When Hellen Wanjuki Nyaga speaks, people in Njuki-ini location and its environs stop to listen. With a data-base of 200 active farmers, and a further 500 targeted, her influence cannot be underestimated. She is a Village Based Advisor (VBA) with Farm Input Promotions (FIPS)-Africa in Kirinyaga County, located in the lush foothills of Mount Kenya.
As she traverses the villages that make up Njuki-ini, she wastes no time disseminating information on sound agricultural practice; improved soil and crop management practices combined with a range of inputs and services to support farmers across multiple value chains. With support from AGRA, the main objective of this project is to increase farmers’ access to and knowledge of proper use of agricultural inputs leading to a transformation in farm productivity and profits for smallholder farmers.
By increasing farmers’ awareness, the VBA model promotes food security and diversity as well as stimulating demand for multiple technologies with opportunities for generating and sustaining increased incomes for farmers as well as VBAs like Hellen.
“A few years ago, I was a struggling farmer,” she reminisces, “I put in a lot of effort on the farm, but the results were always the same: poor yields, food insecurity and uncertainty.” However, an encounter with FIPS-Africa in 2010 gave her a new lease of life and a chance to prosper.
Seconded to FIPS-Africa following a democratic nomination process by her village-mates, Hellen received training to provide advice and to sell farm inputs. She and 16 other VBAs in Kirinyaga County deliver small packs to farmers containing between 25 and 250 grams of improved varieties of seeds for free sourced from several seed companies to try out on their farms. One ton of seed repackaged into the small packs covers upto 40,000 farmers.
“Everybody has a chance to do their own demo, in a low cost, low-risk way,” she adds. The farmer makes the choice to purchase larger quantities of improved seed varieties from the VBA after observing the performance of the trial seeds, thus generating demand for quality inputs in the subsequent seasons. The VBA approach is helping to create a private sector led extension service that empowers smallholder farmers to move from food deficit to surplus incrementally within a span of 24 months
The VBAs also offer poultry vaccination services against Newcastle disease, Fowl pox and Gumboro at Kes 5 (US 5 cents) per bird, earning up to Kes 2,500 (USD 24) 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 seed sales of food staples such as maize, beans and cowpeas. They have also been trained to carry out banana macro-propagation generating clean planting materials sold at Kes 100 (USD 9) per seedling. Enterprising farmers are also encouraged to pursue income generation enterprises modelled on the VBA approach.
Hellen’s multiple enterprises include fruit-tree and fodder-tree nurseries, dairy goat breeding, poultry production as well as growing sweet potatoes, cassava and arrow-roots for sale, easily earning a monthly income of between Kes 10,000 and 20,000 (USD 96 – USD 192).
She also promotes solar powered lamps where farmers are not connected to the electricity grid as well as the energy-efficient cook-stove, known locally as ‘jiko kisasa’ that utilizes a fraction of firewood consumed by conventional stoves.
FIPS-Africa is involved in building the capacities of 300 VBAs in Kenya, 1000 VBAs in Tanzania and 250 in Mozambique, targeting 310,000 smallholder farm families. The organization has established partnerships with 20 seed companies and 5 fertilizer companies in the region.
Farmer Profile: Lydia Karumba; Njuki-ini location
Lydia Karumba remembers a time when poverty and hunger stalked her closely. The mother of three could not make ends meet, and despite working tirelessly, the one hectare farm was unproductive.
However, her fortunes took a turn for the better after being introduced to the FIPS-Africa project by Village Based Advisor (VBA) Hellen Wanjuki Nyaga, in 2010.
Standing next to her newly completed house built with stone, the strong roof of corrugated iron sheets glinting in the morning sun, the pride in her voice is unmistakable when she talks of her children; “My eldest child was able to complete her secondary school education, go through college and get a job,” she adds, “Her two younger siblings are in school and looking forward to a bright future as well.”
The maize on Lydia’s farm is flourishing, and she points to the demo patch planted with with up to 7 varieties of improved maize seed from the small seed packs distributed by Hellen. She is never in doubt about investing in improved seed varieties, fertilizer as well as soil and crop management strategies.
“I have seen my annual income from maize alone go from zero to Kes 69,000 (USD 662),” she adds, “Throughout the year, I can be sure of a steady income from the tree seedlings, including fruit and banana seeds produced by macro propagation.”
She also sells the seasons’ vegetable surplus from her kitchen garden, and goat milk.
Farmer Profile: Fredrick Gachoki Nyagah; Njuki-ini location
As Fredrick Gachoki Nyagah sizes up his plot of ripening maize that occupies just 0.4 hectares of the entire 1-hectare that makes up his farm, he remembers his days as a struggling smallholder farmer before his encounter with FIPS-Africa in 2010.
“In those days there was little to hope for,” he says, as he explains that a farm-gate price of Kes 5 per maize crop has been agreed upon and it is only a matter of time before the buyers from Embu town and Nairobi arrive in Gachatha village to collect the harvest. His investment was 8 kg of seed maize, fertilizer bought from the Village Based Advisor and careful attention to the soil and crop management techniques learned from the FIPS-Africa networks including farmer field days.
Although there is a glut in the supply of maize from the October-December 2015 season, he is confident of breaking even, as he looks forward to planting maize through irrigation during the off-season, targeting higher market prices. “In the off season a farmer can negotiate for a farm- gate price of Kes 80 (USD 8) per piece,” he says.
The father of 6 is getting ready to make school fee payments for three of his children. “I have a son at the university, a daughter preparing to join first form and another child in the final year of secondary school,” he explains.
He is full of praise for the small seed packs not larger that 25 to 250 grams distributed by FIPS-Africa that have allowed him to experiment with various maize seed varieties on his farm, giving him the confidence to choose incrementally larger quantities of improved seed varieties to take advantage of improved yields and income.
Fredrick has diversified his farming income with the inclusion of a dairy cow; banana macro propagation and indigenous poultry. He is grateful for the vaccine support provided by the VBA at Kes 5 (US Cents 5) that ensures his flock stays healthy. He also sells fertilized eggs and chicks.
Farmer Profile: Felister Ruguru Peter; Njuki-ini location
Felister Ruguru Peter’s diligence and attention to detail is paying off with handsome profits. “I have gone from harvesting one bag of maize per season to 15 bags,” she adds, “I know I can get even higher yields.”
She pays keen attention to the performance of the various seed maize varieties from the small packs before she places her purchase order for the next growing season. The improvements on her farm are also evident at household and personal level as she diversifies her food and income sources to include dairy goat rearing, improved indigenous chicken breeds, vegetable and fruit tree crops, sweet potato banana and a variety of staple cereals and legumes.
Farmer Profile: Rose Wakathaiya; Rwambiti location
Although she lived within a 2 kilometer radius of FIPS-Africa’s Village Based Advisor’s (VBA) area of coverage, Rose Wakathaiya had no idea of how to improve the outcomes of her farming efforts.
Season after season she sowed the indigenous maize seed variety saved from the previous harvest and the results were the same. A poor harvest and despair; never quite able to meet basic needs at the family level.
This sequence changed abruptly in 2015 during an encounter with VBA Hellen Wanjuki Nyaga at Kianjiru Village in Rwambiti location. Today, she has reason to smile as she shows off her demo patch where a healthy crop of maize stands tall, overshadowing the stunted indigenous seed variety growing in the adjacent plot. To be sure that she gets to buy the seed variety of her choice she has saved the paper packet to show Hellen when she next goes to purchase maize seed and fertilizer.
“in the next season, I will be sure to invest in a 8 kg pack, up from the 2 kg pack I planted last time as well as the fertilizer,” she adds, “the yields have impressed me and I am in no doubt that this is the right thing to do.” Rose is keen to follow Hellen’s instructions for planting, weeding and the recommended dosage of fertilizer.