When the national youth summit opened in Embu County in March 2019, one of the people who gave a presentation to the assembled VIPs was 30-year old Caroline Mugo, an active member of several youth groups in Karai Ward, Kiambu County.
“Thinking back to the days I used to combine working as a house-help with attending secondary school, I could never have imagined that one day I would be addressing a number of Governors and other important people,” says Caroline, who was selected to give a presentation on the VBA model being implemented in Kiambu County.
Caroline is one of the youth Village-based Advisors (VBAs) in Karai, Kikuyu Sub-County, a semi-arid part of Kiambu County, where the Kiambu County Government, with technical advice from AGRA, has been promoting more appropriate early-maturing maize varieties, together with advice on good agronomic practices.
Karai is the least productive of the four agro-ecological zones in Kiambu County. With unreliable rainfall here, farmers have traditionally put minimum investment in maize farming, most of them using late-maturing varieties suitable for high altitude areas.
“Apart from unsuitable seeds, many farmers here did not bother to use fertilizer or pesticide, and many still used to plant 3 or four seeds in a hole,” says Caroline.
With little returns from their small farms, it is usually difficult to find young people engaging in farming. According to Caroline, many of them have fallen into habits such as use of drugs and petty crime.
Her own difficult past had led her to joining several youth groups in Karai, including Greening the Youth and the Community Education Empowerment Centre. These are community organizations fighting gender-based violence and drug abuse among the youth in Kiambu.
It was her active community service that led to her recruitment as a VBA by a friend to her mother-in-law, who is also a VBA and who had been approached to find young people to be trained in extension work.
She has undergoing various training sessions on various aspects of extension work. Beginning from the rainy season of March 2018, Caroline promoted several early-maturing maize varieties including the DKC80-33 variety from Monsanto, and KH500-49A variety from Leldet Ltd.
She currently has a network of about 200 farmers in Karai, to whom she has distributed small sample packs (50 g) of improved early-maturing seed varieties and has taught them how to space the seeds properly.
Many of these farmers are aged between 18 and years -35 and belong to the Karai Pamoja Youth Group, which she chairs.
She says that several them had previously fallen into bad habits but are now reformed.
Caroline also works with three primary schools in the area, where she teaches pupils to tend to the crops in their school farms.
“A big challenge for the youth is raising the funds to purchase the seeds, so many times I buy the seeds myself and distribute to them and they refund the money after selling their maize,” says Caroline.
According to her, many have developed confidence in her work, and some even request her to help them with extra services such as soil testing. When such specialized services are needed, she works with county extension workers to support the members in her group.
With her brother, she has managed to open a small agrovet outlet in Kikuyu Town, from which farmers can collect the small packs and where they offer other related agro products.
“Apart from being able to support myself, I am happy because I can see a number of young people who have changed their ways, and today they are busy especially selling green maize,” she says.
As an affirmation of her rising profile in the community, this past month Caroline was also invited to give a presentation on the VBA model at the high-profile National Devolution Conference in Kirinyaga County.
“I cannot believe that from about 1,500 VBAs, a young woman like me was chosen to speak at such an important national meeting,” she says.