Three Lessons Learned from Working with Kenyan Farmers and Pastoralists
The USAID-funded Feed the Future AVCD program started in 2015 with the aim of reducing poverty and hunger by transitioning households from subsistence farming to market-based farming. Kenya’s vast landscape, especially the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) in the north and southeast, means that smallholder farmers and pastoralists are dependent on different crops and livestock, respectively, to make an income. AVCD, which just ended in September, launched different projects based on the region and needs of the farmers and pastoralists. Here are three lessons learned from the program:
- Climate change poses a serious threat to food security in Kenya, but drought-tolerant crop varieties can help farmers increase their yields and improve food security and nutrition.
Farmers were hoping against hope for a decent harvest, especially in the ASALs regions that suffer from low rainfall. Many farmers stuck to tradition and planted their favorite crops, but these farmers suffered major losses because of high temperatures, low and erratic rainfall, and prolonged droughts.
The AVCD program in 2015 partnered with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and the Egerton University Seed Unit to introduce drought-resistant crops. Since then, we have reached over 185,000 farmers with nearly 950 tons of seed valued at $3.4 million. In 2019 for instance, we introduced high-yielding varieties of pigeon pea, sorghum and green grams in Makueni County. The environment is harsh, but these crops withstood drought and disease. Drought-resistant crops mature early, taking only six months versus one year with traditional seeds. Farmers like Wilson Lati, pictured above, experienced this firsthand by planting these crops and reaping the benefits of a good harvest because his crops matured before the drought hit in May. Farmers using traditional varieties weren’t as lucky since their crops didn’t mature until June and have suffered from the lack of water. Crops maturing quicker also improve food security and reduce hunger during drought.
- When working with farmers to try new crops (like planting Irish potatoes), it’s important to couple it with access to information and agricultural inputs, and to show the market potential.
Many Kenyan farmers have been experiencing low yields due to growing the same varieties of potatoes for years, and their fields suffer from disease, making their income negligible. Other farmers have had limited knowledge and were reluctant to practice potato farming because it was a new crop they know little about.
To address the challenges, the AVCD program partnered with the International Potato Center (CIP) to promote potato farming in six counties by introducing farmers to the high-yielding, pest- and disease-resistant Irish potato. Farmers were also trained on agricultural inputs, soil management and market opportunities for this variety of potato. “AVCD did not just introduce us to potato farming by bringing us the seed. It was a complete package from where to get the improved and certified seed, hands-on training on good agricultural practices and, very importantly, creating market linkages for our produce,” said farmer Salamon Mwamburi. Salamon is one of the 64,200 smallholder potato farmers that have benefited from AVCD and CIP’s support and technical assistance since 2015.
By improving productivity and enhancing knowledge of farmers to enable them to farm as a business, AVCD has improved the livelihoods of new and existing potato farmers. “Farmers engaged in potato farming have increased from 500 before the entry of AVCD to over 3,000 within the two years. Due to the generated interest, the passion and realized benefits, the county government has now elevated potato farming to a priority crop. Our target is to have 10,000 farmers engaged in potato farming in the next two years,” said Davis Mwangoma, the county executive committee member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries in Taita Taveta County.
- Supporting existing, traditional approaches and using a community-led model in livestock among pastoralists leads to greater impact.
Livestock is a critical source of income for the pastoralist population in the ASALs, where 90% of households are involved in livestock production. Livestock disease outbreaks are a big concern for livestock owners as well as national and county governments. Eipah Nacho (pictured to the left) recalls outbreaks in the early 2000s that resulted in the loss of hundreds of goats.
The AVCD program partnered with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Turkana County Government to deploy a community-led e-surveillance system that supports the early detection and reporting of imminent livestock disease outbreaks and public health threats.
We helped expand the existing, traditional reporting system and developed practical tools to trigger a real-time response to disease occurrence, reducing outbreaks and adverse economic impact on pastoralists. We’ve worked with 30,000 community members and local veterinary officers to share the outbreak information via a mobile-based data collection tool that helps to collate, analyze and map disease occurrence patterns. This has been especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdowns and restrictions have made it difficult to reach people in person.
“The system has indeed revolutionized disease mapping and accelerated the determination of disease hotspots and quick response. The generated maps are very critical in guiding our vaccination campaigns and delivering the right supply of veterinary drugs,” said Turkana County director of veterinary services, Dr. Benson Longor.
Since 2018, Turkana County has received 8,000 submissions from community members, triggering outbreak responses and the vaccination of over 2.5 million animals, which impacts the livelihoods of 17,600 households. Overall, the e-surveillance system has averted livestock losses estimated at $17 million in Garissa, Isiolo, Turkana and Wajir counties. Because of early warning from the e-surveillance system, Nacho and pastoralists in Turkana County have not had a major disease outbreak in the last two years.
About the AVCD Program
AVCD started in 2015 and ended on September 30, 2021. AVCD worked closely with the national and county governments, the private sector and civil society across 15 counties in Kenya. AVCD reached and benefitted a total of 497,336 households (almost 2 million individuals) and, by taking improved, tested technologies to scale, AVCD has blended research with successful on-the-ground implementation to help over 413,000 Kenyans improve their agricultural management practices. AVCD also led the way for policy change at the national level by supporting Ministry of Agriculture to develop new livestock sector laws, and by supporting the ASAL county governments to increase their budget allocation to support the agriculture and livestock sectors, which many Kenyans rely on to make a living, send their kids to school and put food on the table. See the AVCD Factsheet for more information.