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17 million of Kenya’s poorest farmers to boost food production with help of cutting-edge training

Kenya, August 3, 2011

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The Backpack Farm Agriculture Program (BPF) and Mercy Corps are pleased to announce the launch of “KUZA Doctor,” a mobile based (SMS) tool providing text-based, technical support to smallholder farmers in Kenya. Farmers voluntarily register to receive messages in either English or Swahili. In support of these efforts, the BPF team and Mercy Corps have joined forces to market the training tool to more than 17 million smallholder farmers in Kenya, consistently challenged by poor by drought, poor yields and post harvest losses. “Mobile solutions hold the potential to positively transform the lives of smallholder farmers and build more productive, equitable, and environmentally-sound food and farming systems in a cost-effective way. Helping to facilitate the growth of commercially sustainable social enterprises that develop and service these technologies is a scalable and sustainable way to build access to a wide variety of vital technical and financial tools that can decrease hunger, increase incomes, and improve environmental sustainability for millions”, states Mercy Corps’ Director of Agricultural Development, Keith Polo.

Training is the key element to transforming the lives of smallholder farmers not only in Kenya and East Africa but around the world. Training is a particularly important element when new technologies such as mobile extension services are introduced. It is essential in enabling farmers to effectively interact with the basic agronomic, financial, and green agri-tech information delivered via mobile phones.

In addition to providing cost-effective, mobile-delivered technical information to smallholder farmers, access to face-to-face training is key to transforming the lives of smallholder farmers and is available via a network of rural franchise training farms. Currently, the team is actively developing a series of more than 30 2D/3D animated training films developed in partnership with ‘Scientific Animators without Borders.’ Films will be published in four (4) regional languages including English, French and Swahili, made publically available as part of a database of open source, training materials. Additionally, the program will engage with local, financial institutions to incubate new, fair termed financial products and extension services to support Africa’s smallest green farmers in both Sub Saharan Africa and other regions.

Mercy Corps will apply its expertise in building pro-poor, mobile financial services to develop technology-based solutions such as whole-farm budget planning and micro-insurance ensuring a sustainable network of local agents to support these operations. .

The goal of this unique partnership of social enterprise and non-profit sectors demonstrates how challenges associated with hunger and poverty can be overcome cost-effectively, at scale in a self-sustainable manner. Rachel Zedeck, MD of the Backpack Farm believes, “only through cooperative development of new training services can we prove that Africa’s smallest green farmers have the potential to significantly contribute to feeding the region and the world while maintaining environmental integrity.”

The team is actively incubating an expansion throughout the East Africa region eventually targeting West Africa targeting Ghana and Nigeria to demonstrate the untapped potential of its smallholder farmers.