How do you ensure that climate information can be accessed by the farmers who need it to decide what to plant and when in the face of climate change?
In a country like Kenya, where two in every three people have access to the internet, a web app might well be the answer. One such app is SmartAg, which in November 2018 won the third place worth USD 75,000 in the UK Aid-funded Tekeleza Prize, which is the last stage of the Climate Information Prize (CIP). SmartAg provides real-time, localised climate information and agronomic advice to farmers, helping them to make well informed decisions and increasing their resilience to climate change. Users just need to sign up on the web platform to register their farm and access these services.
SmartAg is the brainchild of Daniel Mbeyah, a young and ambitious software engineer from Nairobi, who managed to transform it from a prototype into a commercial product.
Why CIP was a game changer
Reason 1. Bring SmartAg to the market
Two years ago, Daniel won the Tambua Prize, the second prize within CIP. At the time, SmartAg was a prototype but the cash prize he won (the equivalent of around USD 1,260) helped him refine the product and cover costs.
‘Participating in the Tekeleza Prize challenged us to look for ways to move SmartAg to the market. We hoped to win a cash prize and establish partnerships that could help us to scale. We are a small start-up so we need partners, and that’s exactly what happened thanks to the Tekeleza Prize. The quarterly reports that we had to submit as part of the competition were also key as they pressured us into achieving milestones within specific time frames.’
- Daniel Mbeyah, SmartAg founder
Reason 2. Access to climate data
We have connected Daniel with the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), which sends him weekly forecasts covering rainfall, temperature, wind and humidity. The SmartAg team then repackages the information to make it easier to understand and disseminates it through the web platform and SMS.
‘Initially, we got the data from US company aWhere, but it became too expensive’, says Daniel. ‘Thanks to the Tekeleza Prize, we have been able to rely on the information from KMD, for free. The prize has really opened this door for us.’
SmartAg also provides subscribers with agronomic information, alerts on pests and disease to look out for and support to plan when to plant and determine the best time to apply inputs, such as fertilisers. Users can also send their feedback, on the usefulness of the information they receive for example.
Reason 3. Increased visibility and new connections
‘KMD has been sending us their data and we are discussing a potential partnership. Because of our tech know-how, we could make the data they provide more easily consumable in a digital format’, says Daniel. ‘At the moment, it needs to be manually extracted and added to a digital database’.
We have also connected the SmartAg team with the Kenya Cereal Enhancement Programme - Climate-Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods (KCEP-CRAL), which is funded by the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. KCEP-CRAL aims to reduce rural poverty and food insecurity of smallholders while improving their resilience to climate change, so Daniel hopes to partner with them by providing data.
Daniel has many plans in store for SmartAg.
To increase commercial viability, he is targeting agriculture extension officers, which are employed by the government or NGOs to teach farmers best practice and how to increase agricultural production. As each officer represents between 100 and 200 farmers, if they register the farmers they work with on the SmartAg system, that would allow it to scale. Also, they are easier to bring on board from a technology perspective because they have smartphones and can access the services.
Alternatively, they can relay weather and agronomic information to the farmers via SMS. While the farmers don’t pay for the services, the organisations that employ the agriculture extension officers do, which would increase SmartAg’s revenue stream.
Daniel is also planning to add a call centre feature. The idea is to recruit climate and agriculture experts and connect the callers to experts located in their area who can provide climate or crop-related information. Another plan is to approach players in the value chain, such as agriculture retailers, and fertiliser and pesticide suppliers, and assess the opportunity to insert advertising into the calls.
SmartAg would also like to partner with organisations that support farmers’ livelihoods, through the provision of training and climate information. Further down the line, when SmartAg will be big enough, the goal is to sell data to the likes of researchers in academia and the agriculture industry.
‘2,702 people have already subscribed to SmartAg from 10 counties across Kenya but there’s so much more we can do’, concludes an enthusiastic Daniel.