NAIROBI, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- The modern-day Kenyan farmer has a new, reliable friend, whom he walks around with as he goes about his business on the farm.
This friend is called a smartphone. The gadgets are now the greatest companion for Kenyan farmers because they help them solve challenges, educate themselves or sell farm produce in real-time.
"With a smartphone, help is just a click away," farmer Moses Gichiha, who is based in Kitengela said on Friday.
Gichiha, who grows strawberry, traditional vegetables and keeps broilers, belongs to three farmer phone groups.
Through these groups that he accesses via his smartphone, Gichiha gets his farm problems solved in real-time.
"Two of the groups were formed after we attended training offered by different agro companies. Agriculture experts are part of the members so they help us solve our problems," he said.
In the groups, farmers ask a variety of questions that include diseases, pests, fertilizer use and marketing.
Some of the questions are accompanied by photos making it easier for experts to diagnose problems and offer solutions.
"If it was not for my smartphone, I would be relying on an agronomist to visit my farm but this costs more money," he said.
Besides phone groups, smartphones are enabling Kenyan farmers to access online video tutorials on various topics. They include videos on how to make own livestock feeds, milk cows and add value to produce.
Collins Andaro is among hundreds of farmers in Kenya who have benefitted from agro online tutorials to boost their production. The poultry farmer is currently making his own feeds thanks to the lessons he picked online.
"A fellow farmer shared with me an online link, which I used to access step-by-step tutorials on making chicken feeds. From the link, I was able to know the ingredients to use and how to mix them," he said.
It is now over a month since he started making the feeds by mixing soya, maize germ, cottonseed cake and lysine, a mineral.
The feed he makes has enabled him to cut his production costs as the price of commercial animal feeds rises in the east African nation.
Prices have increased by 100 shillings (1 U.S. dollar) in the last two weeks as manufacturers cite the high cost of ingredients, in particular, whole maize.
A 70kg bag of layers mash is currently going at 21 dollars, up from 20 dollars.
Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in western Kenya, observed that they now advise every farmer to get a smartphone.
"We tell them to get the gadgets because they are critical in every step of farming. If you want to know what to plant, there is a smartphone app that guides you. If your crop has been attacked by a pest, you can take a picture using the phone and send us for diagnosis. This is why a farmer should not miss a smartphone," he said.
The gadgets are also helping farmers get loans, market their produce, save money in digital wallets and manage records.
"Without a smartphone, the farmer will be groping in the dark because how do you know what others are doing? How do you know if there is a disease outbreak because all this information is received through online farmer groups?" he said.
Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solution observed that agriculture is one of the sectors in Kenya that is rapidly being transformed by smartphone and mobile technology.
"Unlike in other sectors like banking where transformation is happening in big corporations or at the top, in agriculture, this is happening at the grassroots; on the farms and villages where the gadgets have empowered farmers," he said.
Increased smartphone ownership and use in Kenya have been boosted by the entrance of Chinese brands in the market, with prices of the gadgets falling to as low as 30 dollars each.
Internet costs have similarly declined, with Kenyans accessing up to 30 gigabytes of data at 10 dollars. A 2019 report by European Union-funded CTA firm ranked Kenya the leading African nation in the use of mobile technology in agriculture.
The report noted that there was a rapid growth of smartphone use in rural Kenya, especially among farmers as they sought digital solutions for their farming challenges.