Forty-year-old Hannah Watiri lives in Kiambu County, which lies on sweeping masses of a scenic landmass that generally doesn’t change much in elevation. The County’s cool weather is inviting and pleasant compared to other Counties in Kenya. Its proximity to Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, also makes it a potential fresh food basket for the urbanites.
“Over the years, I have observed weather changes in this place. Kiambu used to be a haven of food. The rain was not too much; it was just enough. The heat was not too much; it was just enough. But over the years, the weather has been changing, and we now get prolonged dry seasons or wet seasons. Climate change has resulted in a decline in agricultural production,” narrates Hannah, who was born and raised in Kiambu County.
“Nowadays, I hear that people in Nairobi get their food from other countries. So much has changed,” she adds.
Another significant change that Hannah has witnessed is the increase of Kiambu’s population and, consequently, the reduction of agricultural land areas per family. Younger people also tend to move into the city to look for better opportunities and thereby ignore agriculture as an income generating venture.
Hannah pauses to reminisce on the size of crops they used to harvest in the good old days. Honestly, so much can change over time. “Luckily, this history is now being rewritten, Hannah, pauses, and beams with joy. We are starting to increase our yields again. Once again, agriculture is becoming attractive. Most farmers in this County are now enjoying farming again,” she says.
These changes have come about after the farmers in Kiambu County adopted improved maize varieties and good agronomic practices after training by their Village-Based Advisors (VBAs). Lack of right information and access to advice had made maize production a struggle. Before the training, farmers in Kiambu County battled with climate change, decreased agricultural land portion, more mouths to feed, lack of sufficient human labor, among other challenges. Agriculture was a struggling activity.
VBAs, who are selected by County Government Extension Officers, and trained together with partner Seed and Fertilizer Companies train farmers on how to grow earlier-maturing maize varieties, practice correct seed placement, and use of manure and fertilizer.
“Nowadays, I am happy because I am a VBA, and I see the change in our lives. I’ve gone for training and have learnt how one is supposed to grow maize the best way. I am smarter now and as a result, I harvest a lot more. Moreover, I don’t rely on buying maize flour from the market. I go to mill some maize grains from my harvest for family consumption and even sell some. So, it’s helping a lot,” says Hannah.
“I sometimes sell the maize when its green, which is profitable. Last season I also sold the dry ones and made a tremendous profit. I have young children, so I spend the money on such things as cooking oil and school fees. Life is much better now compared to before,” she continues.
“The training has been very beneficial. Back then I used to plant five seeds in one hole and when I got poor harvest, I assumed underground insects ate some. I had the notion that the more the seeds I planted the more harvest I would get. However, because of the training now, I plant one seed per hole, and the plant grows to produce two very big cobs the size of my hand,” she says as she demonstrates with the size of her hand.
“As a VBA, I’ve been trained to conduct a ‘Mother Demo’ on my own farm. I mobilize all the women and men in my Village to come to my home and we learn how to plant maize the best way together. I have to practically show them how to plant so that they can do the same thing when they go back to their homes. I show them how to prepare planting lines and holes. I measure 75 cm between the lines and make holes every 25 cm along each line. Then I put the manure, if available, together with a small quantity of a new fertilizer blend in each hole. From there, I cover the manure and fertilizer with soil and then place one seed in the hole and cover with soil. After the training, I give small sample pack of seeds of improved varieties to each farmer who goes back home and plants the way they have learnt. Everyone who has received the training and sample seed packs always buys more seeds in order to plant more the next season. The farmers are convinced,” says Hannah.
This model has changed this community. Agriculture is no longer associated with poverty. Needless to add, they are prospering.
AGRA’s private sector-led Extension approach, which involves VBAs, is key to disseminating appropriate technologies and good agronomic practices in order to build a sustainable food secure Africa. In Kenya AGRA is partnering with the Kiambu and Embu County Governments, the Local Development Research Institute (LDRI), Seed Companies, and Fertilizer Companies to quickly and cost-effectively improve extension service delivery to improve the food security of 250,000 small-holder farmers.