by Kim Lewis for VOA NEWS
A new online tool allows small-holder farmers in Kenya to learn in just a few minutes about the varieties of popular crops such as maize, pigeon pea and cassava. The tool is called MbeguChoice. Mbegu is the Swahili word for seed.
The website MbeguChoice is the first tool of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. It not only helps farmers – it also helps agrodealers and extension workers in Kenya’s different farm environments.
It was developed through a partnership between the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, (KEPHIS), the Kenyan crop seed companies and Agri Experience – a sub-Saharan consulting company – with support from Kenya Markets Trust.
Paul Wanyagah is CEO of Kenya Markets Trust, which is based in Nairobi. He said the whole idea of the free online tool is to provide accurate information so farmers can maximize their farm yields by choosing the right crop seeds for local growing conditions.
There hasn’t been enough information flowing to farmers, Wanyagah says. “The are not many large scale farmers. A lot of farmers are basically in the small category, where they’re doing – to a large extent– subsistence farming.
“Without the correct information, clearly the food security situation in our country is obviously very much threatened because we really are a net importer. We import large sums of food on an annual basis at this rate, whilst we believe and think that the country can be able to sufficiently grow it’s own food.”
He said the design of the website is very simple and user-friendly.
“We’ve divided our country from a governance structure to 47 counties. So, the first question would be, ‘Which county is your farm in?” They then answer the following questions: the ecological zone within the county, the kind of crop – cassava, maize or sorghum – and the special attibutes that they would like of the particular crop.
MbeguChoice might offer another farmer searching for a drought-tolerant crop in a mid-altitude region a seed that produces a variety of maize best suited for the rainy season.
Wanyagah said the website contains over 200 commercialized crop varieties: 61 varieties of maize, 25 varieties of common bean, 11 varieties of cassava, 13 varieties of Irish potato and 12 of sorghum.
Farmers who don’t have access to the internet or through a smart phone can access the website through agrovet shops, he said.
“We know that it’s a journey,” he said, but “… a lot of these seeds are available in shops that specifically sell agro-chemicals and seeds. Each one of these shops that we are talking about throughout the country will, of course, be accessing this information. And farmers will always go into those shops because they have to get their supplies, especially when it’s a planting season,” said Wanyagah.
“We are primarily looking toward the agrovet shops to be the primary drivers of this thinking, especially in the very remote areas of Kenya, which will still have agrovet shops. That’s how we plan to drive this agenda.”