A tractor roars on Mzee Pascal Ouma’s three-acre land in Khulunyu, Busia County, attracting curious onlookers. It is interesting for the bystanders as the machine is not ploughing deeper into the soil.
“What I am doing is minimum tillage and many people here are seeing this for the first time,” says the 75-year-old retired agricultural researcher. Under the method, soil is minimally disturbed to minimize damage to its structure, evapo-transpiration, labour and general costs. A machine called a ripper is used to do the task.
Ouma had accessed the machine digitally on his smartphone from farmer Peter Ademba, who is offering the service. Ademba, who hails from Dadira village in Butula in the county, purchased the tractor five years ago for hiring out. In 2019, however, he registered it under “Hello Tractor”, a farm mechanization app, which links farmers to tractor owners.
The app can best be described as the ‘Uber’ of farm mechanization. The app does not only help tractor owners get clients but also tracks their machines, know when the fuel is running out or is being siphoned, the distance the tractor has travelled, the acreage it has ploughed and one can also use it to immobilize the equipment.
To access the service, one buys a gadget, which is installed on the tractor’s engine. The cost of the gadget will depend on the features the farmer needs. They later pay annual subscription fee for the services rendered, which include links to farmers and monitoring the tractor.
“With this app, farmers have been able to reach me easily. In 2019, I ripped 40 acres mainly in Busia County. But in 2020 and the planting season this year, I have been able to do some 400 acres,” he says.
After buying the tractor, the first service was on his three acres. “I cultivated two acres using the minimum tillage technique, then one acre using the traditional intensive cultivation method for people to compare and contrast,” Ademba says.
“Work on the piece under minimum tillage was much easier, cheaper and the crop was healthier,” he adds.
To break even for tractor owners, Hello Tractor employs farmer agents, who aggregate smallholder farmers in an area, so that there is a reasonable cumulative work to be done to warrant the tractor owner to send his machine to the ground.
Ademba is the only tractor owner with a ripper in Busia County. He is invited to offer services in Siaya, Bungoma and Kakamega counties. “Charges depend on the services being rendered such as harrowing or normal cultivation. But for ripping services, we charge Sh2,500 per acre.”
As demand rises, Ademba has partnered with a friend to buy another tractor. “If need be, I will go for a third tractor given the growing demand for mechanization among smallholders.”
AGRA President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, notes that putting nature at the heart of agriculture and land management can unlock huge benefits for people, health and the environment.
During a recent United Nations Food Systems Summit dialogue, Kenya Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Peter Munya said that there is need to exploit the digital platform to promote and improve food security.
“Digitizing the agriculture sector helps farmers optimize their returns,” said the Cabinet Secretary.