Lack of quality data slowing down efforts to boost food security

Kenya is yet to fully embrace the use of information to boost agricultural production. Food and Agriculture Organisation Kenya’s representative Dr Gabriel Rugalema spoke to Francis Mureithi on why use of data should be prioritised in food production

How has lack of agriculture data impacted on food production?

It has led to haphazard allocation of resources to the critical agriculture docket because there is no data on the number of farmers in a given location and what they need to plant and what they are farming.

There is no information on fertiliser requirements and quantity to be supplied. Lack of this information results in guesswork in resource allocation.

Investors in the value chain need the data to make decisions on where and how much investment to put in. Without data, nobody is going to invest.

As per the constitution of Kenya, having spatial data is a constitutional requirement. Anyone doing county integrated development plan without geographical data is breaking the law.

Call centres have become critical in offering agro-extension services but Kenya is not yet there. What is your take?

The world is moving towards digital economy operations and call centres are the nerve of agriculture where farmers can call in, send photographs of their diseased plants and animals for the experts to identify and give them real-time and instant advice.

The farmers would not have to walk miles coming to see an extension worker. This saves time, money and improves efficiency in food production at the grass roots level where smallholder farmers are grappling with emerging challenges to sustain their ventures.

An extension worker will drive to the farmer with a clear picture of their problems. Kenya, just like the rest of Africa, is facing an acute shortage of extension workers.

The call centres can fill that gap and save the country millions of shillings.

ICT is a game-changer in agriculture. The world is moving towards electronic extension. The good thing about ICT is that you can maintain and sustain communication with the farmers and advise them through social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter or you e-mail them directly. That way, farmers get instant support and help.

Manual agriculture surveys, which are expensive, and time-consuming would be a thing of the past if e-extension takes root. We are currently piloting with Nakuru County the e-extension services and we intend to go to nine other devolved units.

How would you describe the status of agriculture data collection in Kenya?

The old way of doing things is terribly expensive and unreliable. Kenya depends on agriculture census, which was done many decades ago.

We also depend on uncoordinated surveys. These surveys give insights but don’t give good information for planning.

FAO is pushing for the use of satellite data, which is precise and can be seen from 800km from the sky. It is able to give us all the information on our farms including the number of crops planted, their situation, fodder for animals and based on that data one can make quick and informed decision that will give early warning on crop failure, harvest expected and pest management.

There is no shortcut. The government must set aside enough funds in its budgetary allocation and invest heavily in new technology and equipment to enhance agriculture data collection.

Data is very important and dictates what kind of support and advice farmers require. Kenya should invest heavily in data management, analysis and dissemination of information to make decisions that will make the country food-secure.

Image credit: Simon Allen from Pixabay