Kenya’s agro-firms ditch traditional service provision amid COVID-19 pandemic


Before COVID-19 pandemic hit Kenya, farmer Geoffrey Aluvale, who is based in western Kenya, would strive to reach out to various agro-firms for service.

He would visit a depot of a maize seeds firm to buy the input during the planting season.

Similarly, he would travel a distance to buy fertilizer as well as farm chemicals, which was his routine for years.

But things changed drastically with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the east African nation in March.

Instead of Aluvale going to the firms for inputs and other services, it is the firms that are reaching out to farmers, with the pandemic having flipped around how services are offered in the sector after years of sticking to traditional methods.

With the advent of the pandemic, most agro-firms have adopted various strategies that are farmer-centered to reach out to producers.

A majority of them have embraced e-commerce, launching apps and SMS services through which farmers can buy products that are then delivered for free.

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Others have held online exhibitions, fairs and training to serve farmers, which was initially not being done.

“I miss the field events but I believe COVID-19 has made things easier for farmers. The other day I attended a virtual agro exhibition and I loved it,” said Moses Kimeu, a farmer in Ruai, east of Nairobi.

Most agro-firms have set up social media pages, where farmers engage with their agronomists and livestock experts in real-time.

Once they present their problems, they are diagnosed and solutions recommended based on what the companies offer.

“It is a strategy that is working for many firms, at least since the outbreak of COVID-19. I was hired by a firm to respond to farmers queries on a WhatsApp forum and they acknowledge that sales have increased as people get timely service so that when they go to agro-shops, they know what they are going for,” said Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with agro-consultancy startup Growth Point.

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Macharia noted that with most farmers seeking to maintain social distancing, many have embraced online solutions to challenges, which has worked well even for agro-firms.

“A video or a photo accompanied by an explanation of the problem is enough to have a farmer solve the problem. With COVID-19 here to stay for long, this is the norm and would be the norm. I don’t see us going back to the old,” said Macharia.

For machinery firms, initially, they would hold field days where farmers would gather and learn about the equipment.

However, with the advent of COVID-19, this has not been possible, according to Duncan Kigen, service manager at FMD East Africa.
Kigen noted that currently, they are visiting tractor owners on their farms.

“Farmers benefit from demonstrations and free services among other things. We also now do online training,” he said.