Youth group doubles household incomes with extension service

A group of enterprising youth farmers in Uasin Gishu are pushing for the adoption of short term crops in a county that has been dominated by maize, a move that has tripled income for over 800 farmers.

Having witnessed the dwindling returns from farmers in the region fuelled by the decreasing soil fertility and over reliance on one type of crop, Philip Tanui an ambitious youth set out on a mission to change the tide among his beloved farmers. “I witnessed firsthand many of the farmers in our area plant maize in all their entire land and painfully wait for over eight months to reap any benefits a fact that is solely  responsible for keeping many of us in the poverty cycle,” explained Tanui. A quick survey among these farmers revealed to Tanui that they are locked to the maize phenomenon due to lack of appropriate knowledge on lucrative and quick maturing crops and modern farming methods.

According to Tanui, this problem is mainly fuelled by the fact that there are very few extension officers in the country and therefore they had to try and act as extension officers. According to statistics from ministry of agriculture, due to the growing population, extension officer to farmer’s ratio in Kenya has changed from 1:750 in the 90s to 1:1200 currently. This often means that extension officers are unable to serve their clients effectively validating Tanui’s argument of many farmers in the country ignored to grapple with the growing challenges in agriculture.

Tanui having had formal education viewed himself to be better placed to come up with a viable solution to the maize dominance among farmers. He noted,  “I identified other educated youths from the area and formed a community based extension group branding it Ami farm with a sole role of empowering our locals to adoption of diversification and ensuring that agribusiness is profitable and fashionable and just done because its’ the last option available. We started with mindset changing and enlightening farmers about the availability of lucrative 2-3 months crops.”

Although the ambitious youth has no formal training in agriculture, the revolution in cyber space and its’ deepening in the country offered a free platform for knowledge enrichment. His initiative has been boosted by the fact that there is a lot of agribusiness information online boosted by the positive revolution the digital age has witnessed.

From the onset, Tanui and his fellow ‘extension officers’ knew that they were not going to have a walk in the park on this mission but decided to soldier on. “Maize has been grown in our area for a very long time and changing most farmers’ mindsets from this crop was not easy. I and my team knew that we were on a good course and were not deterred by the initial ridicule from pessimists who never believed in our mission. We stuck to it be because we knew it was the only way to have a positive mark among our people,” noted Tanui.

One way that made the gospel sink easily among the farmers was that the information and tutorials were given out freely. Tanui explained that their sole goal was to have a positive impact on the society and therefore were serving them with the knowledge they had freely. “This is my community and I believe that one always has to uplift the community for he identifies himself with. Actually it is giving back to the community for the bringing and accepting you for what you are,” he added. To facilitate better learning and skills exchange the team has set up demonstration farms with crops of interest like snow peas, tomatoes, kales, traditional herbs like cow peas, amaranth among others.

The publicity on the need to adopt quick maturing crops and diversification is done in social places like Churches, Chief barazas among others. It is from this point that we reach out to interested farmers and organize for the trainings which is done when there is at least a manageable number of trainees like about six farmers.

The team gathers information from online, seminars, KARI and even from other farmers around the country and eventually bring it home to empower the locals.  “We also encourage the trained farmers to pass on the information and skills to others a fact that has enabled our efforts reach out to so many farmers because of the multiplier effect.” Seed sources for the fast maturing crops have also been opened up offering answering some farmers’ excuses of lacking where to source them from. The group has also partnered with large markets like restaurants and export companies to offer market for the farmers a fact that has fuelled production.

After two years of intensive outreach and campaign, Ami farm has started registering success with 0ver 800 farmers now having their farms diversified with at least three types of crops. Their effort has also captured players in the agribusiness sector with USAID’s Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprises (KAVES) identifying the youth to push their agenda in the area. “Due to the success we have registered KAVES partnered with us to help them push for their values and skills among the farmers. The partnership has also equipped us with more trainings and modern farming techniques,” added Tanui. Currently Tanui’s group of self made local extension officers has a membership of about 30 people who are dedicated to empowering local farmers.