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Agricultural extension juggles farmers’ enquiries in a demand-driven service

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By George Munene

The move to county administration has transformed agricultural extension, putting farmers in the driving seat, but leaving officers often drowning in individual enquiries. In our series of reports on how individual extension officers are juggling their days, we look, first, at how one officer in Meru is managing to cover the demands.

For Nickson Wafula, the age of Extension Officers – now Sub-County Agricultural Officers (SCAOs) – going from one homestead to the next on government-issued Suzuki bikes shouldering jungle green backpacks is now long gone.

As a Sub County Agricultural Officer based in Meru, he balances the shift to individual farmers enquiries with the needs in pursuing the country’s strategic, agricultural agenda, by training groups from 10pm to 2pm each day, and fielding individual items before and after each day’s meeting, and often well into the evening.

A typical working day for Dickson begins at 9am researching on and outlining the day’s plan. He looks at the pending and emerging issues raised by farmers, be it a disease outbreak that has been widely reported by farmers (usually fall armyworms, now locusts) or trying to ascertain why a particular sorghum variety, as was the case in Tharaka Nithi, failed.

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He gets in touch with relevant stakeholders, such as chiefs or village leaders, agro-dealers and farmers, and mobilises the resources for pending training sessions.

From 10am to 2pm he is normally addressing a gathering of farmers on the day’s planned issues. Most farmers prefer practical demonstrations, so that will also dictate the choice of a meeting place. As well as addressing issues brought up my multiple farmers, such group forums will also cover the county government’s current brief. This might be by working to orient farmers on the value of planting macadamia or avocado trees; or on keeping dairy goats; or empowering them with ways of tackling common pests and diseases.

Afterwards, farmers are offered an opportunity to ask questions on what was discussed and have them answered. The agro-dealers present are also offered an opportunity to sell farmers their wares in relation to what has been discussed. Right before everything’s adjourned, Wafula says he normally gets the usual round of “Then what if…” questions.

A number of farmers will also often want a private audience with him and this will be arranged, if he can make time, for later on in the day.
With extension services having shifted from the former government-led, top-down approach to a more collaborative service, farmers now play a part in driving the extension agenda. However, the extension officials are few in number and resources are scarce, so in-person visits to shambas are now limited.

From 2pm to 3pm, Wafula will be meeting with seed and fertiliser distributors and working on the modalities of when inputs will get to farmers and what best suits which geographical localities.

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From 3pm until evening he will be attending to farmer complaints on their shambas. Some farmers might not feel confident enough just following theoretical procedures in planting avocado seedlings and will feel more comfortable doing it under his supervision.

Every 2-3 weeks he will use these rounds to monitor and follow up on the success rate of county-initiated projects and on previous visits to see if the advice was followed and whether it has been impactful for farmers on the ground.

This information enables him to see what approach had the best results and determine future interventions.

In the evening he will attend to general farmer complaints, be it someone whose chickens are dying off, or a cow having calving issue. These are usually farmers who can personally contact him. 

In all, over the last decade, extension services have become demand, which necessitates that farmers are proactive in seeking him out.

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