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Farmer Groups of Kenya
Farmer Groups of Kenya is a strategy used by the current Kenyan Government to maximize the efficiency of its agricultural production by spreading newly developed technologies to farmers as well as setting up common goals and developing new strategies. In recent years, private sectors, NGOs and NPOs have been increasing their involvement in the Farmer-Group Approach. Maximizing the agricultural outputs is very important in Kenya because the economy, its development and the GDP of Kenya heavily rely on its agricultural outputs. As a part of the agricultural extension services, the Government created the National Agricultural Extension Policy (NASEP). The Governmental branch since the late 1990’s has encouraged farmers to interact with each other while sharing knowledge, resources and experiences by using the Farmer-Group approach. An ideal farmer group would maintain the number of its members between twenty and thirty. Farmer groups have no facilitators or specific structure of how these meetings are supposed to be run. Although it can be argued that such lack of deliberate structure for these groups could eventually result in giving participant-farmers more freedoms to speak out and share their knowledge, resources, and experiences, surveys have shown over time that it has been a weakness for the strategy. Nonetheless, since the introduction of Farmer Groups, the agriculture in Kenya has been making a steady improvement.
1. Purpose of Farmer Groups
Since the independence from the United Kingdom in 1963, the economic focus in Kenya has been the agricultural improvement and the achieving of its self-sufficiency. It was first understood by the Government that industrialization cannot be reached without the strong agricultural basis. Agriculture to Kenya and its economic development was the most important thing because of a different reason as well. The reason was that the long British colonization era in Kenya made its economy very one dimensional due to the fact that the Brits made the whole Kenya one big farming land. Therefore, the only economic option for Kenyans was to pursuit the economic development through the development of its agriculture. In that light, farmer groups are used to provide farmers in all of Kenya with updated technologies, information and methods. Extension officers are often present at these meetings to take notes of these meetings. These notes are presented to the government officials so that they could take these opinions in consideration when making policies.
2. Background and History
The independence from the Great Britain left then the newly born Kenya unable to function in many aspects including governance, politics, sociology, and more. Its economy was not an exception. The most apparent negative consequence of the British colonization was that the Economy of Kenya was left one dimensional. The agricultural production was practically the only thing Kenya could offer economically in the 1960’s. The lack of other economic means forced the Kenyan Government to highly rely on its agricultural outputs and as a method to maximize the outputs by incorporating newly developed technologies, they used baraza (in literal translation baraza means village gathering) to mobilize these agricultural communities.
3. Problems of Baraza
The main problem of these barazas was the fact that it was a complete top-down method. Baraza can trace its roots back to traditional tribal meetings in which tribal leaders would talk and common villagers (just men, women were often excluded) would just listen and follow whatever they were told. Now in these modern village gatherings called barazas, these old traditions continued. According to the observation notes provided by Dr. Catherine Wawasi Kitetu, on the average baraza lasted two to four hours and within these two to four hours, activities of extension officers who were like those tribal leaders consisted of talking, lecturing, describing and explaining while activities of farmers who could be seen as common villagers were listening and thanking.
Such a traditional top-down approach of community mobilizing did not meet the expectations previously set by the Kenyan Authorities. In next couple of decades, the Government would try other approaches to maximize the agricultural outputs by spreading new technologies and newly developed and improved agricultural methods.
Other problems also occurred as time went on. One of the more significant problems was the exclusion of female farmers in these baraza gatherings. Data has shown that the 75% of labour in the Kenyan agriculture was done by women and according to the report provided by Dr. Kitetu, only a handful of female farmers were observed by her at baraza.
4. The introduction of Farmer Groups
The method was first brought up and introduced as the replacement for the Baraza approach which the Government had been taking since its independence in the early sixties and in the end was proven ineffective in improving the status, the out puts and the culture of the agriculture of Kenya. In response the failure of such top-down methods, the newly introduced Farmer Group Approach encouraged horizontal methods which encouraged individual farmers to come together to talk about problems and reach consensus, conclusions and solutions.
5. Structure of Farmer Groups
The very first thing to be understood is that the participation is completely voluntary for farmer groups. While these group meetings are generally seen as beneficial, farmers have and do practice their rights whether to participate or not. Some farmer groups have set bars of membership requirements so that not all farmers could join the group.
Unlike the structure of baraza, the basic structure of farmer groups was made possible for participants to see each other as equals. For example, at barazas extensions officers were seated at a table placed on a higher ground so that they were looking down on villagers. It was seen as sign of their superiority. These officers were only ones speaking at these gatherings and all others were there to just listen and observe. At farmer group meetings, however, all tables are placed on the same level of ground and everyone is free to voice their opinions. Although extension officers are often present at these gatherings, officers are not there to dominate the meetings but to contribute and provide information before the meeting. They also take notes for future policy making.
In these meetings which usually last about thirty minutes to an hour, there are three big phases. In the opening phase, house keeping things are informed. In the key part of these meetings, the second phase of farmer group meetings, extension officials share technologies and individual farmers share knowledge and experiences to make things better for all who serve in the agricultural industry. It is not uncommon to have group “leaders” present at these meetings, but their title does not give them any extra power as their extra duty is not to facilitate but just to make sure things do not get out of hand. Group meetings are run freely and without a specific structure. In the third and the final phase of the group meetings, they review what they have talked about so far in the meeting and adjure.
The most important difference between baraza and farmer group approaches is the roles of participants. Extension officers’ primary duties at baraza were to provide all the information or simply put, to talk while duties of the same people at farmer group meetings are to listen and take notes with occasional presentation of updated technologies and methods. Farmers’ primary duties at baraza were to listen. However, at group meetings, they were the main participants who share, question and talk about problems and development of agriculture in Kenya.
6. Problems of Farmer Groups
The lack of detailed structure of these meetings have given participants unlimited freedom to voice their opinions. But it also has caused problems of inefficiencies. There have been records of participants getting off the topic during meetings. Scholars have warned about the lack of structure and what it would mean in a long run for the extension program.
The allocation of the financial resources has also caused a significant amount of problems against the development and frequent usage of the method. In the early 2000's, the Kenyan Government has made a tremendous decrease in funds for these approach. Since private sectors have taken up the role of providing resources for these farmer groups. But since these funds come in as investments for these farmers, less profitable areas and rural areas have not gotten the same about of attention or resources. NGOs and local NPOs have tried to provided for these less profitable districts in Kenya but their resources are also limited.
Farmer groups, though much improved from baraza, are not perfect to say the least. But there have been a number of positive reports about the Farmer Group Approach. The Kyeko Self Help Farmer Group has reportedly helped a significant number of women which saw a dramatic increase in their outputs in just one year; from $2,000 in 2001 to $14,000 in 2002 or from 1,985kg in 2001 to 19,800kg of outputs in 2002. Although the case of the Kyeko Self Help Farmer Group is a very successful case which stands out among others, the general consensus is that the Farmer-Group approach has improved the overall quality of the agricultural industry in Kenya but there is a lot of room for it to grow.
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Kitetu, Catherine W. "Farmer Groups as a way of mobilising citizen participation in development: an example from Kenya". 11 December 2005.
Jayne T.S. and Muyanga Milu "Agricultural Extension in Kenya: Practice and Policy Lessons" Egerton University, Nairobi, Kenya. 2006.