Smart farming requires smart energy

The agricultural sector in Kenya continues to be the main source of livelihood for over 70% of the country’s population.

Azuri customer Joseph Otieno, 48, is a farmer from Rangwe in Homabay County, Kenya, who grows maize and kale on his 1 hectare smallholding to help support his wife and four children.

Despite agriculture being the main economic activity in the county, Homabay is still a net importer of food crops and livestock products. Outdated farming methods and techniques are among the key reasons farm output remains low.

Until recently, the local market has been the only avenue for Joseph to sell his maize and kale. His average income from farming per quarter was about KSh4,025, which was largely taken by school fees and essential household needs. Of course, like many in the informal economy, Joseph has a second income, spending a portion of his day working off-farm on building sites.

Off-farm employment provides an important risk-management tool. In times of negative shocks that affect agriculture, such as droughts, families can rely on a second income to maintain their households.

Connecting to new ideas

When Joseph was introduced to pay-as-you-go solar from Azuri in 2018, he immediately saw the chance to improve his farming income, while also providing his family with clean and reliable power in the home.

Joseph is one of just a few smallholder farmers to have a smartphone. He managed to save up loyalty points and redeem the points with his mobile provider. Joseph’s aim was to accessing farming information online and download apps to help connect him to co-operatives and buyers. But without access to mains electricity, he was limited by the cost of having to find ways to keep his phone constantly charged.

“I knew that with a smartphone I would be able to learn more about the right ways of farming and that I could sell my produce to customers online. I thought I would also be able to sell my maize and kale much quicker than walking to market and looking for buyers”

To keep a smartphone charged everyday can be hugely expensive. 15% of Joseph’s income each month was spent on trying to keep his phone charged, leaving it for hours at a time at the local supermarket. Moreover, household financial needs would often take priority and phone charging would have to be sacrificed, leaving Joseph totally unconnected.

Since having Azuri solar power installed in his home, Joseph has been able to charge his phone in the evenings ready for the next day, saving time and money. Joseph has also joined a WhatsApp group set up by the Homabay Agricultural Board that shares farming tips including where to buy certified seeds, the best time to plant, the placement of seed, fertilising and ways to reduce post-harvest wastage. The group shares weather updates and warnings, and event updates on when the County or the National Government Cereals and Produce Board requires stock.

Increased productivity

Advice on better farming techniques has helped Joseph improve crop yields and make savings. Joseph now makes 5 times his previous agricultural yields per quarter. Buying seeds via the Homabay Agricultural Board WhatsApp group, combined with better planting techniques, Joseph has cut his seed costs by 40% and is using less seed for greater yields.

Joseph still relies on casual work at building sites to supplement his farming income, but solar has also helped him stay a step ahead.The ability to keep his smartphone continually charged and connected to WhatsApp groups has helped him increase income by more than 50%. Joseph can see where and when workers are needed and put his name forward, rather than chasing jobs or waiting for calls or texts from friends or family.

Thanks to pay-as-you-go solar, Joseph can run a proactive household rather than reactive, taking control of his finances and using the resources available to him to increase productivity and plan ahead. In fact, Joseph is now saving to build a new home and possibly buying more farmland to keep expanding his businesses. Social media and PayGo solar are revolutionising farming practices in Kenya.

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