Our first post on the 2011 Kenya Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies Awards recognized the role these awards play in celebrating SMEs’ contribution to our economy and encouraging them to stay the course despite the numerous challenges they encounter daily.
Nyeri county-based Mukurweini Wakulima Dairy Farmers’ Society was the highest placed agricultural SME at fifth position. From a modest 31 litres of milk collected in 1990, Wakulima Dairy currently handles between 34,000 and 39,000 litres of milk daily, employs 157 workers, has diversified into manufacturing animal feeds, and owns assets worth Kshs150 million.
For a sector that employs two-thirds of Kenya’s labour force, contributes 26% of Kenya’s GDP valued at Kshs342 billion annually, and received Kshs33 billion in this year’s government budget, you would expect agriculture to lead other sectors in using technology to enhance production. However, technology has been viewed as a threat instead of an enabler especially when it threatens jobs as witnessed in October 2010 when tea growing companies’ attempts to introduce automatic tea picking machines were met with a strike by tea workers who said one machine renders 60 workers jobless.
Despite such resistance, a handful of innovators, mostly young Kenyan individuals and companies, are brave enough to create technology-driven solutions to problems faced by many small-scale farmers such as market information for their produce, peer-to-peer information sharing and advice and weather patterns, particularly now that extension officers have become rare.
Ukulima.net, developed by Pamoja Media mid this year, aims to be THE social network for farmers to interact and share information and ‘war stories’ with one another either over the Internet or mobile phone. Icow, a mobile phone application, assists dairy farmers to track their cows’ gestation cycle, sends them tips on best dairy practices, among other benefits. These examples prove solving farmers’ problems via technology is one area SMEs can explore and build a business model from by, for example, carrying advertising alongside free mobile applications downloaded by farmers.
The weather has gone insane
Despite Africa producing the least carbon emissions, it unfairly experiences the biggest effect of these emissions: climate change. Floods devastated Mozambique in 2000, displaced approximately 500,000 Mozambicans, destroyed infrastructure, killed 700 Mozambicans, among other effects. They were Mozambique’s worst floods in 50 years.
How can African farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change? Technology can help. www.cenafrica.net acts as an information repository for farmers to access and get the knowledge to mitigate the effects of climate change on their farms and livestock (though it’s necessary for the creation of a mobisite because most rural farmers lack access to computers and Internet connectivity). SMEs can also use the information as an innovation platform where they can introduce new products and services for farmers.
The challenges affecting African farmers are many and may seem intractable, but technology can play a big role in addressing a substantial number of them, which should convert many African countries from the current degrading food aid beggars to self-sufficiency.
Does adoption of technology equal to food sufficiency in Africa? Give us your views below.