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Text messages help maize farmers in Western Kenya

An ASHC partner has been getting good results from a text information system for maize farmers in Nyanza and Western provinces, Kenya . In the first five months the agricultural advisory services sent a total of 6,665 messages on maize and soil management to a cumulative total of 2,483 farmers. The service, which is partly financed by ASHC, is being run by the Africa Soil Information Service (AfSIS) and Fibrelink Communications Ltd.

Peter Okoth, senior scientist at CIAT and AfSIS, explains why the scheme has become possible: “Three or four years ago, farmers in Kenya didn’t have mobile phones. Now almost every farmer or household in the country has one. You can buy a phone for as little as 800 Ksh (US$10), thanks to low-cost handsets from China. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to reach farmers with important crop management information. Of course, the smart farmers will subscribe to the service, and then organise group meetings with their neighbours to share the information by word-of-mouth!”

Farmers have reacted positively to the information. They say that it is a good return on investment. Where a farmer invests around Ksh 150 (US$ 2) per season. One text per week at accost of Ksh.10. With the predicted increases in yields this could result in a 1000-fold return on the cost of the texts. The challenge is to communicate the economic benefits and value of the information to farmers.

As farmers become more professional they will see the benefits of timely text based information instead of traveling to see the extension service for information.

The farmers have however identified that getting some of the required farm inputs can still be a challenge as stocks are often very limited. So as the programme develops it needs to find ways of including the agro input dealers more.

George Oduor, project manager at ASHC, who also attended the field day in Nyanza, said: “The Africa Soil Health Consortium has invested in a small portfolio of innovative communications project to get ISFM messages out to farmers. We are building up a sense of what works and why. Over the coming months we will be sharing our finding through the website and the newsletter.”

Media coverage: Business Daily: Kenya: New SMS service to revolutionize farming in Nyanza

Growing more maize-mobile text

For more information contact George Oduor at ASHC.

Update: See the ASHC ‘How to…’ guide to producing text messages