Farmers in Kenya can now predict their crop yields using a web-based application that gives them access to statistics on soil fertility, required fertilisers and expected crop diseases.
Mkulima Calculator (M-Calc), which when translated means ‘farmer calculator’, seeks to influence the decision making of farmers. M-Calc aims to optimise production and reduce losses farmers incur when they plant specific crops in unsuitable areas.
The application developed by students from Strathmore University in Nairobi was inspired by the 2011 drought which saw more than 3.5 million Kenyans face starvation.
The group has completed its pilot project in Mombasa and is looking to roll out the service to other areas. During the pilot M-Calc provided data on five crops – maize, beans, potato, rice and wheat – which was obtained from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) database and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). They also used data on weather patterns from the meteorological department.
In the next phase, M-Calc is targeting 10,000 farmers in six regions across the country and will provide statistics on six crops, namely cassava, cowpeas, maize, beans, tomato and kale.
According to Elisha Bwatuti, a co-founder of M-Calc, the application helps farmers improve their yields by giving them statistics and predictions which affect decision making. For example, farmers using M-Calc would avoid planting maize in an area where cassava is the more productive crop.
“A farmer registers and gives information about their location and crops they are growing. Using data we have collected from KARI, we give the farmer a soil analysis, the chemicals they should use and in what amounts, and a prediction of how much they should expect to harvest,” says Bwatuti.
The application also has an automatic location detector that farmers can use to locate the nearest and best priced farm equipment shops.
M-Calc emerged second in the regional Apps4Africa 2011 challenge, which focused on apps that address climate change.
The founders are in talks with KARI for a partnership that will see M-Calc rolled out across the country as it secures more data from the government agency. This partnership would help farmers especially in areas where there are no extension services to deal with crop infections. Farmers would be able to submit information about disease symptoms they notice on their crops and receive feedback from M-Calc on what could be the probable disease and which pesticides to use.
Bwatuti reckons that transforming data into useful information that can be used by a farmer has been a challenge. The group has been engaging farmers to get their opinion on how to improve the service to best suit their needs.
M-Calc hopes to reach 500,000 to one million farmers in the long-run.
“Farmers lack information. When they notice crop diseases they go to an agro dealer and ask for any kind of chemical. We are empowering them with knowledge which will improve their production. This should help Kenya solve the problem of food insecurity,” says Bwatuti.