Monday July 23, 2018
Home Science & Technology WeFarm- a Far...

WeFarm- a Farmer to Farmer Digital Network – is Helping Farmers in remote villages of Kenya

WeFarm helps connect farmers via Text Messages

0
//
88
A farmer herds his cattle at sunset near Kisumu, Kenya, Feb. 2, 2008.
A farmer herds his cattle at sunset near Kisumu, Kenya, Feb. 2, 2008. VOA
Republish
Reprint

When she woke up one morning in February, Catherine Kagendo realized that one of her cows could not stand.

“It was lying on its side, had lost its appetite and was breathing heavily,” she told Reuters from her farm in Meru, in eastern Kenya.

With her husband, she decided to turn to WeFarm, a text-based network of small-scale farmers, for help.

Within an hour, their text — “one of my lactating cows cannot stand” — generated a flurry of suggestions, from “feed your cow with minerals rich in calcium” to “make sure the cow shed is clean and well-drained so the animals don’t slip.”

“I realized our cow had milk fever, so gave it calcium-rich feed and it was standing again within hours,” Kagendo explained.

She is one of many Kenyan small-scale farmers who lack good information — mostly due to a lack of internet access — on how to manage problems from dry spells to diseases, local farm experts say.

As a result, such farmers often lose their harvest or animals, they said.

But WeFarm, a farmers’ network launched in Kenya in 2014 and more recently expanded to Uganda and Peru, allows people to ask a question by text message and receive advice from their peers.

The service, whose Scottish co-founder Kenny Ewan describes it as “the internet for people with no internet,” is free to use and only requires a mobile phone.

Farmers text questions to a local number, and WeFarm transmits the message to users with similar interests in the area, tapping into their knowledge.

“We want farmers to get answers to their problems without needing to access the internet, so the information is available to all,” said Mwinyi Bwika, head of marketing at WeFarm.

Although the platform also exists online, over 95 percent of users choose to use it offline, he said.

Information gap

Kagendo said that when her animals were ill or her maize crops too dry, she used to have to hire an extension officer to help solve the problem.

“But we had to pay a fee ranging from 500 to 2,000 Kenyan shillings ($5-$20), and most of the time the officer didn’t even explain their diagnosis,” she said.

That cut into her family’s income and left them no better able to understand the diseases facing their cattle and their crops.

“We cannot even afford a smartphone to go online, so finding credible information was near impossible,” she said.

According to Bwika, small-scale farmers often lack the information they need because of a lack of cash — most live on less than a dollar a day — as well as poor internet connection and low literacy levels.

“Ewan realized that farmers living just a few miles from each other were facing the same challenges, but with no way to communicate about them. So, he created a platform to connect them,” Bwika said.

Joseph Kinyua, another farmer from Meru who grows vegetables, said he spends at least 30 minutes per day using WeFarm.

“It’s taught me anything from using pest control traps to ensuring that my sprinklers don’t put out too much water,” he said. “And I know the methods are proven and tested by other farmers.”

The knowledge has helped improve the quality of the kale he grows, he said, enough that “I can now sell a kilo at the market at 70 shillings [$0.70] compared to 50 [$0.50] previously.”

Preventing problems

While the platform might receive dozens of replies to a question, it only sends out to the user a selection of answers judged correct, Bwika said.

But it uses the questions and advice received to help track disease outbreaks or extreme weather spells, and shares those insights with governments and non-governmental organizations, Bwika said.

“In doing so, we hope to prevent disease outbreaks and track problems before they occur,” he said.

Not everyone shares this optimism, however.

Mary Nkatha, a farmer from Meru, said she found it hard to implement some of the recommendations she received from WeFarm without the practical guidance of an expert.

“If I am told to inject my cow with something, how do I make sure I do it in the right place? And where do I find the equipment?” she asked.

Fredrick Ochido, a Kenya-based consultant on dairy farming, also worries that the platform may be entrenching farmers’ poor use of technology, rather than helping them keep up with new trends.

The WeFarm platform has over 100,000 current users in Kenya, Uganda and Peru, and its operators hopes to reach one million farmers in the next year. They also aim to expand the effort to other countries, including Tanzania. (VOA)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 NewsGram

Next Story

HIV Outbreak In Southern and Eastern Africa

An estimated 800,000 people in eastern and southern Africa acquired HIV in 2017, and an estimated 380,000 people died of AIDS-related illness, the report indicated.

0
HIV
More than half of the people surveyed who inject drugs said they avoided health-care services, citing discrimination or fear of law enforcement authorities.VOA

A report by UNAIDS, “Miles to go—closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices”, warns that the global response to HIV is at a critical point. Eastern and southern Africa remain the regions most affected by the HIV epidemic, accounting for 45 percent of the world’s HIV infections and 53 percent of people with HIV globally.

An estimated 800,000 people in eastern and southern Africa acquired HIV in 2017, and an estimated 380,000 people died of AIDS-related illness, the report indicated.

Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania accounted for more than half of the new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS-related illness in the region last year.

The survey also indicated that there was discrimination against HIV positive persons in healthcare settings, especially towards key populations.

Key populations include men who have sex with men, drugs users, transgender persons and sex workers, considered to be most at risk at contracting HIV.

There are nearly 1 million sex workers estimated to need services in the region.

“For us it is important in fact we do have within NASCOP, a key population program, mainly targeting the key populations, the female sex workers, men who have sex with men and injecting drug users,” said Dr. Kigen Barmasai, the director at Kenya’s National Aids and STI Control Program, NASCOP “One, we know that this contributes to 33 percent of new infections in Kenya, from this key populations, of course the prevalence varies, we have prevalence from 29 percent in female sex workers to 18 percent among the injected drug users. So as a program we are working on this and we are spearheading the HIV prevention, treatment and care efforts to reverse the epidemic. For the last ten years we have been working on that.”

More than half of the people surveyed who inject drugs said they avoided health-care services, citing discrimination or fear of law enforcement authorities.

HIV
The survey also indicated that there was discrimination against HIV positive persons in healthcare settings, especially towards key populations..VOA

In Kenya homosexuality is illegal and being found guilty can lead to a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. Sex work is also illegal in Kenya.

“The criminal nature of Key populations, and the acts of Key populations that make people shy away from accessing health care and even organizing, coming together so that they can organize,” said Grace Kamau, chairperson of the Key population consortium in Kenya. “The main thing is the criminal nature. People fear to be arrested”

The report said about two-thirds of all people living with HIV in the region were accessing antiretroviral therapy in 2017.

Kamau attributes the successes in reaching large numbers of Key populations in Kenya to availability of HIV resources made possible by donor funding, but she says more people are yet to be reached.

“One of the things we have in Kenya is private clinics that are donor funded,” said Kamau. “That is where the sex workers feel comfortable and that is where they access their services. And that is what has made the number to go high.”

The report indicates that there were 19.6 million people living with HIV in eastern and southern Africa at the end of 2017.

Out of this number 81% were aware of their HIV status, an increase from 77% in 2016.

West and central Africa continues to lag behind as statistics indicated AIDS-related deaths have fallen by only 24% in western and central Africa, compared to a 42% decline in eastern and southern Africa.

Also Read-UNAIDS : World Is At A “Defining Moment” In A Battle Against HIV/AIDS

Nigeria has more than half of the HIV burden in the region and there has been little progress in reducing new HIV infections there in recent years. (VOA)