Strengthening Kenya’s “Digital Harvest”

George Ngoha (Africa Lead), and county participants during roundtable discussions at the Innovations and Learning Forum. Photo Credit: Africa Lead / Victor Oloo

Devolution – the delegation of power from the national government to county governments – is a central pillar in Kenya’s new constitution set into law in 2010. Seven years later, county governments are now at the center of implementing services to constituents such as health, nutrition, and agriculture extension services. As a result, counties are also now the epicenter for innovation including in the application of information communication technology (ICT) for agriculture services of ICT4Ag.

With the objective of facilitating learning across county leadership and staff related to these innovations, Africa Lead partnered with the Kenya’s Council of Governors and the World Bank, to highlight and celebrate innovations emerging from counties as part of the first ‘Innovation and Learning Forum” in Nairobi. The first of its kind cross county learning was event led by the COG’s new learning center, the “Maarifa Center,” (Maarifa means wisdom is Swahili) was attended by over 120 participants with each of Kenya’s 47 counties represented.

Africa Lead, building on previous work with over 20 Kenyan Counties to deliver the food security leadership program “Champions for Change” training, helped facilitate the agriculture content of the program, while focusing on driving conversations and sharing of best practices between counties and the private sector related to innovations and gaps in ICT4Ag.

Africa Lead staff facilitates a breakout session on ICT4Ag. The session was attended by 33 county representatives and 18 private sector players. Photo Credit: Africa Lead / Victor Oloo

Proliferation of mobile phones among rural households in Kenya stands at a staggering 72 percent according to the report “Digital Harvest” by the Alliance for a Green Revolution Africa (AGRA). The study indicated that ICT applications in the market haven’t built revenue models to ensure their products remain on the market while county governments struggle with selection and procurement of appropriate  services. Providers have identified that county agricultural departments could be viable customers, if county procurement processes were streamlined and easy to navigate.

To address these capacity gaps, Africa Lead facilitated a two-hour session during the “Innovation and Learning Forum” that allowed ag ministry county executives and directors to discuss challenges with private sector technology providers. Facilitated by Africa Lead Policy Specialist Dr. Washington Ocholla, the session was attended by 51 of the 120 conference participants, including 33 from counties and 18 from the private sector. Prior to facilitated the discussions, presentations were made by Beatrice Kirui, Bomet County’s Executive Commissioner (CEC) for Agribusiness, private sector vendors (WeFarm, iShamba, and Shamba Digital) who presented their apps, and AGRA, who presented on E-Grainery, a platform which has enabled farmers sell their grain harvest through the internet.

“Through WhatsApp, our youth extension agents have moved from serving about 16 farmers in a day to reaching about 800 farmers in a day. We have seen what ICT can do for agriculture if used properly,” said CEC Kirui who emphasized that ICT has been a crucial tool to revamping the county’s ag extension services. After receiving Africa Lead’s “Champions for Change” leadership training, Bomet County set out an action plan that involved using WhatsApp to reach more farmers through e-Extension.

During the session, participants called on the COG, World Bank, and Africa Lead to host an extended cross-county learning and planning session between county government’s and the private sector, as well as create a best practices document for ICT 4 Ag service providers looking to work with counties. County procurement staff in the session encouraged ICT providers to become prequalified as vendors in the national government’s procurement system, Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS).  More importantly, participants practiced what they preached, forming a WhatsApp group called “KE ICT 4 Ag County Forum” for both private and public sector stakeholders. Currently, the group has over 55 active users where best practices and ideas continue to be shared.

Kenya County Innovations and Learning Forum

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