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County launches virtual school for farmers

Nakuru County Government has launched a virtual school where smallholder farmers will be trained online on benefits of mechanised agriculture in boosting yields and increasing quality of produce.
County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Dr Immaculate Maina said the joint venture with Hello Tractor, an Agritech company targets to attract the youth towards agriculture and reduce the labour intensiveness associated with traditional farming methods.
Speaking during the launch of the ‘Distant School’ at Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Njoro Centre today, Dr Maina said the widely held perception that mechanisation was only for those engaging in large-scale farming was both misguided and a threat to Kenya’s food security.
“The Virtual School will use mobile technology to train tractor owners on good service and management practices of their equipment.
The school will incorporate a digital tracking technology of linking tractor owners with small holder farmers who do not have agricultural machinery .This will give younger farmers opportunities to embrace better mechanised food production to increase yields in addition to using certified seeds,” Dr Maina said.
She observed that agriculture contributes 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, 65 percent of total national exports, 18 percent of formal and 70 percent of informal employment and added that roughly 70 percent of the rural population depends on the sector for their livelihoods.
Dr Maina said there was also a huge untapped potential across the value chain in the sector which could only be unlocked through adoption of mechanized agriculture.
She said mechanisation of agriculture will lead to increased land productivity, reduced cost of production, timely preparation of land and employment of youth.
“We realized technology alone will not achieve food security in the county. My department has been in talks with various agricultural machinery dealers and financial institutions to arrange affordable asset financing and technical knowhow that is tailor made for small holder farmers and large scale farmers.”
Three firms that manufacture light and cheaper tractors that can help small-scale farmers improve productivity at their farms have opened shop in Nakuru. The companies have also devised various agricultural machinery that meet the needs of both small and large scale farmers across the country.
The CEC noted that mechanized farming will improve quality of lives of women and children through reduced working hours at farms, better incomes for households, increased job opportunities for rural youth and better nutrition, education and health.
Dr Maina said her department was also encouraging smallholder growers to adopt modern innovative methods of farming such as using greenhouses, different forms of water-efficient irrigation, and artificial weather-controlled environment farming, among others.
“With the current heavy rainfall farmers should harvest the water and store it in dams, ponds, tanks and other similar water storage facilities.
This will comes in handy in dry season when they need the water for their crops and other uses on the farm” she said.
Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Hello Tractor, Jehiel Oliver, said the virtual school will train farmers on best agricultural machinery practices right from tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting and storage of produce.
He stated that through the partnership farmers will also get affordable and timely tractor services to boost their productivity and income through a digital marketplace.
“Since some new farmers lack experience with planters, tractors and implements, Hello Tractor also has a training package for new owners. This aims to show farmers how to maximise the use of machinery to boost their food production by using mechanization,” said the Chief Executive Officer.
Mr Oliver said increased uptake of Information Communication Technology, will draw youth to farming and better agricultural practices.
“ICT enables farmers to easily access different services offered, therefore cutting on travelling expenses and bothersome processes involved in the numerous farming transactions.
It lessens the farmers’ expenses and burdens in different agricultural activities,” he said.
By Anne Mwale

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