Social media use is growing among young Kenyans but while most use them for socializing, one pan-African volunteer group sees them as a means to reach young farmers, according to a report in All Africa.
Changing weather patterns in recent years have affected most farmers in Kenya and other parts of Eastern Africa, the report says.
Over the past 10 years, Rift Valley farmer Julius Cheruiyot, 32, said in the report he has seen drastic changes in the local climate such as low rainfall during the planting season and heavy rains at harvest time that result in low yields or failed harvests.
Thanks to his cell phone, Cheruiyot is now plugged into Young Volunteers for the Environment, the Kenyan chapter of a Pan-African organization founded in Togo in 2001 and run by youth volunteers across Africa.
Young Volunteers advises farmers on the kinds of crops suitable for planting according to changes in weather patterns. Among those it recommends to cope with weather changes are millet, wheat, potatoes and sorghum. The group explains that rotating crops helps rebalance acidity and alkalinity in the soil and improve its fertility.
Standing on his five-acre plot, Cheruiyot pulls out his mobile phone, clicks on a Facebook tab and logs into the page of Young Volunteers for the Environment.
“Social media … has assisted us a lot,” Cheruiyot said in the All Africa report. “(With) the information we receive, we can now know the right time to plant our crops, because sometimes we realize it’s a short rain, not a long rain, and end up incurring losses (if we don’t take the right action).”
Farmers are in dire need of good information about changing weather patterns, said Emmanuel Serem, president of Young Volunteers for the Environment. Some farmers, he said, believe that poor harvests are divine retribution for the violence that wracked parts of the country including the Rift Valley region after Kenya’s 2007 general elections.
The organization has more than 900 followers on Facebook who access information shared on the site and have online discussions about farming.
“Young farmers (are) commenting and asking more questions,” Serem said. But the services are not available to everyone. Most farmers who access the service use internet-enabled phones. But farmers in remote areas have difficulty accessing the internet and not all are well versed in social media.
Cosmas Biwott, a young Rift Valley farmer who has used the social media service, said illiteracy is high among many young rural farmers.
“The social sites have really assisted us … to get more information concerning adaptation (to) climate change, but most of the farmers don’t know to use phones or even read the information,” he said. “That’s a big challenge.”
Biwott said he thinks farmers in the region would benefit from an information center equipped with computers and internet access.