Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lead farmers proving important in innovations adoptions

By Bob Aston
The t-shirt attracted his attention. He wondered what the inscribed word ‘Sokopepe’ meant. He read the word ‘Farm records, Profitable and Agribusiness’ at the back of the t-shirt and his curiosity rose.
He approached the person wearing the t-shirt, introduced himself as Mr. Joseph Kaaria Mberia and asked:” What is Sokopepe all about?”
Over a glass of milk at Meru Dairy Milk Bar at Nyaki East Ward in Meru County, Mr. Meshack Kirimi Magiri, a lead farmer at Gaitu Farmer Group took Mr. Mberia through what Sokopepe does.
Mr. Magiri narrated to Mr. Mberia how he came to associate with Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) and how it has enabled him to increase his production and profit from his agricultural enterprises.
“Sokopepe has trained and mentored me on conservation agriculture. I now train farmers who are working with Sokopepe and Food and Agriculture Organization,” said Mr. Magiri.
Mr. Joseph Mberia (L) looking on during a conservation agriculture training
Mr. Magiri then linked him to Mr. Josphat Musenze, a Sales and Marketing officer at Sokopepe
The following day he travelled to Meru town to hold talks with Mr. Musenze at Sokopepe's office. An hour later, he had paid the Kshs. 500 subscription fee and received a Farm Book. He embarked on mobilizing farmers around Nyaki to receive training on conservation agriculture and record keeping from Sokopepe.
Learning that he will be able to realize higher yields and also reverse the effects of soil degradation caused by mechanical tillage made him set aside a quarter of an acre as a demonstration plot for conservation agriculture.
He decided to form a farmer group, which now acts as an entry point to Ntani village and Nyaki East Ward farmers.
“I believe in learning through asking. FARMIS will help us in crop selection, adoption of agricultural innovations and good management practices. We will be using the record keeping data to know which crops are more profitable,” said Mr. Mberia.
Mr. Mberia retired from the Kenya military as a medical officer in July 2016. He decided to concentrate on dairy, poultry and crop farming in his 2 acre farm.
He said that Sokopepe has enabled him to know how much he is investing in each enterprise and projected income from each crop. Every Thursday Ms. Alice Mukami, a Production Information Agent (PIA) at Sokopepe visits his farm to check the progress of his agribusiness and to assist him fill his farm book.
Mr. Mberia has been a staunch advocate of Sokopepe amongst farmers. His conviction that empowering farmers would enhance food security has seen him elected as a coordinator of Sokopepe lead farmers group.
Sokopepe is planning to use close to 2000 lead farmers in Meru County to help increase agricultural production. The social enterprise believes that farmer-to farmer approach to agricultural extension enhances innovations adoption.

Access to finance enables farmers to enjoy new opportunities

By Bob Aston
She used to abhor planting seasons, as she had to contend with high input costs.  Difficulties in accessing affordable credit have always been a strain on her small farm. This season, she was fortunate to get a Kilimo Bora loan after Sokopepe linked her to a micro finance institution.
Mrs. Emery Kawira, a smallholder farmer from Kiirua area of Buuri Sub County in Meru County was among the financially excluded farmers until three months ago when Sokopepe convinced her to start saving through Times U Sacco Society Ltd. Initially, she was unable to receive credit facilities as financial institutions cited her lack of proper book keeping as a barrier to receiving credit when evaluating her viability for loan.
She says that the training organised by Sokopepe’s Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) has empowered and enabled her to utilize the Kshs 20,000 Kilimo Bora loan to improve her agribusiness.
“The beauty of FARMIS is that financial institutions can review our records over a period of time to determine whether we are capable of managing credit,” says Mrs. Kawira.
She has planted maize, beans and potatoes on her 2-acre farm and recorded all the expenses in her farm book to ensure accountability. She is planning to apply for a bigger loan to invest in her farm to increase her productivity and profitability.
Koongo Ka Nyumba Women Group members learning about FARMIS
On her part, Mrs. Mary Kirima has also used her Kshs. 20,000 Kilimo Bora loan to cultivate beans, maize and potatoes in her 3 acre farm. She almost quit farming last year after crop failure but Sokopepe’s Production Information Agents (PIAs) convinced her not to give up on farming.
 “I am able to track all my agribusiness enterprises and expenses incurred. This has ensured proper use of the Kilimo Bora loans,” said Mrs. Kirima.
After saving for some time, she was able to apply and receive a Kilimo Bora loan from Times U Sacco. She used the loan to buy farm inputs and to improve her farm.
The Sacco charges Kshs 600 as registration fee and a farmer can borrow up to three times the amount saved. Times U Sacco will also train the farmers on financial literacy. The Kilimo Bora loan attracts a 9 percent interest rate. The repayment is after four months when the farmers have harvested.
Mrs. Jedida Karamuta notes that this year she has not struggled to get money for farm inputs and other expenses, unlike previous years, as she was able to receive the Kilimo Bora loan. She received Kshs. 20,000, which she has invested in her farm. Sokopepe has trained her on record keeping. She has also increased the acreage under potatoes, beans and maize to 3 acres unlike before when she used to cultivate only on an acre.
She says that most financial institutions are usually reluctant to lend to farmers but this has changed after training on record keeping and financial literacy.
“FARMIS has enabled me to track my expenditure for each farm enterprise. I have used the loan prudently as I have kept good farm records,” says Mrs. Karamuta.
Mr. Josphat Musenze, Sales and Marketing Officer at Sokopepe  says that difficulty in accessing credit facilities has hindered the productivity of most smallholder farmers as they lack enough financing for purchasing farm inputs.
“We are leveraging on existing relationships within the value chains to ensure farmers access financial services sustainably while the financially excluded enjoy new possibilities,”  says Mr. Musenze.
He reiterates that financial inclusion will ensure that there are more banked farmers. This will enable smallholder farmers to make informed decisions on financial products and services.
Sokopepe has been linking Meru farmers with financial institutions. This has enabled most of the farmers to reach their potential, as they are able to deal with high costs of inputs. The social enterprise is also working with financial service providers to build financial literacy for smallholder farmers as well as their financial capabilities.
Financial inclusion is a powerful tool for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in promoting economic growth and ending poverty. Smallholder farmers need access to financial services to generate income from their agricultural enterprises, build assets, and manage risks.

Friday, November 11, 2016

More than just a demonstration farm, a place farmers call home

By Bob Aston
The soothing rays of the sun seemed to energize the women as they worked tirelessly in the half an acre potato demonstration plot at Kiboko Farm in Kiolo village, Mikinduri East in Meru County.  They animatedly chat as they weed and admire the beauty of the flowering crop. Most of them concur that they will realize a good harvest through the demonstration farm.
I joined the women together with Mr. Martin Murangiri, Field Coordinator and Liaison Officer at Sokopepe in taking stock of the progress of the farm. They inform us that the potatoes looked ‘beautiful’ as they had sprayed them with plantmate bio-organic fertilizer from Wanda Organic.
We finish weeding and then converge under a banana tree. The women have been meeting every Monday at the demonstration farm to learn good agricultural practices and record keeping from Sokopepe’s Production Information Agents (PIAs).
Farmers working at the demonstration plot
Their leader, Mrs. Margaret Wangari started by reminding them of their decision to plant the Sherekea potato variety  which is disease resistant, high yielding and drought tolerant. She said that not many farmers in the area cultivate potatoes but Sokopepe convinced them to diversify to potatoes and other high value crops.
The passion and enthusiasm exhibited by the women was eminent as they recollected how Sokopepe is enabling them to increase their income through Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS). Out of curiosity, I asked one of the women what she felt about FARMIS.
Mrs. Paulina Nkoroi narrated how she only realised that the cause of her dwindling potato production was the use of previous harvests as tubers for planting. The training conducted by Sokopepe at the demonstration farm enabled her to appreciate the importance of using certified seeds and embracing good farm management practices.
“Sokopepe has changed my perception on agriculture and the importance of record keeping in agribusiness,” said Mrs. Nkoroi.
She reiterates that she has learned how to fill her farm book and at the end of this season, she will be able to determine whether she is engaging in profitable enterprises or not. This will enable her to opt to growing other lucrative crops and therefore enhance her household income.
“I now know that good land preparation, use of high quality seeds and appropriate fertilizer is paramount in potato farming,” noted Mrs. Florence Munjaro.
Mrs. Munjaro said she has been diligently filling in her farm book and she hopes that at the end of this season she will be able to extract a profit and loss statement. Previously, she did not know whether she was making a profit or loss from her agricultural enterprises. Receiving extension services from Sokopepe’s PIAs has motivated and given her hope that she can succeed as a farmer.
“I want to make money and I believe that the knowledge that I am gaining will help me become a better farmer,” said Mrs. Munjaro.
Mr. Murangiri said that Sokopepe decided to establish the demonstration plot to help farmers learn how to improve their farming practices, adopt new technologies and practice climate smart agriculture.
“On-farm demonstrations serve as one of the most effective extension education tools. We hope that farmers are replicating what they are learning,” said Mr. Murangiri.
On-farm demonstrations are effective means of reducing the risks farmers anticipate.  The demonstrations allow farmers to see, hear, discuss, participate and learn by doing, as most farmers believe that ‘seeing is believing.’
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