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Public and private agricultural stakeholders join to boost extension capacities

Jane Khodia was encouraged to add value to her soya bean crop (© James Karuga)
Jane Khodia was encouraged to add value to her soya bean crop
© James Karuga

Until recently, Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture has been the sole provider of agricultural extension services but, with one extension officer for every 950 farmers, services have been stretched. Adelaide Muyembe, a Divisional Agricultural Extension Officer from Kakamega, recalls that in the early 1990s there used to be six extension officers in her division, but that more recently this has varied between one and three. To improve services across the country, therefore, the government has begun to modify the way it delivers extension and now works with private extension providers.

Enterprise-centred extension

To tackle the scarcity of field staff, the government is employing more extension officers and modifying extension approaches. "We don't focus on individuals, we work with groups," says John Mwaniki the National Deputy Director of Extension Services. "That way one officer reaches more farmers. Frontline extension officers are also charged with ensuring that these groups are enterprise driven."

Clustering farmers into groups gives them more bargaining power to obtain higher prices for their produce and collectively purchase expensive inputs such as tractors, water pumps or sprayers. Extension officers are also tasked with helping farmers to increase their yields and add value to their produce by providing advice on the right seeds to plant and new cutting-edge technologies and practices.

For ten years, Jane Khodia brewed 'changaa' (an illegal local alcohol) until Muyembe encouraged her to add value to her soya bean crop by producing soya-based crisps, chapatti, mandazi and milk. Khodia was also provided with the opportunity to attend the Bukura Farmer Training Centre where she gained knowledge about soya varieties. As a result, she has taken on an extension role informally, advising farmers which varieties to plant and how to manage them. A beaming Khodia is now able to support her family of seven.

Agro-dealers are the first contact with farmers (© IFDC)
Agro-dealers are the first contact with farmers
© IFDC

Private extension

In Kenya, private stakeholders target agro-dealers as a way to provide extension to farmers. "They are the first contact with farmers," says Phillip Karuri from the International Center for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development (IFDC). Since 2008, in collaboration with the Agricultural Marketing Trust of Kenya (AGMARK), IFDC's Extended Agro-Dealer Network (EADN) has trained 500 agro-dealers.

With greater knowledge about seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, Miriam Wambui Njuguna, an agro-dealer from Nyandarua North, has been able to advise farmers on which varieties to purchase and how best to use them. This agronomic expertise enables agro-dealers to assume the role of frontline extension officers, while training in business management ensures that they run profitable and professional businesses.

In addition to keeping proper records, Njuguna also learnt to plan in advance, ordering sufficient seed and fertiliser before the onset of planting seasons. "I save enough to purchase seeds early," says Njuguna. She is also now very particular where she purchases her seeds, only buying from certified distributors. "I have grown from the training and now only stock seeds that are climatically viable for my region," she adds.

With greater confidence that they will receive the right inputs at the right time, farmers have flocked to Njuguna's dealership, increasing her clientele by 80 per cent since 2008 and boosting the value of her dealership from US$400 in 2002 to US$10,000 today. The impact of the training has been also translated to success on farmers' fields. In Mukurweini, Nyeri, farmers who received agronomic advice from EADN trained agro-dealers reported that their maize yields had doubled. While in Nyandarua North, farmers yielded an additional two to four tonnes of potato per hectare.

Public-private partnerships

Ochieng Okwangi's yields rose from two 90kg bags to 16 bags of maize (© James Karuga)
Ochieng Okwangi's yields rose from two 90kg bags to 16 bags of maize
© James Karuga

To ensure that knowledge is passed to farmers, organisations that fund agricultural initiatives are increasingly linking up with agricultural research institutions. The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and Alliance for Green Revolution Africa (AGRA) are just one example. After research from KARI's Kakamega station reported that acidic soils were responsible for low crop yields in Western Kenya, AGRA provided the funds to enable KARI to purchase agricultural lime to help farmers rehabilitate their soils.

Among the first group of farmers to benefit was Isaac Ochieng Okwangi, whose yields rose from two 90kg bags to 16 bags of maize from his 1.5 acre plot. Also, yields from his bean plot doubled. The soil health drive using lime is now targeting 50,000 farmers in Western Kenya. But successful implementation of extension services hinges on available funds to implement projects and train agro-dealers and farmers; one reason why the government is encouraging public-private partnerships, to share the financial burden. "This is the way forward," Mwaniki adds.

With an increasing number of extension providers, the Ministry of Agriculture is also planning to form an Extension Regulation Board (ERB) to vet and monitor extension projects, ensuring that private services provide high quality extension services. While no definite timeline has been given, Mwaniki has confirmed that the issue of the ERB is on the list of issues to be discussed by parliament.

Written by: James Karuga

Date published: March 2012

 

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