KENYA – The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives (MALFC) of Kenya has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to collaborate with Microsoft to accelerate innovation in the country’s agricultural sector.

The MoU will enable MALFC to tap into Microsoft technology to accelerate the aspirations of achieving 100% food and nutrition security in the country as part of the Government’s Big Four programme.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Prof. Hamadi Boga says under the deal, the government will strive at increasing the daily average income for farmers by a third and reduce by half the number of food-insecure Kenyans.

“To ensure that we achieve our Food Security goal, we are striving for a 34 percent increase in the daily average income of farmers, a 47 percent reduction in the cost of food as a percentage of income, a 50 percent reduction in the number of food-insecure Kenyans and to create 1,000 Agro-SMEs and 600,000 new jobs,” said Prof. Hamadi.

Under the agreement, Microsoft will design, pilot and launch a programme to drive agricultural solutions innovation that addresses key challenges facing the agricultural sector such as pests and disease control, sustainable agricultural resource management and agri-weather data.

Microsoft is expected to leverage its Open Data Platform and Azure Chatbot services to help farmers with agricultural pest control diagnostics.

“Microsoft believes that adoption and integration of technologies such as the cloud, AI and more, into the agricultural space will bring about this transformation in the form of precision,” says Microsoft Kenya Country Manager Kendi Nderitu

“Microsoft wants to enable agricultural firms to become thriving digital businesses that provide sustainable food and nutrition to the world, “she added.

The technology giant is deeply engaged with finding innovative agri-tech solutions for African agricultural problems, and has previously partnered with the World Bank through its One Million Farmers Platform, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), to co-create technology solutions in Africa.

The partnership with AGRA explores the uses of Microsoft’s FarmBeats system in enabling data-driven, precision farming that increases farm productivity and profitability.

FarmBeats is an end-to-end AI and IoT system for agriculture that helps farmers in getting data and enable precision agriculture techniques

The system uses of sensors, cameras and UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) to produce actionable insights for farmers.

The system can extend internet coverage to the farm and is resilient towards weather related issues, outages or power variability which have been issues that have always hindered African farmers from using technology in their operations.

To ensure farmers adopt the new technologies, they undertake digital training and develop the needed skills in agriculture through its internship program.

In Kenya, Microsoft through its business and market development engine 4Afrika will co-host workshops involving a wide range of agri-tech stakeholders i.e. FAO, Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), AGRA and others, to address issues in Kenya’s agricultural data ecosystem.

This initiative seeks to offer young graduates the chance to grow their careers through six-month placements in Microsoft partner organisations.

The programme helps bridge the gap between graduate skills and the skills set employers are looking for, while providing graduates with real-world, hands-on job experience to assist them in moving from learning to earning.

By having access to Microsoft trained and certified interns, Interns4Afrika partners can extend their talent pipeline and retain strong talent.

“Agriculture is a priority area of investment for us, not only because of the enormous number of livelihoods it supports and the economic growth it drives, but also because it has a high potential to be a data-driven sector,” says Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of Microsoft 4Afrika.

“We’re fully committed to supporting agricultural transformation starting in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – and more critically, the innovators who are key drivers of this digital transformation.”

Other countries in Africa that the program targets include Ghana, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.