To help farmers achieve year-round production and increased incomes in Kenya, a local training centre is providing technical advice on best practices and encouraging market research.
Over 2,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya have received training and technical support on how to produce high-value crops, form cooperatives and develop price negotiation skills – all free of charge. The trainings are provided at the iAgribiz Africa Model Farm in Nandi county, which was set up in 2018 by 27-year-old Rodgers Kirwa, who uses the profits from his harvests to sustain the farm and provide training courses. For local farmers, the training has resulted in yield increases of up to 100%.
At the 0.5 ha iAgribiz farm, three greenhouses have been erected to provide demonstration areas and showcase different practices, such as organic production, intercropping and drip irrigation technology. Visitors to the farm learn about the best techniques for growing produce such as cabbages, collard greens, cucumbers, indigenous vegetables, onions, tomatoes, as well as how to rear tilapia (using the farm’s pond). Smallholders are also taught about the nutritional benefits of higher-value horticultural crops, such as broccoli, capsicum and lettuce, and how to diversify from common staples like maize and beans.
“Most smallholder farmers don’t embrace farming technologies or visit agricultural research institutions to get knowledge,” says Kirwa, whose training particularly targets rural farmers who usually buy inputs without getting advice on their use. By starting iAgribiz, Kirwa aimed to convince farmers of the benefits of using technologies like greenhouses and drip irrigation, to help them achieve year-round food production and income.
The model farm also offers internships of 3-4 months to local agricultural students, and connects them with scholarships in countries like China and Israel to get further practical on-farm training. The trainee students and farmers are encouraged to visit local markets to identify which crops will be in demand at harvest to help avoid postharvest losses. “For the longest time, farmers grew (crops) without understanding the market needs, so their research has to start at the market first,” emphasises Kirwa.
Prior to joining iAgribiz as a trainee in September 2018, Pierra Nyaruai had been growing her broccoli, cabbages, capsicum and spinach on separate sections of her farm. Through the training, she has learnt that intercropping can improve soil fertility, enhance pest control, and increase production levels. Since adopting the practice, her yields have increased by 20% and her income by 3%. “I also look for the market first before growing any crop,” she says.
Besides agronomic trainings, iAgribiz trainees are taught to form cooperatives in order to increase their bargaining power when selling produce on the market. According to Kirwa, iAgribiz also links the cooperatives with input providers so they can access inputs and farm extension advice at a discounted rate. In future, Kirwa plans to have model farms all over Kenya and has already established two others in Kiambu, Central Kenya and in Eldoret in the Rift Valley.