SMS platform for farmers to get armyworm alerts

Farmers will now access information on the notorious fall armyworm on their phones as the war against the pest goes high-tech.

The Ministry of Agriculture has launched an SMS platform that will enable farmers to get information and recommendations through their mobile phones, without necessarily having to seek it from government offices.

The move is aimed at mitigating loses and food insecurity caused by the insects that were first spotted in the country last year.

Agriculture Chief Administration Secretary Andrew Tuimur said the platform will be a faster way of disseminating information and giving timely advise to farmers about the armyworm.

“This new tool will ensure that farmers get timely information on armyworms,” said Dr Tuimur during the launch of the platform.

He said that the technology had been tested in Busia County and was being rolled out across the country.

The platform, which has been developed in partnership with Precision Agriculture for Development and Safaricom, enables farmers to send a text message to 40130.

“Sending and receiving messages is free for Safaricom customers, Airtel customers will soon be able to join the platform for free too,” he said.

Emmanuel Bakirdjian, Country Director for Precision Agriculture Development, said they have developed a set of messages about the armyworm with the Agriculture ministry, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate Service , and Pest Control and Poisons Board.

“The SMS messages will be covering various topics including monitoring, identification, non-chemical and chemical control measures and best practices,” said Mr Bakirdjian.

He said they had completed multiple rounds of piloting and testing of the SMS platform with farmers in Western Kenya where more than 1.4 million Safaricom customers have been invited to join.

“In the next few weeks, Safaricom will be sending an SMS to 10 million subscribers to join the platform,” said Benjamin Makai, senior manager Technology for Development at Safaricom.

Dr Tuimur said the government will spend Sh600 million to fight the armyworm invasion and another Sh1 billion will be set aside for research and buying pesticides.

The armyworm has infested 800,000 hectares of crop in more than 40 counties since it was first reported in 2016.

It is estimated that farmers lost six million bags of maize to the insects last year alone, dealing the government a big blow in the fight against anger.

The government said the insects ravaged over 200,000 acres of maize in about eight counties across the country.

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