November 27, 2013. Nickly Kipkorir is a young law student who has just finished his paralegal studies and is set to attain his LLB. He is also symbolic of a new farmer breed who is young, motivated and technologically savvy. While he pursues his academic goals, Nickly is earning more than SH 23,000 by growing stevia, a natural sweetener which does not cause the health effects associated with sugar.
Niclkly was recently proclaimed a ‘Young Champion’ by Mkulima Young, a new initiative that seeks to encourage the youth to discover the potentially lucrative world of farming.
Farmers of the future
If, in the past, Kenya youth viewed farming as a pursuit for unskilled workers, with little chance of obtaining interesting profits, the Mkulima Young association is making farming attractive once again through the use of social media.
The association shares success stories and new advances in agriculture on the radio, Twitter and Facebook, often posting YouTube videos as well – these short recordings tell fascinating stories of ingenuity and reveal the extent to which a connection to the land can turn young lives around. Mkulima Young’s Facebook page is a fine instance of the new interest it is generating in Kenyan youth.
The page, which boasts over 24,400 Likes, is an eclectic mix of inquiries, photos and videos, useful pieces of advice, trade offers and more. The Mkulima Young website, meanwhile, features a list of Mkulima Young Champions like Samson Ndung’u, a former boda boda rider (‘motorcycle taxi’ driver) who was inspired by a Mkulima Young radio programme to turn his life around through agriculture.
His earnings soared from the Sh 300 he used to take home after a whole day driving, to an impressive Sh 24,00 monthly from a small farm he set up only six months ago. “I get at least Sh 6,000 every week. I guess this is more than the salary of a teacher or many civil servants. I am happy in the shamba,” he says.
The only remaining question is whether this enthusiasm can be passed on to older farmers as well; it is vital that the latter develop a new relationship with technology which will also enable them to benefit of the information and opportunities which are currently being shared on social media.
Indeed, the failure of older populations to keep up with new technologies is not an exclusively Kenyan concern; around the world, the elderly can be fearful of new advances, despite the incredible ability of technologies like Skype and e-mail to combat senior depression, enabling the elderly to feel connected to loved ones who may be living far away.
Thankfully, in Kenya, older farmers are being trained in IT subjects through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) lessons provided by associations such as the ACK Western Region Christian Community Services. This association has been working with farmers around Cheptais in Western Kenya, where the number of farmers in the area has grown from 60 (in 2011) to 800 (currently).
Members of the ACK Western Region Christian Community Services introduce potential farmers to the world of agriculture through radio shows and agricultural videos. Apparently, video is particularly popular with students, who prefer to witness farming techniques in action than simply hear about them. Farmers are also trained on how to use computers, with separate classes given to the elderly, who may feel daunted by the accelerated pace of younger students.
Technology is boosting farming in many other ways; new software such as Farmforce is poised to put an end to time-consuming farm record keeping by hand. Farmforce is an online data storage system which farmers can access via mobile phone.
The platform, which bore a cost of $2 million, was an initiative of The Syngenta Foundation, and was supported by the Swiss government. Countries such as Guatemala, Indonesia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Ghana have already expressed a strong interest in Farmforce, since its use can be used for all types of crops.
According to the World Bank’s e-book, ICT in Agriculture, Kenya is set to be a nucleus of technological innovations in so far as the agrarian world is concerned. This can only mean positive news for young and old farmers alike. Meanwhile, Uganda refuses to be left behind, and is currently using a cloud-based mobile platform which allows farmers to order, pay for products and collect payment via mobile phone.
By Missi Davis