TRAINING FARMERS ON AGRO-ECOLOGY

As the size of land decrease small scale farmers continue to apply excessive fertilizers and chemicals to increase food production. This has also been evident also in modern farming where fertigation has been developed to supply fertilizers, soil amendments and other water soluble produce to the crops through irrigation. Foliar spraying has been growing to increase the size of the produce or give it desired colour based on the consumer preferences.

However this approach requires more and more application of the inorganic inputs to increase production each time. This makes the cost of production very high which impoverish small holder farmers as the agro-companies to the bank smiling. In addition the relationship results other effects which are shouldered by the same farmer.

The farmer destroy his soil with macro/micro nutrients imbalances, development of acidity/alkalinity, killing of useful organisms, increased cost of production which minimizes his/her profits, health hazards; through inhaling/coming into contact with the chemicals, consumption of food with  bioaccumulation or drinking contaminated water.

In view of this, Seed Savers Network has embarked on training farmers the interrelationship between the environment and agricultural sustainability. We try to bridge the existing gap in raising their awareness on the implications of increased use of inorganic fertilizers and chemicals on future agriculture and generations. We have been reaching farmers through farmers’ field school, field days, farm and the media (Mulembe FM, Radio Amani and Inooro TV) to sensitize them.

We have training on farm made solutions to control pests and increase the fertility of their soils. Bio-intensive farming has also been integrated to increase production and diversity in a small portion of land. We continue to enhance use of liquid organic fertilizer that enables small scale farmers to apply it as foliar and ensure production of vegetables vertical bags and hanging gardens which also conserve water. These technologies are ideal for farmers with small pieces of land and especially for urban and peri-urban farming. Different crops can easily be intercropped in these gardens.

We encourage planting of Tithonia and comfrey at their farms for source of raw materials which we distribute to the

Extension officer showing farmers Tithonia

m during training. These crops also have additional benefits to farmers as source of fodder to livestock and fence for Tithonia and as a local vegetable for Comfrey. Farmers rearing rabbits are also encouraged to use rabbit urine in making the liquid manure.

The aim of making liquid manure is to quickly provide a crop with adequate natural plant food during the growing season. Liquid manure is ready for use after two or three weeks compared to six weeks or more for compost. The liquid manure which is made from bio-slurry or animal manures supplies nutrients fast.

When using farm yard manure, farmers are advised to mix them and put in a sack or a gunny bag. This ensures the liquid manure comprises high level of nutrients. The bag is then suspended in a bucket with clean water which is readily available at their homes. They are then guided on how to cover it using suitable material available. The farmers then wait for three weeks where they dilute it at a ratio of 1:2 (liquid manure to water) for application as a foliar or through drips to their crops.

The same concept applies for farmers with rabbits where they harvest it and ferment it for 21 days. It is well covered and farmers can dilute it at the same ratio for use. When using plants we advise them to use green and young ones. Flowering and fruiting plants has less nutrients required. Tithonia and Comfrey are the crop we use in our work as they contain high level of macro-nutrients (Nitrogen, potassium and Phosphorous).Materials are chopped and put in a bucket with water. They are covered and stirred after four days. The process continues up to 14-21 where it is diluted and applied to their crops.

MULTIPLE APPROACHES IN OUR EXTENSION WORK

Traditionally, agricultural extension personnel had the task of diffusing scientific knowledge to farm families in the farms and homes. This limited the farmers reached and geographical area of coverage. Despite its many benefits, it has limitations which require other approaches in service delivery.

Food Agriculture Organization recommends a ratio of 1:400 (Extension officers to farmers). This is much below the reality in Agricultural sector. Integration of additional farmers outreach methodologies to train and enhance accessibility to agricultural information would benefit more farm households.

As an organization we continue to reach farmer groups’ directly where extension officers meet them at grassroots level for training and in setting demonstrations.We also receive farmers at our demonstration farm as well as offer trainings at our training hall. However, we have amplified our work by use of electronic media, forums, agricultural shows and exhibitions to diffuse the idea of saving local seeds for agro-biodiversity conservation. Through the interactions we have been able to expand our work and reach more small scale farmers.

We have been hosted by Mulembe FM and Radio Amani on various farmers’ programmes where farmers have been trained on seed saving and ecological agriculture. Our presence in the media has helped farmers to inquire through

At Radio Amani

phone calls and follow up on seed saving concept. This has also been the outcome of Inooro TV coverage in ‘Mugambo wa Murimi’ show. We also contributed to a documentary through Hivos in collaboration with Open Society Foundation where we highlighted the plight of farmers managed seed systems. This will be useful in reaching and enlightening more farmers across the globe who shares the same challenges. Also we contributed to a podcast available online on the ‘Role of Agro-chemicals in Kenya’. Listen This was developed by Jason Farr a graduate student at American University after his internship at our organization. It unveils the untold story and serves as a guide for farmers to enhance their conservation efforts.

Through agricultural shows and exhibitions we have been able to showcase farm saved seeds to farmers.Our extension officers have trained them on the procedures of mass seed selection, harvesting, extraction, sorting,treatment and storage of seeds. This has also been an opportunity to reach senior government officials for instance during Chandera agricultural field day early December, we hosted Agriculture Cabinet secretary Willy Bett and CEC Agriculture Dr. Immaculate  at our stand. In July this year during Nakuru Agricultural show, we hosted by then Nakuru governor Kinuthia Mbugua, CEC agriculture Dr.Stanley and Director of Agriculture.

Agriculture cabinet secretary Willy Bett at our stand

We recently held annual seed fair with farmers from Kakamega, Nakuru, Nyandarua and Kiambu County. Various organization which includes; Hivos, slow Food Kenya, COSDEP and RODI attended.

Farmer-farmer training at a seed fair

The event came two months after an international seed fair at Nyando in partnership with Bioversity international and two weeks after World Organic Congress  at India where a farmer from our network and extension officer were sponsored by Hivos and KBIOC to participate.All these gave participants opportunity to learn more on our seed saving concept as well as giving opportunity for farmer-farmer training and mentorship.

A farmer(Francis) at India
A farmer(Francis) at India

Another approach is partnership with like-minded organizations locally and internationally.Through PELUM,

Farmers hosting visitors at their seed bank

KOAN, ABN and KeFAAS we have been able interact with other agricultural extension Officers across the country.This has been an opportunity for experiential sharing on best practices in various organizations .Collaboration with international organizations;European Centre for Development Policy Management  and 4 Italian Universities consortium,Bioversity International and Irish Seed Savers provides more information to farmers through inclusive research at farm level,sharing their work in documentaries and other resources.Through these Seed Savers Network links extension services to farmers  from outside world to boost our agro-biodiversity work.

 

 

 

 

E-EXTENSION

Technology is transforming farmers’ lives through improving efficiency and speed of disseminating information to a large group at the same time. At this era of technological advancement, Farmers need to shift from their traditional

A young farmer following twitter training

way of extension where extension officers were expected to visit and train them in their farms. This limited the number reached due various human and financial resources constraints.

This made our organization to adopt e-extension twitter tool to reach and train our small-scale farmers easily. The model is cost saving and easily accessible by our members who own mobile phones. Just by a tweet hundreds of

of farmers receive the information.

Our extension department has summarized various areas of training in seed production and ecological agriculture with a transmission plan to ensure farmers obtain the information regularly. When this information is tweeted beneficiaries receive it as a short text message. This information tool is suitable and most convenient as our farmers receive a tweet message without any limitation of the type of phone or internet connectivity.