New app helps farmers in Kenya find climate-smart seeds

The free MbeguChoice mobile phone app, the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, helps farmers chose the right seed for their local conditions.

Noor Khamis/Reuters/File
A woman picks tea leaves at a plantation in Nandi Hills in Kenya's highlands region west of the capital of Nairobi. A new phone app can help farmers chose the right seed to use for their climate conditions.

A new app launched in Kenya June 10 could help millions of farmers adapt to climate change by offering information on the best seeds for changing growing conditions, agriculture experts said.

Agriculture accounts for more than 70 percent of Kenya's employment, according to U.S. government figures, so an increase in food production would dramatically improve living standards.

The free "MbeguChoice" app is the first tool of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, and was developed by a 25-year-old Kenyan software engineer. "MbeguChoice" means seed choice in Swahili.

It comprises an online database, which is also available via a website, and could be expanded to other countries if its roll-out proves successful, officials behind the project said.

"The platform provides information on special characteristics [of different kinds of seeds] for drought tolerance, and the best altitude and area for growing a particular crop," Philip Leley, an adviser to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization who gave the developers technical information, said in a telephone interview from Nairobi.

If a farmer in the mid-altitude region of Makueni County, for example, searches for drought-tolerant corn varieties to plant during the rainy season, the app would show five kinds of seeds the grower could buy which would do well in that area.

The online database, containing more than 200 crop varieties, is backed by seed producers who believe it will help drive business.

More than half of Kenya's 44 million people own a cellphone, and the app's developers expect 2 million people to start using the tool in the next seven months.

They eventually want to provide small farmers with up-to-date market information on crop and fertilizer prices, rather than just data about seeds.

"Our research shows that a lot of farmers don't have the correct information about what seeds work best," Paul Wanyagah, CEO of Kenya Markets Trust, a business group supporting the new platform, said in a telephone interview.

Rural farmers tend to rely on what they hear from neighbors rather than relying on crop science, he said. "This platform will help farmers make better decisions on planting."

Kenya's fast-growing population depends largely on rain-fed agriculture for its food, and precipitation patterns are expected to shift due to climate change.

About 80 percent of the country's land is dry, according to the U.N.'s World Food Programme, so the country will need to use water more efficiently as temperatures rise due to global warming.

About 1.5 million Kenyans depend on food aid for survival, the U.N. agency said.

Digital tools like MbeguChoice could help accelerate a current trend of young people becoming more interested in farming, its developers said.

"The profile of the farmer is changing," Wanyagah said. "Agriculture is starting to become cool for young people."

• Reporting By Chris Arsenault, editing by Alex Whiting. This story was originally posted here. The Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers humanitarian issues, human rights, corruption, and climate change. Visit

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to