The country's agriculture sector directly contributes 26% of Kenya's GDP and employs more than 40% of the 49.7 million population
Small-scale farmers across the world produce about 70% of the global food supply, but many are hindered by traditional, rudimentary farming methods that prevent them from hitting targets to combat the projected worldwide food shortage. James Murray reports on how Capgemini — a global organisation in consulting and technology services — has launched Project FARM to help farmers in Kenya increase their productivity.
The prospect of food shortage is a concern for all, with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) anticipating global food production will need 70% growth by 2050 to satisfy demand.
This has led to many organisations and companies offering potential solutions to help prevent the disastrous implications of widespread food shortages.
Global consultancy and technology firm Capgemini is one such organisation — launching its Project FARM (Financial and Agricultural Recommendation Models) to help small-scale farmers in Kenya increase agricultural yield and contribute to tackling global food shortages.
The French firm has used its knowledge in consultancy and technology to create a data platform using AI and machine learning to determine farming patterns.
It has partnered with social enterprise Agrics, which already supports and provides services to more than 35,000 smallholder farmers in East Africa.
Here NS Agriculture looks into how Project FARM works and how it could help Kenyan farmers combat food shortages.
How Project FARM technology works
The idea for Project FARM came about after Capgemini data analyst Julian van Velzen contacted Agrics about starting a scheme.
He says the social enterprise was supportive of the idea because it had already been collecting data on the country’s farmers, but didn’t know the best way of using it.
Van Velzen said his company was quick to realise the potential of the data — and subsequently formed the alliance with Agrics in September 2018.
Project FARM was created at Capgemini’s innovation lab in the Netherlands, with the aim of offering farmers a wider package of services to optimise yield and decrease risk.
The platform uses AI to determine farming patterns through big data, generating insights to make recommendations.
It also uses machine learning, which is a method of data analysis that automates analytical model building, to make the platform applicable at scale by connecting it with cell phones.
Van Velzen said: “By connecting farming communities with data science, and big data with traditional farming methods, the FARM platform is built to optimise the value chain and bring parties together as an ecosystem around one data-driven platform.”
How Project FARM will help farmers in Kenya
The agriculture industry has a huge role to play in Kenya — directly contributing 26% of the country’s GDP, along with a further 27% from links with other sectors, according to the FAO.
It also employs more than 40% of the 49.7 million population, and more than 70% of Kenya’s rural inhabitants.
This brings huge scope for schemes such as Project Farm to help create even bigger benefits for the country.
The platform allows farmers to access tailor-made advice to optimise crop production, which is delivered via a dashboard providing data and analysis.
From the data, Agrics can identify emerging patterns that may help to guide decisions for farmers and provide insights into potential business risks.
The software also allows for information to be given to partners in the supply chain — helping to target and eradicate inefficiencies through the entire production process.
Innovation manager at Agrics East Africa Violanda de Man said: “Project FARM provides Agrics with an excellent opportunity to maximise value for its clients — the smallholder farmers — and to other actors in the value chain like processors and financial service providers.
“Through our interactions with the farmers, we are on top of a huge reservoir of data. We can now turn this data into meaningful insights, which allows us to provide time and location-specific products and services to increase yield and lower risk at farm and value chain level.
“Increased value-chain effectiveness will help to directly improve income and food security of rural populations.”
Cost for farmers in Kenya using the platform
Agrics already offers services to the farmers using the platform, whether that is through buying fertiliser or other agricultural goods to help their businesses.
As a social enterprise, although Agrics does make a profit on the services it provides, its main goal is to maximise the benefits of its projects for communities and the environment.
Van Velzen said: “The purpose is to not get rich off of these farmers — it’s to provide them with a service through Agrics.
“We also see that there is a lot of economic opportunities because not just the farmers get the benefits, but all of the ecosystems partners benefit from this commencing.”
Why other technologies are important to Project FARM
Capgemini is determined to utilise the best technologies already on the market to provide a solid service for the Kenyan farmers, rather than building everything itself.
To do this, Project FARM collects data from various public and private sources, sets it up in a cloud environment, and runs analytical models in that same cloud.
As part of the technology, Agrics’ data on how crops are grown is included, as well as information on potential and realised yield, field perimeters, credit and repayments.
This information is then combined with data from Copernicus, a European Space Agency programme, which provides information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change and ensure civil security.
Julian van Velzen said: “These other platforms are very valuable. At Capgemini, we don’t need to build everything ourselves, we need to include the best parts from different technologies, in order to provide something that is relevant, local and personal for the farmers.”
The future for Project FARM
Although the initial plans for Project FARM are firmly in Kenya, there is potential for it to move into other areas, such as Tanzania where Agrics also operates.
Van Velzen highlighted that there are 500 million small-scale farmers all over the world, and increases in population and the impact of climate change will change the dynamics of the industry.
He said: “Our vision is to help farmers all over the world, especially those farmers that need the innovation to produce more stable food, but do not get it as of yet because there’s just too big of a gap between what is possible and what the farmers currently do.”