Shadrack Juma, ward agricultural officer in Werugha Ward, Taita Taveta County, demonstrating how to do proper (second) hilling to host farmer and community health volunteers. Notice the use of masks and social distancing (photo credit: AVCD).
Update from the potato component of the AVCD program
In the last three months (April – June), the potato value chain component of the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program has continued implementing field activities, albeit at a slow pace due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only critical field activities such as seed distribution, establishment of learning farms, field crop management, and training of host farmers and farmer group representatives at the learning farms are going on.
To facilitate the implementation of these critical activities, the project is supporting ward agricultural officers (WAOs) to support farmers remotely. The support includes providing mobile phone airtime and funds to purchase hand sanitizer, soap and water for handwashing, and masks for use while out in the field. The restriction of movement due to COVID-19 is affecting farming. The restrictions have limited access to farm inputs for most farmers who usually buy them in major towns away from their households and fields. Also, farm activities are progressing slowly because field activities are now being done by family labour.
The potato component uses a learning farm (LF) approach concept, which provides rural farmers with hands-on experience in potato production technologies by practising a learning-by-doing approach together with the trainers. Dependent on training and continuous peer-to-peer learning, this is currently a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. LFs are designed to demonstrate improved technologies and show farmers how to improve potato yields through the use of quality seed, resilient and improved varieties, pest and disease management, good hilling technologies, post-harvest management and record keeping. Working with county leadership and WAOs, the team has organized training for small clusters of farmers, observing guidelines issued by county governments. But extra costs are incurred through training of much smaller groups and allowances to WAOs to purchase hand sanitizers, soap and masks. So far, the project having invested approx USD2,250 in these training sessions (Table 1).
‘Farmers were so excited to have sanitizers and masks, they had only heard about the two items but had never seen or used them. AVCD was the first project to provide these items for us,’ said Rhoda Khamuka, ward agricultural officer, Tongaren Ward, Bungoma.
Table 1. Cost of supporting field extension officers: COVID-19 preventive measures
|County||Allowance for sanitizer, soap and masks (KES)||Airtime (KES)||Total (KES)|
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 246 potato good agricultural practices (GAP) training have been held in 82 potato learning farms. They were conducted over three training sessions with small clusters of farmers per session (on topics such as planting, hilling, and pest and disease management). As a result, the WAOs have trained 1,476 farmers including the LF host farmer and at least 5 farmers on average have attended each training session as farmer group representatives, with some WAOs having 10 farmers per session due to the demand from farmers for training. The WAOs have conducted in-field technical support visits (1,232 visits) to farmer groups that received certified seed to apply the GAP training and on-farm multiplication. The host farmer of each of the 308 farmer groups have been visited 3-6 times and they provide advisory services to the groups.
A ward agricultural officer visiting a host potato farmer in Bura Ward, Bungoma County, Kenya (photo credit: AVCD).
Additionally, the AVCD potato component has supported registered farmer groups to receive top dressing fertilizer and fungicide inputs to cushion farmers during this time when they have limited access to inputs, which is an unusual practise for the component. Despite these efforts, access to agricultural inputs by farmers is still a challenge.
Recently, the component held a virtual meeting with the leaders of the two counties to discuss how to support the Potato Farmers’ Cooperative in Bungoma and the Taita Taveta potato farmer producer organization. Further discussions are underway.