Village-Based Advisors Helping Farmers Improve Yields and Economies

As African Heads of State and other public and private leaders prepare to meet for the African Green Revolution Forum in the Ivorian economic capital, Abidjan, 4-8 September 2017, farmers across the continent will be hopeful that decisions made at the Forum will enable them to improve their economic well-being.

Meet Hellen Wanjuki Nyaga, for example, who is orchestrating an agricultural transformation in the lush foothills of Mount Kenya. She serves as a Village Based Advisor (VBA) to over 200 active farmers on her database with an aspiration of ultimately reaching and serving 500 farmers in Njuki-ini, her location.

She traverses the villages across rivers and ridges, providing farmers with information on sound agricultural practices including improved soil and crop management as part of a project that seeks to increase farmers’ access to knowledge on the proper use of agricultural inputs with the aim of leading a transformation in farm productivity and profits for smallholder farmers.

“A few years ago, I was a struggling farmer,” she says as if thinking out aloud. “I put in a lot of effort on the farm, but the results were always the same: poor yields, food insecurity and uncertainty.”

However, the introduction of a farmers’ extension project in her area by FIPS-Africa with support from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) in 2010 ushered her to a new era of farming.

Using Village Based Advisors that are democratically selected by farmers, the project delivers small packs of between 25 and 250 grams of improved varieties of seeds to farmers. These seeds are sourced for free from several seed companies to give farmers a chance to try them out on small portions of their farms. The farmers then make the choice to purchase larger quantities of improved seed varieties from the VBA depending on the performance of the trial seeds, thus generating demand for quality inputs in the subsequent seasons if the trial works.

Hellen was among the first adopters of the free seeds as she did not have, in her own words, anything to lose. At the end of the first season, she recorded significant increase in yields on the trial plots compared to the rest of the farm. As a result, she decided to invest in the high-yielding seeds for her entire farm. She also started encouraging other farmers in her locality to adopt the new seeds and also taught them the right practices she had learnt and perfected on her farm. As a result, she was selected by fellow farmers to serve as a VBA alongside 16 other volunteers.

“Everybody has a chance to do their own demo, in a low-cost, low-risk way and make their own decisions whether to invest in the high-yielding seeds or not,” she said.

The VBAs also offer poultry vaccination services against major diseases at a fee of Ksh 5 (US 5 cents) per bird, which translates to Ksh 2,500 (USD 25) per vial of vaccine.  “We vaccinate chickens throughout the year,” says Hellen. “This is a steady source of income for a VBA.”  Other income streams include the sales of seeds of major staples such as maize, beans and cowpeas.  The volunteers have also been trained to carry out banana macro-propagation to generate clean planting materials sold at Ksh 100 (USD 10) per seedling.

Today, Hellen has converted her farm into a multiple enterprise that includes fruit-tree and fodder-tree nurseries, dairy goat breeding, poultry production as well as growing sweet potatoes, cassava and arrow-roots for sale. On average, she earns between Ksh 10,000 and 20,000 (USD 100 – USD 200). Her income from the sale of agricultural produce has doubled as she continues to use the right seeds and apply the best agronomic practices.

Leaders meeting next month in Abidjan will explore ways of scaling up innovative projects like Hellen’s to accelerate Africa’s path to prosperity by growing inclusive economies and jobs through agriculture.