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Training farmers as extension workers boosts farm yields 200%

Performance difference in maize planted in basins vs Conventional planting in Busia County (Photo Courtesy:FIPS Kenya)

Through the pioneering use of professionally trained farmers known as Village Based Advisors (VBAs), Farm Input Promotions Africa (FIPS) Ltd, a Kenyan nonprofit founded in 2003, is disseminating critical agricultural information that is increasing farmer yields by 30 to 200 per cent depending on the crop, farming system, and context.

This is securing the food and financial security of millions of smallholder farmers across Kenya.

Death of Extension Services and How VBAs are Filling the Gap

According to CBK’s March 2023 Agriculture Sector Survey, contrary to the past, most farmers attest to having not been visited by extension officers. Kenya currently has about one extension worker for 5,000 farmers against the ideal figure of 1:500. This has contributed to a lack of information on good agricultural practices leading to low yields for smallholder farmers.

“VBAs are lead farmers who are connected, respected, and trusted in their communities. They are elected by fellow farmers, trained, and used to mobilise, teach and follow up on the adoption of modern farming practices by farmers,” said FIPS founder Dr. Paul Seward.

FIPS has trained 700 VBAs in Kenya, 1200 VBAs in Tanzania, and 250 VBAs in Mozambique. The program which has also been adopted by the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) has reached over a million farmers in East Africa at the grassroots level.

FIPS’s Coast Programme

As an example, FIPS Africa’s Coast Programme through funding from the Seeds of Change Foundation has had a transformative impact on 84,000 farmers in Kwale and Kilifi Counties.

Introducing improved seed varieties

Through partnerships with KALRO and private seed manufacturers, VBAs distribute free small packs, typically containing 25 -100 gram seeds of an improved crop variety for farmers to grow on their farms. 

Examples for coastal farmers include Western Seed’s low-altitude Haraka WH101 and WH301 maize varieties which are fast-growing and drought-tolerant. KALRO-bred green grams; Karembo, N6, and Biashara which farmers can harvest and regrow over a larger area. KAT B1 and the nitrogen-rich Nyota bean variety, also bred by KALRO, as well as KALRO’s M66 cowpeas among others.

After trialling the seeds on their farms Paul says, farmers can make an informed decision on what to grow.

Innovative growing methods

The VBAs also school farmers on innovative best practices that maximise their yield potential. Examples in coastal counties include basin planting as opposed to conventional growing methods. These are able to improve water and manure capture as well as reduce instances of pest attacks.

“Incorporation of Wondergro–a fast-acting lime soil conditioner, which many farmers have affectionately branded Miujiza, has had remarkably positive outcomes for farmers in the Coast as well as Kenya’s coffee growing belt,” Paul informed.

The soil amendment agent improves the soil’s physical qualities and fertility allowing it to better provide nutrition for plants. Farmers are especially finding great success using it together with manure in the planting of fruit trees. “Through this planting method, we have seen some of our farmers who grow Solo Sunrise and Malkia F1 Papaya varieties sourced from KALRO Matuga’s nursery harvest up to 100 fruits per tree yearly which they sell at Sh50 a fruit which is big money for our farmers.”

The VBAs also educate farmers on post-harvest storage; they have had great success with the use of Kensil Guard– a diatomaceous earth insecticide dust used in organic grain preservation. Poultry keeping; farmers are sensitized to the benefits of improved poultry varieties that mature in just five months compared to local breeds which take a year. They also offer poultry vaccination services, especially against the dreaded Newcastle, locally known as ‘Kideri’ disease.

The VBAs also pool farmers together to source for tractor tilling services at a discount as well as in the digging of basins on each of their farms which can be physically demanding practice for an individual farmer.

Future Projects

The trainee farmers are working with FIPS to pilot a coconut aggregation program to supply East Africa’s leading producer of coconut products Kentaste. Through VBAs the NGO has developed links with off-takers to pilot an experimental chicken butchery programme this month. “There is a paucity of a reliable supply of kienyeji chicken meat to suppliers with most of them only having access to broiler meat in coastal Kenya. We hope to meet this gap in the market,” explained Paul.

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