Fostering community engagement in agriculture development in Kenya

For many years, Rebecca Cheptoo Chirchir worked as an Extension Officer at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Development. Her work involved mobilising and engaging with farmer groups at the grassroots level.

Unfortunately, nothing much came out of her engagement with farmers and she couldn’t understand why the groups she spent so much time forming disintegrated soon afterwards. This  frustrated her because she felt so much was being invested in the groups, yet a minimal number of groups stood up to deliver.

“I had limited capacity in effective stakeholder engagement, leading and facilitating groups, as well as conflict resolution, resulting in deficiency in implementation,” says Rebecca, adding, “there were skills I lacked which would have enabled me to form and sustain effective groups, but I didn’t know where to acquire the needed skills.”

In 2010, when Rebecca heard of Australia Awards, the first thing that came to mind was her frustration with the groups and the need to acquire skills that would enable her to fill in the missing gaps to help the groups. She applied for and was awarded an Australian Government-funded scholarship to study a Masters in Rural Systems Management at the University of Queensland.

Upon her graduation in 2012, Rebecca returned to Kenya and landed a job as Coordinator in the Agricultural Sector Development Support Program (ASDS) at the Ministry of Agriculture in Nandi County in Rift Valley Province. Nandi County is one of the 47 counties in Kenya. The program’s role is to convene, facilitate and coordinate the collective action of stakeholders. Rebecca’s task was to transform the Nandi branch into a commercially oriented, innovative, competitive and modern industry. The job required one to work with various stakeholders because it had to be stakeholder-driven and -led.

Equipped with new knowledge and skills gained in her studies in Australia, Rebecca rolled up her sleeves and got down to work. “The first step I took was to convince all stakeholders involved that they needed each other to drive and sustain change. My studies in Australia equipped me with skills on how to facilitate effective stakeholder engagement, which had been a challenge in my previous work,” she says.

Using what she learned in Australia, in April 2013, Rebecca managed to constitute a functioning stakeholder forum, bringing together over 40 stakeholders from the agricultural sector for joint planning, budgeting, and monitoring and evaluation. The forum drives agriculture development in her region of jurisdiction, ensuring that all players are working in accordance with the aspirations of the sector.  “Initially these groups used to work independently, leading to a duplication of effort and resources, farmer fatigue and confusion, because farmers did not know where to obtain what information,” says Rebecca.

The forum mobilised the stakeholders to identify the value chains to be included in the program. Three value chains were prioritised: dairy cow, maize and indigenous chicken. Next, a platform was convened to deliberate on issues affecting the value chains. The platform has a co-group as the steering committee and comprises of researchers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), universities and the private sector, with over 1,000 farmer members.

“Our agenda is to allow people to drive their own agricultural development. My role is to create an enabling environment in which they can thrive. We have created linkages and networks. People know where to go for what they need. The value chains are a one-stop-shop for services and information for farmers,’ adds Rebecca.

Rebecca did not just facilitate the formation of the value chains and leave it at that. She has gone ahead and facilitated the development of three funding proposals in capacity building for the three value chains, amounting to Ksh10 million. The funds will be used between November 2014 and November 2015 to address gaps in the platforms in order to increase efficiencies. “I am excited to see farmers’ lives being transformed through my efforts, thanks to the skills I gained in Australia,” she notes.

Furthermore, Rebecca’s work has sought to strengthen environmental sustainability and social inclusion in the agriculture sector.

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