SMS advice: Digital platform simplifies access to extension services

In sub-Saharan Africa, a new app is extending technical services to rural smallholder farmers, increasing their access to quality inputs and helping novice farmers to learn ‘on the job’.

Extension services via SMS provide farmers with fast, location- and farmer-specific information across a range of agricultural activities © Cecilia Schubert

In Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, a digital decision-support platform is providing small-scale farmers with technical advice and increasing their productivity. Developed by technical services provision company USOMI Limited in Nairobi, Kenya, the Lulu® app simplifies access to inputs and extension services. Available on mobile and web devices, Lulu® allows farmers to get real-time, tailored information regarding their farming queries, and provides timed instructions regarding crop and livestock management during critical stages of development.

USOMI states that the app was born out of frustration experienced by farmers with regard to accessing markets and technical services. With most agrovet shops located in urban and peri-urban areas, rural farmers often struggle to obtain the inputs they require to optimise their production, and poor infrastructure and high transactional costs limit the reach of agri-retailers. However, via Lulu®, farmers can order inputs from their own homes and pay for them using their mobiles. The items are then sourced from accredited suppliers registered with the platform and delivered to the farmer’s home or the nearest collection centre.

By subscribing to the app’s e-extension services, registered farmers are also provided with targeted instructions, via SMS messages, sent to coincide with specific cropping cycles and/or animal development stages. The information they receive describes, for example, what to feed lactating cows and how to take care of chicks until they reach maturity, which allows novice farmers to receive training ‘on the job’.

“This apps helps me to efficiently manage my heifers, since I can tell when my cows are sick, on heat or pregnant by entering information into the app, such as the weight of the cows and their behaviour,” says Timothy Kinuthia, a dairy farmer based in Nyeri, Kenya. Since receiving livestock management advice through the app, which he signed up to 2 months ago, Kinuthia says he has been able to increase his milk yields by over 20%. “I used to get 180 l of milk per day from my eight heifers, but now am at 230 l per day,” he explains.

In Kenya, farmers pay KSh 1,000 (€8.50) per month to use the app, but in Nigeria and Tanzania, users are still accessing the app for free whilst USOMI seeks to scale up its customer base in the two countries. About 3,000 farmers are currently using the app in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania and USOMI plans to launch Lulu® in Malawi, Rwanda and Uganda later in 2018.

Benson Rioba

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.