Myself and my colleagues, Morwenna Roberts and Claire Reigate joined Farm Shop Trust Extension Officers (in agronomy and livestock health) Naomi and Casty to give demonstration training at a farm near Ngecha. I first visited the demonstration farm in Ngecha on the 22nd of July and fifteen farmers attended. We were joined by Rosemary from the Ministry of Agriculture, and Beatrice from Farm Concern, an NGO that links farmers to market traders.
The Farm Shop Trust provides regular agricultural training days for farmers at locations across Kiambu County, Kenya. If farmers are educated on how best to farm a wide variety of crops they are more likely to produce higher yields, farm more efficiently and sustainably on the land available to them and be able to sell their produce for higher prices. Farming is the backbone of the Kenyan economy and training in efficient smallholder farming methods will help more people to thrive.
Farm Shop Trust staff led instruction for a group of fifteen local farmers on how to measure out the correct distances needed between maize seeds; how deep to make the holes and how to use the fertiliser correctly so that the seeds are not burnt by it. The training was based around using a fertiliser product, and planting F1 Hybrid Maize. The farmers pegged out the row, then used bits of plastic tied to the wire to mark out the 25 cm spacing, then dug a hole, put in 3 container caps full of fertiliser, covered it in a bit of soil then added the maize seed and covered the hole completely. They repeated this for 2 rows, then planted a row of maize without fertilizer so that the farmers can compare the difference.
At the end of the session farmers were asked to fill out feedback forms and identify areas in which they would like further training. Farmers requested instruction in dairy and poultry production, specifically calf rearing. Rearing animals for milk, meat and eggs would involve high initial investment by farmers, and continual cost of inputs for the maintenance of animal health, though promising higher profit margins.
I visited Ngecha again with Morwenna Roberts and Casty on the 12th of August, twenty-one days after the seeds were planted. When we arrived at the Demo field we saw that the maize seeds had successfully sprouted and grown to around seven inches in height.
The Farm Shop Trust had also previously instructed the demo farmer to plant pepper plant seeds and cover the patch with feed bags to protect the germinating seeds from the morning cold. When we removed the feed bags on the 12th of August the pepper plant seeds had sprouted successfully and in four weeks the farmer will transplant the seedlings so that the plants have space to grow and that he can sell some of the plants.
We then drove to a near-by tomato greenhouse where this group of farmers regularly meet and Casty reviewed what had been done three weeks ago and that this had resulted in plenty of healthy maize seedlings. Casty then handed out pens and paper to the ten farmers attending the training and gave a lesson on the importance of record keeping in farming because it enables the farmer to record exactly what they did. Farmers were instructed to record for livestock; symptoms of their sick animal, how long the animal had had those symptoms, what they had treated the animal with, how strong a dose they used and what the results where. For crops, they were taught to record the date of planting, spacing of planting, if fertiliser was used and if so, how it had been prepared. These habits were recommended so that if a farmer had a healthy crop they knew what they should do again next time and if the was a problem they had a better chance of identifying what had gone wrong.
After this lesson there was a group Q and A session where the farmers explained the current crop or livestock difficulties they were experiencing ad Casty explained the changes or treatments they needed to make. Casty explained de-worming procedures, how to identify Trichominiasis in cows and how to deter pests on tomato plants with either pesticides or diluted rabbit urine.
Farmers left with practical advice on the current agricultural problems they were facing. If farmers do well and make more profit they are more likely to be able to afford more than the most basic and cheapest agricultural products.