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Tech Disruption in the Agricultural Sector

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.

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Tech Disruption in the Agricultural Sector
Photo: Tyler Mullins on Unsplash
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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.

Tech Disruption in the Agricultural Sector

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.

This article is part of The Elephant Food Edition Series done in collaboration with Route to Food Initiative (RTFI). Views expressed in the article are not necessarily those of the RTFI.

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Juliet Atellah is a data journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya

Data Stories

Surviving Hunger – Kenyans Forced to Cope With Increased Food Insecurity

Kenyans across the country are having to adjust to increased food prices as production falls due to poor rains among other causes.

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Surviving Hunger – Kenyans Forced To Cope With Increased Food Insecurity
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On 8th September 2021, the then president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, declared the drought affecting several parts of the country a national disaster. The increase in food insecurity in Kenya is mainly a result of poor rains, the COVID-19 pandemic, insecurity, as well as pests and diseases, which have led to an increase in food prices in the country.

Skipping Meals to Survive

Kenya has been experiencing a high inflation rate since the beginning of 2022.  In July 2022, the overall year-on-year inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was 8.3 per cent. This was mainly due to an increase in commodities prices in the previous 12 months, including food and non-alcoholic beverages, which on average had gone up by 15.3 per cent. The cost of a litre of cooking oil had nearly doubled to KSh359, while that of a 2-kilogramme packet of sifted maize flour, a local staple, had gone up by 14 per cent, and a kilo of Irish potatoes by 25 per cent.

A March 2022 report by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) estimated that by June, a quarter of the population in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid (ASAL) counties, or more than than 3.5 million people, would be acutely food insecure, with those in Marsabit, Turkana, Baringo, Wajir, Mandera, Samburu and Isiolo counties, who mostly depend on pastoralism for their livelihoods, being the most affected.

Many Kenyan households are trying to find alternatives to survive given the trends in food prices. Some in Nairobi have turned to Vibandaski—small low-cost restaurants, some sporting branded umbrellas and plastic or wooden chairs. Kamau Njoroge, who works at a construction site, says he prefers the kibandaski to cooking at home. “To make breakfast at home, I’d have to buy a packet of milk at KSh60, sugar at Ksh120, tea leaves, and a loaf of bread that is KSh60.” This is more than his daily wage of KSh200. “Compare that with the breakfast at the kibandaski which costs Ksh20,” he says.

Hellen Atieno is a trader and a small-scale farmer who has been doing business in Kisumu town for the past five years. She has a shop that stocks staple foods in the area where she buys the goods wholesale and sells them to her customers at retail prices.

Skipping Meals to Survive

Atieno narrates says that the prices of goods at the wholesaler have doubled since she started her business. “When I started my business in 2017,” she says, “I would buy 50 kilos of sugar at KSh3,000, 20 litres of cooking oil at KSh2,500 and a bundle of a dozen 2-kilogramme packets of maize flour at KSh600. Those prices have changed and currently I am buying the sugar at Ksh6,500, oil at KSh6,000 and maize at KSh1,600.”

Atieno says she has to employ different selling techniques to accommodate customers unable to afford the higher prices. For example, she used to repackage the cooking oil into 300ml soda bottles, but as prices have increased, she now also repackages into smaller quantities measured out using a stainless steel cup.

According to Atieno, many of her neighbours and customers are peasant farmers earning less than KSh200 a day from their small pieces of land. Many are forced to skip meals, surviving on only one or two meals a day. Atieno adds that poor rains have also severely reduced the produce from her farm. “I used to harvest 6 sacks of maize from my quarter-acre and right now I can only get two sacks,” she says.

The situation is worse in the ASAL counties where, according to the NDMA report, households only have stocks that can last one to two months instead of the normal three to six months as a consequence of poor rains and the cumulative effect of the previous poor seasons. “In some counties, total crop failure of maize and cowpeas was expected, as the crops wilted at germination and vegetative stages,” according to the report. Exacerbated by limited access to farm inputs and Fall Armyworm invasions, the production of these crops as well as green grams at the coast has fallen below five-year averages.

Skipping Meals to Survive

Even outside the dry counties, high food prices are expected to remain the norm, notwithstanding government efforts to introduce subsidies. In Nairobi, wholesale prices for maize and beans are anticipated to stay significantly above the five-year average levels through September. With local fuel prices expected to reflect overall high global oil prices, this signals more tough times ahead for people across the country.

This article is part of The Elephant Food Edition Series done in collaboration with Route to Food Initiative (RTFI). Views expressed in the article are not necessarily those of the RTFI.

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Will 10 Million Kenyans Get At Least One Dose of a COVID-19 Vaccine by Christmas Day?

Based on the MOH daily cumulative number of vaccines administered, Kenya is on course to have 10 million vaccines administered by Christmas, based on the predictive AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA( 5,2,1)) model.

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Will 10 Million Kenyans Get At Least One Dose of a COVID-19 Vaccine by Christmas Day?
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During his eighth and last State of the Nation address on 30 November 2021, Uhuru Kenyatta reminded the nation of his pledge to have at least 10 million Kenyans vaccinated by Christmas. With just 25 days to go, the president urged Kenyans to get vaccinated to meet and surpass that target.

On the day of the president’s address, just 7,175,590 doses of the 13,909,670 received in the country had been administered.

The pressure to vaccinate Kenyans has been increasing. Data shared by the Ministry of Health in late November indicated that less than 10 per cent  of the targeted population was fully vaccinated and about 15 per cent had received at least one of the  COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Just nine days before the president encouraged Kenyans to get their COVID jabs, Cabinet Secretary for Health,  Mutahi Kagwe announced some tough measures. He said that Kenyans will be required to show proof of vaccination when boarding domestic flights, trains and buses, and while travelling from one region to another.

“Everybody seeking in-person government services should be fully vaccinated and proof of vaccination availed by December 21st 2021,” he said. “Such service will include but not limited to KRA services, education, immigration services, hospital and prison visitation, NTSA and Port services among others.”

The announcement sparked much debate among the public. Human rights defenders argued that the measures violated freedom of choice and threatened to deny basic services to citizens. Some taxpayers even joked about not paying their taxes since if they were unvaccinated, they would not be receiving government services.

Business owners, especially in the tourism sector, criticised the potential negative impact of these pronouncements on their businesses which experience a boom during the Christmas holidays.

But in the week following this announcement, the number of doses administered daily increased to over 100,000, except on the Saturday and Sunday. This is a significant rise. If we take data beginning on 28 September 2021, when MOH began to consistently upload the status reports, the average number of vaccines administered on a daily basis since that date was 52,796.

Vaccine roll out

The vaccination process has been highly dependent on the availability of vaccines, with more than half being  donations from higher-income countries like the US, UK, Denmark, Poland, France, etc.

Where the dates have been disclosed, the duration to expiry of the donated batches was between 25 and 136 days. While the Johnson & Johnson  batch that the government of Kenya had received on 3 September 2021, just before it last reported the expiry date of various vaccine batches, had 635 days to expiry.

It is not reported whether there were any vaccines that were discarded because they had expired.

Kenya had received 13,909,670 vaccines by 30 November 2021. The challenge is to match uptake with the now increased availability of vaccines. More than half of these vaccines are yet to be administered.

So, how likely is it that the government will have every adult Kenyan vaccinated by 21 December 2021 to avoid the consequences announced by CS Kagwe? Or is President Kenyatta’s Christmas pledge more realistic?

Predictions

Based on the MOH daily cumulative number of vaccines administered, Kenya is on course to have 10 million vaccines administered by Christmas, based on the predictive AutoRegressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA) model.

But this forecast will become reality if more Kenyans are persuaded to take the time to visit their nearest medical facility which according to the President is now stocked with the vaccine doses.

More realistically, about 9 million doses could be administered by Christmas if all factors remain constant.

The cumulative number of vaccines administered is non-stationary, meaning that it has a time-dependent structure and does not have constant variance over time. This can be  attributed to pattern changes based on the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the country and also due to various efforts undertaken by the ministry at different times.

It is clear, however, that the uptake of the doses has now become steady. But the uptake is not increasing at the same rate as the vaccines are becoming available. This could be because of ineffective communication to the public. Also, there may be vaccination apathy following the long waits for sufficient vaccines, the long queues once they become available and visits to medical facilities only to find no vaccine. I made one such visit which was disappointing.

Worthy of note is that in August the government issued its first vaccine mandate to all public servants who were compelled to get COVID jabs or face disciplinary action.

Now, over 95 per cent of health workers and teachers are fully vaccinated. The new mandate widened the scope to the general population, including millions of jobless Kenyans, and seems to be bearing fruit already.

Data management challenges

The prediction above is based on the kind of data the ministry of health has released. The MOH Twitter page and website have been the main avenues through which vaccination progress has been communicated.

Looking at the vaccination data, one gets a sense of how the data aspect of this pandemic has been a case of “building a plane while you fly it”. This can be seen in the way data is released for public use.

Data is first shared in the form of images on twitter and PDF documents are then uploaded on the MOH website.

Let us drill down to illustrate some problems by focusing on 14 July 2021.

  • The vaccines that had been administered on this day were 1,565,344.
  • The same status report indicates that 31 first dose and 1034 second dose were administered on that same day.
  • Total vaccinations on 15 July 2021 were 1,590,765. It is not clear why the difference between the two days is 25,421, since the doses reported to have been administered on the 15th are 263 for the first dose and 6730 for the second dose.
  • The discrepancy is not comprehensible and it is the case for many other days until much later, in November, when the numbers start to add up.

Additionally, the number of total daily vaccinations in the status reports uploaded on the MOH website differs with what is in the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), HUMDATA, an open platform for sharing data across organisations which relies on figures that are verifiable based on official public sources including Our World in Data (OWID) who in turn extract data from the updates from the MOH twitter timeline as well as on the website.

Another major issue for anyone seeking to explore Kenya’s vaccination data is missing data.

Dataset such as HUMDATA and OWID had data scraped from the MOH twitter updates initially.   We had to  combine data from the HUMDATA dataset and MOH status reports together to reduce the amount of missing data. However some figures recorded by Humdata were a day ahead compared to the figures in the available status reports presented on the MOH website.

The level of readiness in terms of how to capture and manage  the data is questionable. The status reports shared had not captured or anticipated the assortment and diversity of the vaccines Kenya would receive over time. Several elements (variables) are introduced at different times. This makes any automated technique of extracting the data extremely difficult and time-consuming. For example, up until 1 July, the reports had “Cumulative persons vaccinated to date”. But this was changed  to “Total vaccinations” to cater for those who were receiving their second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccination which began on 28 May 2021. Later it emerged that just a single dose of Johnson & Johnson would amount to full vaccination status so official data was changed from Dose 1 and Dose 2 to partially and fully vaccinated persons.

Gender was another variable that evolved with time. Initially genders were badged male, female and “other”. This was later changed to “intersex”, and “transgender” was subsequently added.

These discrepancies, in addition to the data provided in PDF forms, make it extremely difficult and time consuming for experts to explore the data and for the public to monitor the accountability and transparency of the vaccine uptake.

This OUTBREAK story was supported by Code for Africa’s WanaData program as part of the Data4COVID19 Africa Challenge hosted by l’Agence française de développement (AFD), Expertise France, and The GovLab

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Secondary Education: Kenya Needs to Think Beyond 100% Transition

COVID-19 has shown that there is a need for revolutionary thinking within the education sector if all children are to get a chance of an education.

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Secondary Education: Kenya Needs to Think Beyond 100% Transition
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The Ministry of Education in Kenya has continued to push for 100 per cent transition of pupils who sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in order to ensure that every child gets the full benefits of a secondary education.

Secondary school is the bridge between primary level education and tertiary education whose benefits go beyond attaining a formal education. For instance, secondary education contributes to the reduction of HIV infection among girls, as they are able to delay becoming sexually active and avoid early marriages. Access to a secondary school education also reduces poverty among girls and enhances their chances of employment. Secondary education also benefits the whole society as girls, and the youth in general, spend more time in school, and are therefore less likely to become involved in violence, either as perpetrators or as victims of crime.

Moreover, evidence shows that a secondary education leads to a decline in socio-economic inequality between girls and boys, with secondary education having the most effect on bridging the gap. Furthermore, evidence suggests that children of educated mothers are more likely to progress and complete school than those children whose mothers are not educated. Overall, a secondary education levels the field of opportunity for young people and increases their chances of earning higher incomes and thereby attaining a higher standard of living.

What is the status of enrolment in secondary school?

The status of enrollment in secondary school
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that between 2016 to 2020 secondary school enrolment by class and sex grew by 8 per cent to about 3,520,000, out of which 50.3 per cent were girls. This increase was attributed to the government’s policy of ensuring 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school. Looking at the 2020 school year, following the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya’s total secondary school enrolment decreased from 3.5 million in March 2020 to 3.3 million in March 2021, a 5.7 per cent drop as schools reopened. Moreover, out of those enrolled in March 2020, approximately 233,300 students did not return to school to resume learning when schools reopened in March 2021, representing 6.6 per cent of the students enrolled in March 2020. The number of secondary schools that were able to reopen increased by 0.4 per cent.

A persistent problem

While between 2016 and 2020, there was an increase in the number of pupils transitioning to secondary school, the decrease in enrolment between March 2020 and March 2021 prompted the Ministry of Education to reach out to parents across the country in a bid to ensure that all children returned to school. The drive faced challenges including poverty, poor parental attitudes towards education and ad hoc policy implementation.

Evidence shows that a secondary education leads to a decline in socio-economic inequality between girls and boys.

But by far the most common and most significant challenge to the push for 100 per cent transition to secondary school has been poverty. Many parents say that a lack of resources hinders them from sending their children to secondary school, a challenge that has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on household incomes across the county. Parental attitudes where for one reason or another parents resist sending their children to school also pose a challenge. Calls for parents’ cooperation from the Cabinet Secretary for Education echo my reflections in a 2018 article where I observed that “bottom-up strategies” may be useful in creating the groundswell for the transition push. This would help avoid the implementation of haphazard policies such as sending government officials around the counties to “drive children back to school”. If parents work with both the national and county governments, they will create a sustained push to ensure that students not only make a transition to the first year of secondary school but that they also stay in school.

Why we may need to reimagine education

Why we may need to re-imagine education
In addition to stimulating an attitude shift in parents, particularly towards their children’s education, it is important that the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Non-Governmental organizations, develop programmes that can empower the parents financially to keep their children in school. The Advanced Learning Outcomes project (ALOT Change), a community-based initiative by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), has been instrumental in working with parents in Nairobi’s informal settlements so that they can better understand their own roles in the education of their children.

By far the most common and most significant challenge to the push for 100 per cent transition to secondary school has been poverty.

Education stakeholders in both the public and private sector need to work in close partnership to seek better ways of providing scholarships for those children who are in need of school fees support. Through A LOT Change, APHRC has provided subsidies to pupils transitioning to secondary school. The US$ 113 subsidy has been instrumental in decreasing the financial burden of parents, as they are able to purchase books, school uniforms, and other materials required for school. The lessons learned from such programmes can be adopted and scaled up by both the public and private sectors in order to provide relief to parents facing financial challenges.

Some of the students who were “driven back” to the first year of secondary school had to go to school in their primary school uniform. Might it also be time for the education system in Kenya to reconsider the issue of school uniforms? This could also contribute in a small way to reducing the financial burden for parents. Moreover, COVID-19 has shown that there is a need for revolutionary thinking within the education sector if all children are to get a chance an education. The government therefore needs to ensure that schools are better able to take advantage of emerging technologies such as EdTech by, for instance, improving school infrastructure (including computer labs) and access to electricity. This would enable schools to provide both virtual and in-classroom teaching and thus ensure that students get the best of blended learning, linking the finest tenets of in-person and virtual learning.

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