Improved agriculture propels farmers towards lofty dreams

His large, calloused hands and weather-beaten face could quickly identify the 86–year old Michael Waweru as hardworking. He is and no less. After he got training from his local Village-based Advisor (VBA), things just fell into place for Waweru’s family. “We now have enough food, not forgetting more income and happier lives,” the father of four says with both humility and pride. 

For many years Michael and his family had been harvesting meager yields because they were using inappropriate late-maturing varieties and poor agronomic practices. AGRA’s partners have been part of supporting his family through the improvement of farmer extension service delivery by the County Government to introduce early-maturing maize varieties, and train farmers in Good Agronomic Practices (GAP) to improve food security.

He beams brightly as the sweet realization that, “There is money in agriculture,” throwing away the notion associating agriculture with being poor and dirty. 

From his low-yielding to now a promising garden, hope has sprung in his home. Before enjoying the benefits of the training and improved seeds, food was scarce in his family. More often, they harvested food and had none to store for future use. But now they can harvest enough maize, save what they need until the next farming season and still have some extra to sell. Some of the proceeds from the selling has enabled him to achieve his dreams. He now has five cows, four goats, over 20 chickens, which help to supplement their diet with more protein, a diet that was once imbalanced. 

He also has a water tank and harvests rainwater that supports the family and domestic animal consumption as well.

Michael rests in his homesteads and occasionally walks around to survey his achievements that, though have come at old age, are a treasure. His once less productive land is now filling with improved crops. “We have enough food, but now we are inspired to aim higher by working hard and together,” he says. 

One of his children, Veronica Nyakio, has taken up farming, and she too has a long story to tell after just two years of adopting the Good Agronomic Practices. 

“We are thankful to AGRA ‘s partners for helping open our minds to new ideas. We realized that there are better ways of doing things. It changed our attitude towards farming and also life in general,” he concludes. 

AGRA believes that agricultural technologies and practices can only have a positive effect if they are communicated and implemented by farmers and end-users. Extension is the mechanism by which this process is achieved. Within our five-year strategy, one of the biggest challenges is how to further the reach and impact of government extension agents and create demand for improved seeds, fertilizers, and other yield-enhancing inputs. The ratio of extension staff to farmers in most of our target countries is 1:5,000. We aim to improve this ratio to 1:500.

Recognizing the growing role of the private sector in the lives and livelihoods of Africa’s farmers, our extension approach involves identifying and training self-employed village-based advisors (VBAs). VBAs are ‘lead farmers’ who are selected to share technologies and knowledge locally with fellow farmers. With connections to input companies, they help to promote quality seeds and fertilizers, together with good agricultural practices. This model has been particularly successful in Kiambu County, Kenya.

AGRA works through the Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation In Africa (PIATA). This is a unique strategic partnership launched in 2017 that enables African agriculture actors to do business differently as they support leaders to drive an inclusive agricultural transformation. PIATA members include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ.

By Nancy Okwengu

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