Mr. Benson Muturi the chairman and coordinator for Munyaka Agri-info and Resource centre stands under a propagated avocado tree. A circle of farmers sit on the grass around the tree facing him. In his hands is a handful of dry fodder and he is demonstrating to farmers how to tell whether the feed is good for storage or nutritious to the livestock. The extension practitioner is passing on knowledge that may seem simplistic to a bystander but this knowledge to a farmer means the difference between raising a high cost cow or a high yielding cow.
Farmers in Kenya continue to face numerous challenges due to rapid climate changes, erratic markets especially among the sophisticated urban consumers who form the bulk of the market, rapidly diminishing water sources, and emergence of new diseases. The need for information in order to navigate, survive and thrive in the ever changing Agribusiness is more evident now than ever before.
Agricultural Extension services from both Governmental, non Governmental, community based organizations and profit making organizations play a crucial role in promoting agricultural innovation processes in order to improve the livelihoods of farmers.
At Faraja Latiae, a maasai word for good neighbor, we meet 24 year old Naisenya Oloishana who has walked for more than 30 kilometres to the resource centre. “I am thirsty for information because I know firsthand what lack of information can do to a farmer,” says Naisenya.
The 24 year old says that three years ago her family was in deep financial problems. Her husband had sold over 30 acres of their Isinya home and invested in local cow breeds without spreading the risks to other Agricultural sectors. Three years down the line they had lost the animals to drought and were homeless. After surviving on handouts from neighbors, Oloishana decided to join a women self-help group which eventually led her to the doors of Faraja Latiae. She received training on both crop and animal management and has since then been able to get on her feet.
Says Oloishana, “I started by selling farm produce from Faraja Latiae where I had been equipped with skills in agribusiness which enabled me to raise capital which I invested in dairy goat breed. Now am a trained dairy goat farmer and sell goat milk for Shs. 100 per litre and between my 4 goats I am able to get 20 litres per day.”
According to Mr. Peter Muthee the Director of Faraja Latiae, the war on poverty can only be won by ensuring farmers have adequate information on enhancing food security without harming the environment. “We as extension practitioners play a pivotal role in fostering development by disseminating information on innovations and technology, equipping farmers with skills, knowledge, farm inputs and even providing market linkages for the benefit of smallholder farmers to improve on their livelihoods.
At Faraja Latiae, the resource centre mainly reaches out to pastoral farmers. The centre has a community outreach program where they go to the maasai manyattas to help the farmers identify agribusiness opportunities. Faraja Latiae also provides training to out of school youths as the next generation of farm managers.
The coordinator of Ikinyukia Community Based organization Mr. Benson Muturi says that reaching out to farmers comes with its own challenges.
“Low adoption of technologies by some of the farmers whom we train can be very discouraging. There is a case of a farmer who even after attending a basic record keeping class still did not implement the lessons learnt. The farmer owns a breed of milk cow which can easily qualify as a pedigree but he can be taken advantage of by brokers because he has not been keeping records of the dairy breed”, says the coordinator.
Mr. Muturi is urging farmers to seek information far and wide in order to increase their yields. He says that farmers should take advantage of extension services like field days, Agricultural society of Kenya shows, and even visit resource centre so as to network with other farmers to discuss how best they can overcome the challenges they are facing.