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Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Empowering smallholder farmers with agricultural data

By Bob Aston
Data is increasingly becoming an invaluable resource for smallholder farmers. Most smallholder farmers have started relying on tools that can be used to determine, estimate or predict production as a way of improving their farming enterprises. Data has essentially become a capital for sustainable development.
In Meru County, an initiative aimed at ensuring effective management of resources through automated record keeping is bearing fruit. Most farmers are now using record keeping data to plan their farm enterprises and as a result are able to improve their incomes, livelihoods and ensuring food security.
The Farm Record Management Information System (FARMIS) has been built to provide a secure environment to record, store, analyze and generate reports on the farmers’ businesses. It was developed with an aim of reaching out to multiple farmers interested in commercializing farming businesses.
Members of Kaubau Vision CBO reading about how FARMIS works
The FARMIS innovation is being implemented by Sokopepe, a social enterprise that has been set up by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), an NGO that works with farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The piloting of the FARMIS innovation is being done in five selected sub-counties in Meru namely: Imenti Central; North Imenti; South Imenti; Buuri and Tigania West.
Following a systematic analysis of the data on farmer profiles, agriculture stakeholders such as the County and central government; agro-input providers; providers of agriculture credit and development partners can get an accurate perspective of the status of agriculture in the sub-counties targeted at any given time.
Benefits of joining FARMIS
Information provided by FARMIS include: market information like commodity prices for both retail and wholesale; Five years weather forecast; credit services and loans financial tips; farming tips; and trade offers.
FARMIS gives farmers holistic year-round monitoring, data collection, entry, storage and mid-season analysis to enable appropriate farm planning and sustainable market linkages.
It can be used in monitoring outcomes from agriculture and as an impact indicator on national and regional development frameworks.
Joyce Muhindi from South Imenti narrated how she used to plant without keeping any record. At the end of each season she would harvest and sell her produce without knowing whether she had made a profit or loss.
“I never had any documentation about how my farm was performing. Each season I would just buy farm inputs and cater for other farm expenses but I never knew how much I used to spend on farm expenses,” said Joyce.
Last year when FARMIS was launched in Meru she was visited by a Production Information Agent (PIA) who encouraged her to join FARMIS. After a thirty minutes training on importance of farm records and the many benefits she would enjoy she decided to join FARMIS.
Since then she has now realized what she used to miss out on. She is now able to keep up to date farm records. She said through FARMIS she is now able to capture her farm’s profile and record her Irish potatoes, bananas and maize enterprises.
“I wish FARMIS would have been introduced a bit earlier. I have now embraced agri-business. Each season I can now capture cost of tilling, inputs, labour, harvesting and post-harvest operations,” said an excited Joyce.
On her part, Lucy Gatobu from Kainginyo, North Imenti, noted that the trainings that she has been receiving from PIAs has really helped her as she is now better informed on record keeping.
“Every week a PIA officer usually comes to my farm to check how my farm is and to assist me in filling the farm book. I am now able to fill the farm book and give it to the PIA to digitize it without any problem. I am also able to tell which crop is doing well,” said Lucy.
How FARMIS data is obtained
Data collection for FARMIS is done by paper forms, mobile phones, online tablets and computers.  After training, farmers are given a Farm Book for record keeping and tracking of farm activities.
Information contained in the Farm Book include: crop definition; season; crop financing; farm expenses per crop; tillage details; planting details; weeding details per crop; treatment and pesticides; irrigation/ watering; harvesting for crops; post-harvest activities and cost for crop; summary table for the cost of production; and sales record tracking.
Farmers registering for FARMIS
The information is later transcribed into digital format by PIAs on a centralized online server and platform for analysis and storage on a virtual farmer’s account.
Once the data has been entered into the system it gives options for immediate report generation from the platform on crop profiling reports, profit and loss, farmer acreage and land usage.
Following the analysis, the information is normally packaged in annual Agricultural Production Report (APR) that is made available electronically on the website for Sokopepe, FARMIS, public workshops and direct copy distributions.
Data is analysis both by the automatic system flow charts and reports generated by the system for interpretation.  Majority of the back-end data is mined from the system and analyzed using Excel and other statistical packages for detailed reports.
In the present day, farm management is becoming more and more business oriented. Keeping up to date farm records is an important aspect of practicing agribusiness. FARMIS has made this possible for more than 6,000 farmers. The farmers are now able to know which of their business line is breaking even and which ones are eating into their profit margins.
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