CEC Member Gilchrist Okuom launching the Kisumu County Agricultural call center
By Nancy Juma
Farmers in Kisumu County will no longer require physical contact with the extension officers to get farm related information following the launch of the Countywide Farmer Helpine Call Centre by the County Government with support from U.S Agency for International Development (USAID).
The 6.4 million USAID – KCDMS funded toll-free call centre, the first in the whole country and coming just weeks after the launch of E – Voucher system will help farmers receive virtual extension services, advisory services and market information as they carry out their business.
This marks a great milestone in the transformation of agriculture through technology and will go a long way in realizing increased productivity across the county. The centre domiciled at the County Department of Agriculture will be manned by four technical officers from the county government with expertise in crops, livestock production, veterinary medicine, and fisheries who will respond to questions from farmers providing them with the required information and support.
For a long time now, farmers have been complaining about the few number of extension officers in the fields and thanks to the call centre, they will now be able to receive assistance on whatever information they require.
In the recent past, the county was affected by the perennial flooding along the Nyando basin that swept a number of crops and livestock affecting many livelihoods. The Covid – 19 pandemic also hit hard, and Kisumu was not spared. This has had great negative impacts especially on the household economies supported by small scale farming as it hampered agricultural productivity. Several farmers were unable to access extension services resulting from restriction of movements as part of the protocols in containing the disease.
Speaking during the virtual launch, Kisumu Governor Prof. Peter Anyang’ Nyongo said that the call centre is an intervention that could not have come at a better time especially when the country is dealing with the Covid – 19 pandemic that has compromised food security and nutrition through the interruption of food related logistic services.
He reiterated that there is need to continue providing support to producers and step up monitoring for stock, prices and distribution systems to ensure that the county government can step in where the technical capacity in production is inadequate and market mechanisms fail.
He acknowledged that extension service provision despite being essential in ensuring food value chains function optimally has been greatly affected by inefficient extension services, poor infrastructure and inadequate personnel.
Effects he says will now be resolved by the call centre which he highlighted will help in reaching out to large population of farmers, address the existing shortage of extension officers and allow for real -time access to farmers in areas with poor road network like Nyakach, Muhoroni and Nyando.
He however rooted for enhanced and consistent transfer of current and relevant agricultural and climate technologies at the rural level where they can be implemented to increase productivity.
“There is need to capitalize on fast developing ICT technologies such as media, mobile phones and mobile applications which are becoming high valued communication channels for policy makers, extension workers and value chain actors for efficient and fast transfer of information and knowledge”. The Governor said adding that the extension approach will play a critical role in market linkages among value chain resulting in improved market information that will eventually lead to improved food and nutrition security, reduced poverty levels and improved living conditions.
The USAID Deputy Missions Director Heather Schildge who also joined the Governor for the launch lauded Kisumu for the continued strong partnership and demonstration of commitment towards the journey to self-reliance. She mentioned that the partnership to put up the call centre is part of USAID’s commitment to support Kenya’s response and recovery efforts to ease the immediate and long-term challenges of Covid – 19 pandemic. She applauded the Governor for his efforts towards ensuring the resilience of food suppliers and markets. She also noted that the partnership will greatly enhance Kisumu County’s ability and capacity to respond to the needs of the people of Kisumu.
Agriculture CEC Gilchrist Okuom on his part said that the call centre will go a long way in sensitizing farmers on different extension messages noting that lack of enough farmer information on best agricultural practices has greatly affected agricultural production within the county.
He however reiterated that agricultural transformation requires a robust enabling environment that attracts private sector investments.
“Investors tend to consider the agricultural sector as risky, especially at the primary production level’. He said
To this end, he pointed that the department is working closely with development partners such as USAID through the Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Project (KCDMS) and other stakeholders to reduce the risks for the private sector to encourage more and better investments within Kisumu.
He says KCDMS is working with the department to strengthen market systems, enabling farmers to intensify and diversify into higher – value crops, value addition activities, and non – farm employment and enterprises. The project, he said has so far supported various initiatives by the county including training and capacity building, supporting public participation, provision of grants to private businesses with a total of 18 grantees in all the value chains, as well as offering ICT support for efficiency, and providing 534 farmers with certified avocado seedlings across 5 sub counties among others.
The helpline to run for the next 12 months will operate from Monday to Friday between 8 am to 5 pm serving farmers in Swahili, English, and Dholuo. It is is expected to directly benefit an estimated 40,000 smallholder farmers in Kisumu County.
Others joining the Governor for the launch were Chief Officers Dr. Paul Omanga, Rosemary Raluoch and USAID – KCDMS representatives Beverly Shitandi – Nyanza Regional Manager, Seth Yake – USAID KCDMS project Productivity and Bonface Musembi – Communication Specialist.