New online tool for seed selection in Kenya

Copyright: Mbeguchoice

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  • The tool has information on Kenyan counties,seasons and attributes of crops
  • It has more than 200 varieties of commercialised crops such as maize and cassava
  • An expert warns that despite its benefits, farmers should not overly rely on it

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[NAIROBI] Farmers in Kenya can now benefit from a new online tool that allows them to quickly obtain information on which seed varieties are best suited for local conditions.

MbeguChoice, a new online tool, was launched in Kenya early this month (10 June).

Mbegu means seed in Kiswahili language. According to the developers, MbeguChoice, which is the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, allows Kenyan farmers, agro-dealers and extension workers to analyse information on counties, crops, seasons and crop attributes such as drought-tolerance, disease- and pest-resistance, resulting in a list of suitable seed varieties and where they can be obtained.

“We should put matters of seed in the front burner and take agriculture to the next level using ICT [information and communication technology] tools such as MbeguChoice.”

Paul Wanyagah, Kenya Markets Trust

The tool was developed through a partnership involving the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Organisation (KALRO), the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service, Kenya crop seed companies and the Nairobi-based Agri Experience Ltd, with support from the Kenya Markets Trust.

“We worked with agricultural extension workers and agro-dealers to narrow the range of crop seed choices after realising that farmers often plant seeds out of position, out of season and because often farmers and agro-dealers don’t know what they don’t know,” said Anastasia Mbatia, a seed distribution specialist with Agri Experience, at the launch.

According to the developers, the online database has more than 200 commercialised crop varieties, including 61 varieties of maize, 25 common bean types and 11 of cassava varieties.

Two farmers — Wilson Nyagah, a farmer from Kenya’s Embu County who has been practising mixed farming for 20 years and now also exports horticultural produce and 21-year-old farmer Harun Munuve from Kiambu County— expressed their satisfaction with the information provided by the online tool.

Paul Wanyagah, Kenya Markets Trust CEO, urged researchers, policymakers and the private sector to give priority to seed matters to ensure food security.

“We should put matters of seed in the front burner and take agriculture to the next level using ICT [information and communication technology] tools such as MbeguChoice. By taking advantage of technological advances from the ground up, we can get the target audience to know about these tools and move the agenda forward,” Wanyagah explained.

Ronald Misigu, an information technology  expert who helped develop the tool took the participants at the launch through the process of getting information from the website in simple, straightforward steps involving the “questionnaire page”, “crop selection page” and “result page”.

Philip Leley, a KALRO maize breeder, says the website gives more options on the attributes of crop variety and agro-ecological zones.

Joyce Malinga, director of KALRO Food Crops Research Institute, urged farmers to adopt new varieties of seed such as the KK8 bean seed which are in high demand in western Kenya and can be found on the MbeguChoice website.

However, Kenneth Ayuko, a deputy director at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, appealed for caution in the adoption of new apps. “We need to shatter the myth that the new apps make agriculture ‘sexy’. The new apps may be beautiful and timely, but we often don’t use them. Farming still requires getting your hands dirty on the farm,” Ayuko said.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.