The joys of working as an extension officer with small holder Farmers

For the last decade, Nathan Koteki has worked as an extension officer, a job he passionately holds dear to his heart. However, Koteki says what he enjoys most about his job is the opportunity to work with smallholder farmers and watch with satisfaction their triumph over their challenges and the transformation of their lives as they become economically empowered through farming.

Koteki works as an Extension worker with Africa 2000 Network (A2N), under the project, “Improving Small holder productivity and controlling striga in Eastern Uganda through scaling up Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) interventions”. The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA) Soil Health Programme (SHP) funds the project.

Since 2012, Koteki has worked with smallholder farmers in Busia District and has been on the forefront implementing AGRA’s sponsored intervention measures in the District.

One needs to take a field visit with Koteki to understand fully his passion for his helping the smallholder farmers in practicing modern technologies of farming in order to achieve maximum productivity. During a recent assignment, I got the opportunity to watch Koteki work with the smallholder farmers and by the natural bond between him and the farmers, I could understand his earlier passionate emotions as he narrated to me his high and lows while dispatching his duties. “But despite the challenges, I get overwhelmed when a few months, a year down the line after introducing these interventions, I see the farmers lives being transformed, right under my nose,” Koteki joked.

Indeed, as we toured the district, the sight of former grass-thatched huts giving way to modern iron-sheet-brick houses was a sign of economic empowerment. “All this has been possible through the introduction of modern technologies, marketing sourcing and practicing good farming policies, all of which are part of AGRA”s intervention package,” notes the Extension Officer.

Why is he so passionate about working with these farmers? “I believe that Uganda can feed herself if her people especially smallholder farmers improve their farming activities and become economically empowered to develop themselves,” explains Koteki, who is married with four school going children. He adds that he feels blessed to work with farmers and to be involved in farming that employs the biggest population of Ugandans.

“Now that AGRA’s involvement is reaping benefits, I am inspired more than ever before to continue doing my extension work especially when the few that succeed come back and give testimony of what they have achieved,” says the extension officer, adding that he so much enjoys his work, which involves covering a vast area. His passion for what he does gives him the strength to go that extra mile, when the challenges that come with his job package overwhelm him.

Koteki’s greatest joy is when after changing the mindset of a farmer, his mission is rewarded, as the farmer becomes his ambassador to reach out to other farmers. “Most of the farmers I encounter have no idea of modern technological methods of farming and have myriad myths about these technologies especially farming with fertilizers,” explains Koteki, adding that his greatest moment is when he wins over a farmer to implement new approach to farming and the idea succeeds. “I feel touched when a farmer implements the idea and he comes back full of appreciation because of the benefits. This means that more and more farmers will join farmer groups and make it easier for more to accomplish my target”, says an enthusiastic Koteki.

He too says, he is excited when he sees farmers place seeds in the soil and after a few days the seeds germinates and a few months later, comes a bumper harvest translating to plenty of food to feed families and excess sell. By this time, the farmers have forgotten the challenges they might have faced at the onset as they are overshadowed by the benefits. “This is my excitement and I am able to convince the farmers to join in and enjoy new mechanisms of farming as part of God’s wonders – this is amazing,” intones the officer, adding that his greatest ambition is to help make small-scale farmers succeed in life. This is why, he says, he puts in extra effort in his work in reference to the long working hours. On this particular visit, we had to work until 8 pm as Koteki insisted that we needed to visit as many farmers groups as possible. This interaction with AGRA visiting team, he told AGRA’s Programme Officer David Kimani, would greatly inspire the farmers. The A2N extension officer says his greatest motivation is to know that his input will be rewarded when farmers benefit from the ideas he shares. It is awesome and inspiring to tour some of these farmers’ homes and see the economical transformation. Koteki works with close to 2,000 farmers and more than 25 farmer groups.

Nonetheless, it is not always smooth sailing and there are hurdles along his journey with the farmers. “One of my biggest challenges is that I am not able to visit as many farmers as I would like because of transport hurdles,” notes the Extension Officer who has to do with a motorcycle. He says sometimes the terrain cannot be “conquered” by his motocycle as many times he has to walk. This has curtailed his desire to create awareness of the identified farming interventions as progressive as he would like. The area he covers is vast and the funded demonstration farms are not enough to serve the diverse region. Then in addition, the issue of insufficient seedlings, market and finance is a thorn in the fresh. However, he says, interventions such as farmers starting their own nurseries after the initial funding by AGRA and ploughing back proceeds to start more demo farms are some of the issues that he and the farmer group leaders are exploring. Another intervention that is also an value addition to the financial challenge is the establishment of Agro-dealer shops that are owned by the farmers.

“Farmers such as Magdalene Akello are a triumphant example of those who have gained considerably by practicing the modern technologies of farming,” says Koteki, adding that Akello has been identified for a efforts to be among the project’s Farmer Community Based (FCB) trainers as well as an agro-dealer.

His work, he says, has been made easy by working with a result-oriented employer (A2N) and collaborator (AGRA) and a flexible team of colleagues assigned to the project. He states he takes it as part of his responsibility to provide with honesty and sincerity what he should as par his ethics and that of the organization that he works for and by extension partners such as AGRA who support what they do. “I feel guilty if I do not fulfill or fail to deliver what I am supposed to provide,” states Koteki. He says he is at his happiest when his extension work involves interacting with farmers and then sees their joy and appreciation when they encounter changes that bring about improvement in their lives.

His greatest desire is to make a difference in the lives of as many farmers and seeing that farmers have land as their greatest resource, “I believe if they utilized it well they can make improve on their lives and stop depending on begging or handouts.

Parting shot: Hard work through embracing of modern farming technologies is the answer to successful farming. A few who have listened have made it and I bear testimony to that.

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