What we can learn from farmers in Kenya
I had the opportunity to move from Australia to live in Kenya for six months in 2015 as part of the Dow AgroSciences partnership with AMPATH, a medical based group with social workers, agribusiness managers, researchers, nutritionists and legal aid striving to help AIDS patients in Kenya have empowered and fulfilled lives. This experience taught me many things.
It has taught me to be grateful to live in a country where food is secure, the amazing strength of the Kenyan people, a lot about growing maize in Kenya and the power of working in groups. As the Kenyan proverb says, ‘Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.’
Through the program, Dow AgroSciences employees bring their extensive agricultural and business expertise directly to the local population.
One area that we quickly identified to have a sustainable impact was maize production. Many small-holder Kenyan farmers use poor planting techniques, which result in poor germination and stunted maize growth.
Understanding what the soil needs for improved maize production is not common practice because fertilizer often is based on historical choices. Education on appropriate fertilizer selection and good agronomic practices improves yield and the soil nutrient profile while decreasing input costs – a goal for farmers worldwide.
In the 2015 maize season, eight farms in western Kenya participated in a demonstration program. Together Dow AgroSciences, AMPATH and the farmers identified the best seed variety for the region, tested the soil to analyze the nutrient status, selected appropriate fertilizers and employed good agronomic practices from seed spacing to weed management.
The response to this program was fantastic. More than half of the plots had a 200 percent yield increase.
Farmer education days were hosted at these plots throughout the season and were always overflowing with local farmers. The education days enabled information sharing throughout the broader community with over 400 farmer groups participating.
The majority of farmers who attended the education days implemented the new practices in the following season. In 2016, the program was further developed, expanding to more than 21 plots in western Kenya.
Every farmer I met has been welcoming, with huge smiles on their faces. Be it via their physical community, farmer groups or other support groups, these small-scale farmers work together and lend a hand to ensure that tasks are completed in time. Through their stories and their work, they exhibit strength and are proud of what they have achieved.
Sarah Russell French has a Masters of Scientific Studies in Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology. She joined Dow AgroSciences in 2002 and has held a range of roles in the Regulatory team. In 2014 Sarah was selected to move to Kenya to work with AMPATH, using her skills to improve small-holder Kenyan farmers lives.