Fred Kiio
Fredrick Kiio, HOD M-Agri Business, Safaricom / Photo Credit: Elvis Ondieki (Nation)
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Safaricom’s unstated goal is to transform lives and the company has invested heavily in value addition services that propel them to this achievement. Launched in October 2017, under a pilot program, DigiFarm is a Safaricom product whose aim is to enrich the small-holder farmer.

“DigiFarm was born out of the realization that the small-holder farmer has remained the same ever since,” starts Fredrick Kiio, M-Agri Business lead at Safaricom. “We sort to answer the question of why the small-holder farmer has remained the same, that was actually the genesis of why we got into farming.”

Since launch, DigiFarm has garnered over 700,000 farmers onboard their platform across nine counties in Kenya. Such high numbers tell a story that Safaricom is proud to share, “We have never approached any farmer and they refused to join the platform,” Mr Kiio subtly brags before explaining why DigiFarm has received such overwhelming response from farmers. “The problem farmers face range from knowing what they should be planting, when and how, to where they can take their produce after they harvest it… It’s a generational issue and there’s no one coming in to show farmers how to move forward.”

“We want to make farmers  wealthier than they were before”

Mr Kiio tells us that DigiFarm aims to digitize the entire agriculture value chain, end-to-end. “From the guy who produces, to the guy who buys, to the guy who processes. DigiFarm will sit as a platform where we will start with the basics, profiling the farmer and their farms… We want to make farmers wealthier than they were before,” he says.

We are made to understand that farm profiling will help in advising farmers on what to plant based on the type of soil they have on their farm. This will help take away the guesswork and “me too” approach that farmers currently use. According to Mr Kiio, the first step to increasing the farmers’ wealth is through knowledge. DigiFarm will offer access to information that will help the farmer understand the farming process better and even offer recommendations on when to plant certain crops based on the farmer’s location.

DigiFarm is not a lone soldier, the service has partnerships with FarmDrive and iProcure, partnerships that Safaricom has leveraged in order to deliver an all-round service to farmers.

Read More: Kenyan Startup FarmDrive Uses Data Analytics to Connect Unbanked Farmers to Financial Services

Through FarmDrive’s big data model, DigiFarm is able to give credit scores to farmers based on historical farm data, thus giving farmers access to loans, the second step in DigiFarm’s approach. Fredrick Kiio tells us that under 1% of farmers have access to formal credit and this is from a handful of banks and credit facilities.

“The way we are doing our credit is not the same way banks do it. Ours is value chain led. Meaning if you are in maize farming, you will probably get a longer-term loan compared to someone who is in dairy. We are also not giving cash, we are giving loans in form of input.”

Giving loans in form of input is a measure to avoid farmers from repurposing the loan they get. However, if necessitated, farmers can be given cash loans for needs such as paying for labour during planting and harvesting seasons. DigiFarm has so far issued over 10,000 loans and has sold over 76 million shillings worth of input at their depots.

Some of the farmers are calling Digifarm ‘M-Pesa ya mkulima’

The depots are the third step to achieving DigiFarm’s goal. Mr Kiio says that the current quality of farm inputs has deteriorated while the price of the same keeps aiming for the skies. Through their partnership with iProcure, DigiFarm has so far set up 18 depots across Kenya with more coming in the near future.

The depots are shops that stock farm inputs; from seeds to fertilizers. The depots are also technologically forward, with the type of input stocked being demand-led. The final stretch of DigiFarm is to connect farmers to the market. “28% of farm produce never leaves the farm due to poor post-harvest practices, says Fredrick. He explains that for every 100 shillings spent on the retail price of a product, the farmer only gets 32 bob, statistics that DigiFarm hopes to change.

“There’s information disconnect. The consumer doesn’t know where to get products and the farmer doesn’t know how to get to the consumer.” In the near future, as close as end of 2018, DigiFarm will offer a platform where consumers can directly order produce from farmers, thus bridging that has so far led to food shortages in the cities.

At the moment, DigiFarm is accessible through a USSD channel, *283#, with the promise of an application coming in order to offer farmers more value such as decision-making tools through record keeping. “Some of the farmers are calling DigiFarm ‘M-Pesa ya mkulima’, that is how they are resonating it,” Fredrick says. “Our aim at Safaricom is to make farmers rich. We can only achieve this through technology, that is the spirit of Twaweza.”

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