Disruptive technologies in agriculture (DATs) have been in Kenya since the early 1900s and can simply be defined as the digital and technical innovations that enable farmers and agri-firms to increase their productivity, efficiency, and competitive edge.
These platforms essentially help local farmers make more precise decisions about resource use through accurate, timely, and location-specific price, weather predictions. The agronomic data and information that they provide in Kenya is becoming increasingly important in the context of climate change. Besides, leveling the playing field, it can make small-scale or local marginalized farmers in Kenya to be more competitive.
Sophisticated off-line digital agri-tech can provide opportunities even in poorly-connected rural contexts, or with marginalized groups who have lower access to information and markets. In short, Disruptive Agricultural Technologies (DATs) are overturning the sector status quo.
Some of the key disruptive technologies in agriculture (DAT’s) include Waterwatch Cooperative in Kenya (Real-time alert system), Tulaa and Farmshine (Digital platform for finding buyers and linking buyers and sellers).
There is also Agri-wallet (platform for input credit/e-wallets/insurance products), dutch-based Agrocares operating in Kenya and Ujuzi Kilimo (portable soil testers, satellite images, remote sensing) as well as SunCulture (solar-powered irrigation pumps)
These platforms have helped to facilitate access to local markets in counties such as Makueni and West Pokot, improve nutritional outcomes, and enhance resilience to climate change. Disruptive agricultural technologies are designed to help stakeholders by reducing the costs of linking various actors of the agri-food system both within and across countries through faster provision, processing, and analyzing of large amounts of data.
The Disruptive Agricultural Technologies Landscape
Over 75% of Disruptive Agricultural Technologies are digital. The remaining 25% of non-digital are either focused on energy (solar), or producers/suppliers of bio-products for agriculture.
Approximately 32% of the Disruptive Agricultural Technologies aim to enhance agricultural productivity, 26% are working to improve market linkages, 23% are engaged in data analytics, and another 15% are working on financial inclusion.
According to a 2019 World Bank report, Kenya has become a leading agri-tech hub with nearly 60 scalable Disruptive Agricultural Technologies (DATs) operational in the country, followed by South Africa and Nigeria. Kenya is said to have the third largest technology incubation and acceleration hub in the region. Examples of those technologies in Kenya include: Data-connected devices which use ICT to collect, store, and analyze data. This includes GPS, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. The Africa’s Regional Data Cube hosted in Nairobi,Kenya is a tool that helps various countries address issues related to agriculture, water, and sanitation.
The use of robotics and automation in farming in Kenya has gained widespread acceptance. For instance, drones are used to monitor and improve the efficiency of agricultural operations and its usage is governed by the Civil Aviation Act.
Majority of farmers in Kenya are smallholder farmers and having access to Disruptive agricultural technologies helps even the competition with medium and large scale farmers as tools are created for both low and high connectivity areas.
Over 83 percent of Disruptive agricultural technologies are e-marketplaces that do not require high connectivity. Example is Twiga Foods whose digital platform connects retailers and food manufacturers, delivering a streamlined and efficient supply chain.
Kenya’s financial sector is characterized by a robust mobile money ecosystem (MPESA) with over 70 percent of the population using mobile money regularly which increases its potential for farming for smallholder farmers.
Despite that one of the biggest challenges facing the agriculture sector in Kenya is access to finance. This is largely due to the high risk of loaning to small holder farmers. FinTech apps use alternative data and machine learning to improve the credit scoring of smallholder farmers.
These apps help minimize the gap between the demand for credit and the supply of financing for smallholder farmers. Kenya is a hotspot for agricultural apps. There are numerous organizations working on developing digital solutions that combine precision farming with remote sensing data.
Connectivity and Adoption of DATSs
A significant number of the existing digital tools and technologies can be utilized in areas with low network to improve the productivity of the agriculture sector. Despite the increasing number of mobile phone users in Kenya, the penetration rate among smallholder farmers remains relatively low.
It may be difficult for many of these smallholder farmers to adopt Disruptive agricultural technologies (DATs) due to the high costs, complexity and capabilities required. Meanwhile for large scale farmers, the DATs highly boost their productivity, especially if they have already developed the capabilities in-house to accelerate adoption of these tech platforms. Therefore, from the onset, we need to understand who uses the technology and the implications of this.
Kenya has a well-established start-up ecosystem, made up of mostly young, adaptive and brilliant innovators who are leveraging low-cost digital platforms. This is coupled with funding from international donors and incubation activities address agricultural value-chain issues. There is a mix of actors for Disruptive agricultural technologies depending on the categorization of the technology.
This ranges from DATS that support creation, facilitate adoption and oversee diffusion of innovation.
These actors need strong and cohesive ties, both between, the regulatory bodies, farmers, county leaders, financiers, state agencies, and fellow developers. The nature of the collaborations could be cohesive and cooperative, where all the local actors have shared goals, to fragmented, where not all actors are on board, causing resistance and slowing down the process.
Despite a myriad challenges these radical and innovative (DATs) are revolutionizing and changing the farming landscape in the counties and working with the Ministry of Agriculture using technologies to deliver agricultural services more efficiently and accountable.
The future of farming in Kenya counties whether in knowledge sharing, collaborations, funding, or market access primarily lies in the farmer’s abilities to harness the respective strengths of the available and emerging Disruptive Agricultural Technologies. As the tech-platforms become cheaper, more available and affordable farmers yield and fortunes will likely inch upwards.