VENTURES AFRICA – A company providing technical farming solutions is looking for a local partner to run its network in Kenya, bidding to prove that technology can be easily applied to make life easier for East African farmers.
Pessl Instruments provides technological monitoring systems to agriculture and already has the capabilities in Kenya to provide farmers with risk-management data in relation to climate change, drought and flood related-hazards. The data is collected by Pessl weather stations and then transmitted to farmers using the latest Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology.
CEO Gottfried Pessl says that the company already has the infrastructure to provide weather and climate data, but says it needs an agent on the ground to bridge the gap between researchers and farmers. The company has been active in Kenya for three years, working with farmers and aid organisations, but has struggled to raise awareness amongst farmers of the potential of their technology in risk-management.
Kenya has a good GSM infrastructure in rural areas, which allows the use of General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). Pessl has eight of its iMETOS weather stations in Kenya, which are equipped with sensors for air temperature, relative humidity, precipitation and leaf wetness. Measured data from the field is transferred to its fieldclimate.com server, where it provides pest monitoring, draught monitoring, weather forecasts, real-time flood warnings and crop insurance base data.
The company has already worked in Kenya, preparing models for coffee infection along with the Coffee Research Institute. The collection of data was successful, but making the data accessible to farmers proved more difficult. “Here I must say we failed completely,” says Pessl. “Acceptance and use of internet services by the project partners in Kenya was limited. This has to do with limited access to internet-enabled devices and with the limited quality of internet access lines.”
With the spread of the internet and mobile phones across Kenya, there is a wider movement to educate farmers in the relevance of modern technologies in maximising their profits. The Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) is working in eight provinces across Kenya to educate farmers in basic IT skills, while companies such as PROGIS have been promoting the use of satellite images for environmental monitoring, forest management and business planning. “The farmer of the future must take care of the environment,” says PROGIS CEO Walter Mayer.
Pessl’s database hosts around 12,000 weather stations worldwide, and is one of the biggest providers of weather data. With increased internet capabilities in Kenya, the possibility has reopened that the GSM infrastructure that is already in place can help farmers. SMS services can be set up to transmit information to growers. With drought-related hazards expected to increase due to the effects of climate change, Pessl believes this technology would play a major part in allowing farmers to protect themselves against its impacts.
“The established GSM infrastructure has the potential to introduce modern techniques into the farming practice of African countries,” says Pessl. “The infrastructure is good enough to be used in such applications.” The company is thus on the lookout for partners on the ground to educate farmers in the potential importance of this technology. “Private businesses need to be involved, we need companies founded to run the network,” he says. “This is a good employment opportunity for young people in villages.”
“The technology is there. It just needs to be applied at farm level.”
Image via pessl.metos.at