Kenya: Sharing Knowledge to Transform Farming
"Manage your livestock, let them not manage you. It is you who know what they need and what you need from them" This was a message from Mr. Njuguna of Jasho Dairies at a recent innovative workshop in Kenya. The workshop brought together representatives of pastoralists and small scale farmers in the country, in order to share experiences, success stories and ideas and to find and learn techniques to improve their livelihoods, crop farming and livestock production.
For one session the workshop participants joined Njuguna at his farm. He is a successful livestock keeper whose dairy enterprise produces over 500 litres of milk each day. As everyone helped in feeding the cows, he emphasised the need to approach farming as a business enterprise not just a way of life.
Njuguna's example inspired one of the Maasai participants to declare "Nimekuwa nikichunga, sasa nitaanza kufuga" [I have been practicing pastoralism without any economic gain but now I will keep animals for economic gain too]
Participants had a further chance to get their hands dirty when Stanley Bii chaired a session on techniques for making compost and organic manure to produce organic fertilizer for crops. Bii works as the Coordinator of agricultural programmes run by the Catholic Diocese in Nakuru, western Kenya where the workshop was hosted.
The workshop was not limited to practical productions issues however. Participants also discussed the full food chain from field to plate and how small-scale producers can both add and receive more value from it. The farmers shared their experiences of market dynamics and using groups and networks to market their products.
One issue highlighted by George Mabuka from the Cereal Growers Association was the importance of access for small scale farmers to information about prices and the state of the market. He talked about the existence of the Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange, or KACE, which provides information by radio and mobile phone, and helps to match up buyers and sellers. Such confirmation is useful for farmers who in most cases are misled and exploited by middlemen and brokers.
More broadly still, the workshop was considering the wider food system within society, from a food sovereignty perspective. Food sovereignty highlights the importance of food for people rather than as a commodity, and of democratic local control of food systems. The workshop reviewed the decision making process in Kenya for policies and regulations on agriculture, and also talked about continental processes such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Programme (CAADP) and the Pastoral Policy Framework (PPF) of the African Union and how farmers could contribute to decision-making.
"I feel charged and motivated"
Sharing knowledge and learning is key in all aspects of the food system, whether on production, marketing or policies affecting farmers. The workshop is not the end of this process, as all the participants had agreed to take the ideas exchanged at the workshop back to community groups. As the workshop ended, participants were planning this with enthusiasm:
"I feel charged and motivated to go home and share the new skills acquired with my community group", said one participant.
The workshop was organised by ACORD, with financial support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), on 22-26 August 2010 in Nakuru, Kenya. ACORD works with partners on food sovereignty issues in 17 countries across Africa.