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 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 Outdated farming methods and techniques are among the key reasons farm output remains low.
Like the vast majority of farmers, Joseph primarily relied on the local market to sell his maize and kale. His average income from farming per quarter was about KSh 4,025, which was largely taken by school fees and essential household needs.
Like most smallholder farmers in Kenya, Joseph has an alternative income source, so he spends spends about half 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 off-farm income to maintain their livelihoods.
When Joseph was introduced to pay-as-you-go solar from Azuri in 2018, he immediately saw an opportunity to improve his farming income, while also providing his family with clean and reliable power in the home.
Smartphone for Smart Farming
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, Joseph 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,” Joseph explains.
In Homabay only 3% of the population has access to mains electricity, so Joseph and his family, like the majority of families in the county, have relied on kerosene lamps or candles for light at night. Simple activities like keeping a phone charged usually requires travelling to the nearest supermarket or kiosk, often a 4-5km round trip.
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. 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 joined a WhatsApp group set up by the Homabay Agricultural Board that shares farming tips such as where to buy certified seeds, the best time to plant, the precise placement of seed and fertiliser and ways to reduce post-harvest wastage. The group also shares weather updates and warnings, and event updates on when the County or the National Government Cereals and Produce Board requires stock.
From Information to Productivity
Information on better farm practices has helped Joseph improve crop yields and make savings: Joseph now makes 5 times his previous agricultural yields per quarter.
Furthermore, with access to more information and varied farming techniques, Joesph has reduced his farming costs. Buying seeds via the Homabay Agricultural Board WhatApp 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 the building sites to supplement his farming income, and since having the ability to keep his smartphone continually charged, his income from this work has also increased by over 50%. Joseph can see where and when workers are needed and put his name forward, rather than chasing jobs or waiting for calls. That means he knows in advance the estimated income he will have for the week and for the first time he and his family can plan ahead.
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. In fact, Joseph is now saving to build a new home and possibly buying more farmland to keep expanding his businesses.