By AGRA Content Hub

They could face a lot of challenges, but the people of Kiambu County look more determined to rise above them through farming. After all, they have over 250 Village-based Advisors (VBAs) who are geared with the right spirit and determination to teach them the latest information to make farming the source of improving their lives. 

Unfazed by the painful experiences of food insecurity and poverty that they have undergone in the past, they remain steadfast in pursuing farming, which remains their core and inspiration to keep going.  

Not even poor rains or an escalating economic crisis can bring down their determination. Such is the story of many as narrated by Jane Njoka, a technical advisor with a local NGO who is advising the County Government of Kiambu and Damaris Kinyanjui, a Village-based Advisor in Thiririka village. 

As Jane aptly puts it, “Nothing is hard when you love what you do,” Theirs are stories worth telling over and over again. 

Jane and Damaris work together to train farmers and closely to monitor their progress. 

Damaris is one of 250 VBAs identified and trained by Jane in partnership with sub-County Agricultural Officers who have also passed knowledge and information on Good Agriculture Practices (GAP). So far, these VBAs have trained 29,300 farmers who have started to adopt the use of the improved maize varieties and farming techniques to ensure food security, poverty alleviation and improve nutrition for the smallholder farmers and their families.

“Our farmers suffered for years because they were using seed of inappropriate late-maturing maize varieties. They were also using other poor agronomic practices, such as planting three or four seeds per hole. They were also using fertilizers and the wrong way. As if it’s not enough, fall armyworm became a new menace that led to losses upon losses. In short, farming was not attractive,” says Jane.

With the support and collaboration from the Country Government of Kiambu, seed and fertilizer companies, and a small catalytic grant and technical advice from AGRA, VBAs have been able to offer improved extension services about improved early-maturing maize varieties and GAP to improve the food security and incomes of smallholder farmers at the Village level. 

Embu County Government is now replicating the approach. The VBAs, who are also self-employed, earn commissions on the sale of seed and fertilizer as a reward for bringing together and training farmers. 

“From their gardens, each family has sufficient food to eat, and there is still a lot extra for selling in the market. With the income, families can pay for children’s school fees and still spare for other needs such as supplementing their diets and health care,” says Damaris.

The enthusiasm of farming in this County has spilled over in many families around the area. Families that once had nothing are now confident and sure of a better life. “People anchor on each other. Trust is built when you work with the communities; we are together lifting each other. Fond dreams are being realized,” adds Jane. 

A look at Damaris reveals sadness crosses her face when she thinks of the rest of Kenya that suffer from food insecurity and that has not accessed the right knowledge and information about overcoming hunger and poverty. But she is quick to smile it away, wanting to put up a brave front, she says, “We have seen that it can be done. Because of this project, we can eat. It is hard work, but that is what work is supposed to be. We are showing an example that the entire country can adopt to ensure there will be available food in plenty for everyone.”

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