Farmer turns home into a resource centre

On learning of the huge demand for agricultural information, Alfred Karanja has converted part of his house into a resource centre where farmers come to learn various sustainable agriculture and organic farming methods.

Unless there is a very special agenda, bringing farmers together is not easy. This reality dawned on Alfred Karanja, six years ago when he was approached by officials from USAID-funded Dairy Sector Competitive Programme to mobilise farmers in Kwa Mbira village in Limuru for training on dairy farming. “We did not have an appropriate venue to hold our meetings. I decided to convert part of my house into a resource centre where I could train fellow farmers,” says Alfred Karanja, a retired telecommunication engineer.

Farmers not willing to pay for training

Although he started charging every farmer a small fee of Ksh100 per training session, many farmers were not willing to pay for the training, which forced him to reduce the fee to KSh 5 for every training session and a monthly fee of KSh 20 for the maintenance of the resource centre. Soon, many companies supplying agricultural inputs and drugs recognised Wanjiru Parkside Farm Resource Centre as an important venue for training of farmers.

Training demand driven

Due to lack of resources, Alfred changed his approach to provide training on demand. Farmers interested in training on specific agricultural technologies would pay an individual fee of KSh 250 for any group with more than 10 farmers, which he used to buy training material and other expenses. His wife Rahab Wanjiru, a librarian at KALRO, Muguga would assist him with resource material for training farmers.

In the year 2012, Mr. Karanja met an official from Biovision Farmer Communication Programme (FCP) who introduced him to sustainable agriculture and organic farming. He was given copies of the Infonet-biovision CD and The Organic Farmer magazine which he read keenly.

Changed to organic farming

“After reading the material, I started practising a few organic farming technologies such as compost making and the use of safe methods of pest control like the Push-Pull method for stemborer control. Then I introduced the various sustainable agriculture methods to farmers and they were very keen to learn and practice them. Since then most farmers I trained have fully embraced organic farming methods,” he adds.

Park farm Resource Centre now trains between 150 to 200 farmers every month on every aspect of sustainable agriculture. It has established five youth groups complete with demonstration plots in Limuru area where farmers learn how to practise organic farming technologies, dairy farming, fodder establishment, pest control, and agroforestry and soil conservation.

Huge demand for information

Mr. Karanja says there is a huge demand for agricultural information in Kenya and the East African region. Farmers in Kenya have come to learn about the centre and have invited Mr. Karanja to train them on the various technologies on sustainable agriculture and agribusiness.

He has trained many groups on how to establish and run a farmers resource centre. Through his training farmers groups in Ndeiya, Bibirioni and Nazareth have now opened up their own resource centres that provide information and training to more farmers. “The biggest problem facing farmers in Kenya is lack of relevant information. Much of the information on sustainable agriculture is available online, but many farmers have limited access to the Internet and most of the content cannot be easily understood and applied by the farmers,”Karanja laments.

Need for relevant information

Karanja notes that much of the information farmers receive is provided by people who have no background in agriculture and therefore it is distorted. He says that the mainstream media which have started disseminating agricultural information are not helping because the information is packaged in a way that farmers cannot apply it. He has received enquiries for training from farmers in Uganda, Tanzania and even Rwanda and Burundi but his resources are limited. He challenges organizations supporting agricultural programmes in the region to help establish farmer resource centres to enable more farmers to access to information. 

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I was recently invited to a workshop where results of a study on factors influencing household adoption of renewable energy technologies in rural Kenya by the National Environment Trust Fund (NETFUND). The study was commissioned with support from KIRDI and the Swedish Embassy in Kenya.