A learning session on pasture cultivation at Mabanga Agricultural Training Centre in Bungoma. Photo credit: David Jakinda Otieno
Amidst recurrent global economic shocks and increases in smallholder vulnerability, attaining the objectives of sustainable development by 2030 is becoming a daunting task in many parts of the world. Intensifying socio-economic and climatic challenges require the uptake of locally adapted technologies and new ways of working to attain the objectives of Sustainable Development Goal 2 which aims to reduce hunger and malnutrition. With an orientation towards practical demonstration, peer-to-peer learning has been identified as an important mechanism for encouraging the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
Context in West Pokot
In West Pokot county, like many parts of Kenya, agriculture project leaders and researchers encourage participation and engagement of local county government officials in stakeholder meetings to foster engagements with projects targeting smallholder farmers. While ensuring continuous commitment by local government officials has been a challenge, attendance is rarely a guarantor of successful interaction or changes in strategies. The norm is for officials, if they turn up at all, to address farmers on their technocratic viewpoints without leaving room for dialogue and peer to peer learning. Thus, the views, practical insights and local knowledge of community members and households in West Pokot are rarely included in county agricultural plans. Decisions that lack local farmers input, risk resulting in low prioritisation for improving their food system.
With the core mandate of translating science into policy and practice, the AgriFoSe2030 programme initiated a project on transforming pastoral livelihoods through adaptation of nutrition and commercialisation policies to local contexts. In West Pokot, smallholder farmers and pastoralists often self-organise with the support of local governments to seek ways to improve their livelihoods. This local mobilisation is central to their resilience and provides a conduit for knowledge diffusion. Nonetheless, little attention has been paid to the management of group dynamics for purposes of ensuring efficiency and longevity of farmer groups. This is partly attributed to the county’s technocratic approach to agricultural strategy planning and the poorly structured interactions between county government officials and local farmers.
Knowledge exchanges between stakeholders
In April 2022, AgriFoSe2030 project leaders organised a three-day exchange visit of 22 stakeholders comprising farmers and West Pokot government officials to Bungoma county. The aim was to foster learning from other farmers, county government officials and the Bungoma agricultural training centre on farm diversification, value addition, group formation and management of farmer field schools. West Pokot farmers and government officials were inspired by the improvements in farmer’s wellbeing and organisation capacity in Bungoma county. This was attributed to trainings provided by Bungoma county officials for the creation of functional farmer groups equipped with leadership and group management skills. The stakeholders from West Pokot also observed good working relationships including active farmer participation and attention to farmers’ opinions by county government officials in Bungoma.
Following the exchange visit, West Pokot agricultural officials persuaded their local government leaders to incorporate similar trainings from Bungoma county in their local agricultural development programmes. One week after the visit, the West Pokot county government organised a full week training session for their staff and 40 selected farmers on the management of group dynamics. Farmer group leaders from Bungoma county served as resource persons for the training. Despite scarce resources and fixed county government budgets, the project has encouraged changes in mindset of the West Pokot County government, towards seeking farmers’ views and prioritising funding and capacity development for farmer group training. These changes emphasise the importance of shared learning between farmer communities as an integral part of local capacity building initiatives.
Looking to the future
Through consistent stakeholder engagements and an emphasis on a more inclusive approach to decision making, the AgriFoSe2030 project has encouraged West Pokot County government officials to change their mindsets and appreciate the ability of local community members to decide what works for them. To ensure the sustainability of agricultural development interventions, county government officials have begun to gradually incorporate farmers and their representatives in the county planning meetings. There was also a deliberate reorganisation of the county budget to avail some funds that enabled training of both the county officers and about 40 farmers on group formation, management and the benefits of collective action. If such initiatives are sustained in the future, participatory planning of agricultural strategies and resource allocation would enhance the success of food security and agricultural development processes in West Pokot.