A collaborative project involving UK agri-tech businesses is transforming finger millet production in Western Kenya, providing agronomic support and precision farming technology to 2,000 farmers.
The 18-month project, funded by Innovate UK’s Agri-tech Catalyst Programme, is designed to improve the productivity and profitability of finger millet farming in the Busia and Siaya regions, boosting supply of finger millet grain to meet overwhelming demand.
Finger millet grain is a highly nutritious superfood, favoured by and recommended to breastfeeding mothers and often fortified with other grain as a supplementary food for infants. Packed with protein, calcium and dietary fibre, finger millet grain provides essential nutrition that aids the prevention of under-5 stunting, anaemia in pregnancy and calcium deficiency.
Failing grain supply
Nationwide demand has piled pressure on finger millet farmers, which is further compounded by a wide range of agricultural challenges. Finger millet farmers in Kenya operate in a segmented value chain; with many farmers operating smallholdings in remote, rural areas, they cannot easily access inputs and agronomic services.
The result is low grain yields from a variety of fragmented sources which frequently fail to meet market quality requirements, and finger millet farmers operating on a subsistence basis.
A collaborative agri-tech solution
Agri-tech experts from Agri-EPI Centre and Harper Adams University worked with Nairobi’s Strathmore University, agronomic services provider Newscape Agro Systems Ltd. and technical services provisions company USOMI Ltd. to boost Kenya’s finger millet production.
“It is our desire and obligation to ensure rural communities achieve nutrition beyond subsistence,” said Dr. Denis Mujibi, Chief Executive of USOMI, of the project’s aims. “We are targeting smallholder households to ensure year-round access to a nutrient-dense food. We aim to grow our impact through our Nutrigen programme to 30,000 farmers by 2025.”
As well as the participating companies’ expertise, the project is based on the results of field trials and demonstration plots, using “many years of experience in the field of crop improvement across Africa, Asia and Latin America … for the betterment of the smallholder farmers in Kenya,” explains Dr. Peter Okoth, Agronomist with Newscape Agro Systems.
Smarter farming for smallholders
By offering access to agricultural technology, better farming processes and ensuring smallholders a guarantee of selling their grain to millers and processes, the project will support Kenya’s farmers throughout the supply chain to improve both yield and profitability. Dr. Sven Peets, Senior Lecturer at Harper Adams University, described the solution as “state-of-the-art agricultural technology” tailored into “an appropriate technology package which is commercially viable in the long-term”.
Farmers will receive free agronomic support, data driven advice from remote sensing and weather data, delivered through a purpose-built precision farming platform. The project will connect farmers with mechanisation service providers and introducing forward contracting, with USOMI Ltd. guaranteeing the purchase of the finger millet.
Participating farmers will also be supported to produce poultry as an additional income source, feeding the poultry lower-quality grain to turn wasted product into profit and ensure the longevity and sustainability of the farming system. Ultimately, the project will bring wider economic and social benefits to Kenya.
A “transformational” agri-tech project
“This is a potentially transformational project which aims to provide farmers in Kenya with a new tool and better knowledge of finger millet management to increase productivity and profitability,” said Agri-EPI Centre’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr. Shamal Mohammed. “By integrating sensor technologies such as satellite imagery, automatic weather station data and local agronomic data to better understand the soil-crop interactions, [we can] develop an affordable mechanism to increase nutrient use efficiency for finger millet crops.”