on phone yet he was eager to know if the animal was suffering from the disease.

Stranded, the farmer turned to his smartphone, switched on the internet and searched for the topic. He received plenty of answers and among them were videos of how to do the test himself.

"While there were plenty of articles that I scanned through, my interest was in the videos, which I watched as they took me step by step on how to conduct the test," Rono recounted at a farmers' forum.

He watched the online videos on his phone for over an hour and did not even feel a pinch in his pockets due to low internet costs.

In a country where agro-extension services are scarce, smartphones coupled with low Internet costs have become a boon for farmers - putting solutions in their hands.

Hundreds of farmers are now able to watch "how-to" videos on treating diseases and pests like ticks, attending to animals and adding value to produce, thanks to cheaper smartphones and low internet charges.

It currently costs about 3,400 shillings (about 34 U.S. dollars) to buy a 4G internet-enabled smartphone in the east African nation. This is a drop from twice the amount years ago.

The low-priced smartphones have given the Kenyan farmer a chance to create a new image of being tech-savvy.

Similarly, internet costs have come down significantly with Kenyans buying 1 gigabyte (GB) of data for as low as 50 shillings for a day. For heavy internet users, one can buy 7GB with about 10 dollars a month.

Initially, before competition between telecoms stiffened, Kenyans would pay up to 0.50 dollars for 1 megabyte of data.

"There is no challenge on the farm that I have failed to solve ever since I realized there is plenty of information online," said Moses Andanje, a poultry farmer.

From building a modern poultry house to vaccinating his birds, Andanje has benefited greatly from online farming videos.

"I get a lot of information that even when I call the para-vet, I already know what should be done," said Andanje.

In addition to the "how-to" videos, Kenyan farmers also watch TV farming programs they missed and can download and use various agro-apps besides sharing among themselves farm videos shot with smartphones.

"My interest is mainly in farming technology. One of the most fascinating videos I watched recently is how to test if a cow is on heat or pregnant using milk," said Stephen Kimani, a dairy farmer in central Kenyan county of Kiambu.

Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with agro-consultancy Growth Point, noted that cheaper internet and smartphones are a great blessing to the Kenyan farmers.

"In my case, I record all trainings and share the videos with farmers. It is an easy way to dispense information," said Macharia.

She added that farmers are also able to take photos and videos of their animals, birds or crops and send to her for diagnosis, before she offers solution.

As of the end of 2018, the total number of active internet subscriptions in Kenya reached about 45.7 million, with 45.3 million people accessing internet via their mobile phones, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya.

Small-scale agriculture is the biggest employer in the east African nation, with about 18 million Kenyans engaged in the activity in 2018, latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics showed.