In the heart of Kenya's rural landscapes, the agricultural sector employs over 40 percent of the total population and more than 70 percent of the rural populace (CBK Agriculture Sector Survey, January 2023). The rural communities, primarily subsistence farmers, grapple with the unpredictable whims of the weather, exacerbating their vulnerability to the vagaries of climate change, with dire consequences to persons already teetering on the brink of poverty.
Being cognizant of the impact of climate change, governments and development partners continue to prioritize agricultural productivity as pathway to alleviating poverty and hunger. However, despite decades of investment in agriculture-centered rural development, tangible progress has remained elusive. Food insecurity persists, and the smallholder farm productivity continues to fall short of their potential. The point of departure is the low uptake of the recommended agronomic practices on soil fertility, water, and crop management that has failed to scale beyond pilot projects.
One critical factor that has often been overlooked in these efforts is the underlying social and gender norms that perpetuate inequalities in access to and control of productive resources. These norms have, in turn, hindered the effective participation of smallholder farmers in agricultural production and market systems. Smallholder farmers are at the core of food security, and ignoring these norms limits their participation. Sustainable agriculture and social cohesion are also closely linked to these norms, and addressing them aligns with global sustainable development goals. In essence, promoting gender equality improves resource allocation, ultimately benefiting food security.
CARE International's Transformative Solution
Through the application of CARE’s globally tested gender transformative, learning by doing extension model ( Farmer Field and Business Schools (FFBS), the restrictive social and gender norms are brought forth and challenged through community led dialogue sessions, the producer groups are organized into viable farmer collectives for effective aggregation and engagement with the market actors, thereby strengthening the economic resilience of smallholder farmers.
Expanding upon the conventional Farmer Field School (FFS) approach initially developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which primarily emphasized hands-on management skills rooted in adult learning principles, the FFBS distinguishes itself by incorporating community-driven strategies for visioning and planning. It delves into sustainable agriculture, market engagement, nutrition, gender dynamics, and performance monitoring.
Within the FFBS, each group comprises 25-30 farmers drawn from specific collectives, which may include Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), producer groups, marketing cooperatives, and other community entities centered around the cultivation and marketing of specific crops or livestock. These sessions are led by a qualified facilitator who collaborates with a team of community-based FFBS facilitators.
In Kenya, CARE Kenya is implementing this approach in Nairobi, Nakuru, Nyandarua, Machakos, Migori, and Homabay Counties. The Farmer Field and Business School establishment process follows a well-laid-out schedule in the FFBS training calendar. This calendar aligns with the agricultural seasonal cycle, ensuring minimal disruption to farming activities and the already busy lives of women farmers. This adaptable approach considers different agro-climates, value chains, and available resources. It is firmly rooted in adult learning principles, enabling farmers to translate their newfound knowledge into action, thus ensuring long-term ownership and sustainability.
In the face of mounting climate challenges and persistent food insecurity, CARE International's Farmer Field and Business School approach offers a glimmer of hope for Kenya's rural communities. By empowering small-scale farmers, particularly women, with the tools and knowledge they need, this initiative holds the potential to transform lives and secure livelihoods in the face of an ever-changing climate.