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ICT interventions panacea to food security

NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 23 – Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based interventions are proving to be the solution to ensuring food security in Kenya, according to a new agriculture report released on Friday.

Conducted by the electronic-based Agricultural Research Network (eARN), the studies looked at the various ways new generation ICT tools are being used to facilitate farmer linkage to markets, mediate money transfer to and from the agricultural sector, and strengthen agricultural trade among local markets.

Speaking during the launch, Agricultural Economist and eARN Africa project coordinator Prof Julius Okello said participating farmers from central and western Kenya reported higher returns, enhanced performance and improved household food security and income.

“In Kirinyaga the main focus of the project was French beans, which is an export-oriented product. We found the farmers in our ICT project were selling more because not much of what they produced was going to waste. They had linkages with the buyer directly,” he said.

Okello added that the project was also instrumental in mitigating the exploitation of smallholder farmers by unscrupulous middlemen, giving them direct access to markets and better knowledge on fair pricing for their products.

The research that was funded by Canadian-based International Development Research Centre (IDRC) revealed that mobile phones ranked second among means of acquiring market information by participants, as well as reduced the costs of agricultural exchange.

However, for majority of smallholder farmers, undefined markets for essential services such as insurance, credit and technical advice continue to hamper development in the agricultural sector.

“Smallholder farmers face poorly functioning output markets. Majority sell in rural markets that are thin, fragmented and that deal in small volumes of undifferentiated products,” Okello said.

With high transaction costs, he added that most farmers shy away from trading in distant markets often resorting to sell their produce at the farm gate.

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Over the last few decades market information service (MIS) projects, targeted at improving the welfare of farmers, have sophisticated their approach shifting from using old generation ICT tools (radio and television) to the new generation tools such as mobile phones, internet/email and computers among other devices.

Private sector initiatives like the Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange (KACE) are an example of a successful ICT project that has opened farmers to outside markets.

Formed in 1997, KACE facilitates competitive and efficient trade in agricultural commodities providing reliable and timely marketing information, and offering a transparent and competitive market price detection system.

Others like the DrumNet project that was featured in the report, acts as an automated middleman, helping reduce the number of players in the supply chain, in turn reducing fees paid by the farmers and giving them a bigger share of prices paid by buyers.

Okello said in order for ICT-based projects to catch on in the far flung parts of the country; investment in improving the literacy of participants and providing the right infrastructure by the public sector are key components for success.

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