Idea Background and Overview
The idea proposed here is built on the assertion that no single existing or new technology offers a life-altering panacea to provide information for African smallholder farmers.
Our idea to disseminate information is a process tool, rather than a new piece of equipment or a specific agricultural practice. It is technology in a different sense. The tool that has been designed and must be implemented and perfected is the Participatory Farming Constraints Diagnostic, a carefully planned, participatory, gender-sensitive and systems tool to identify and understand major location-specific constraints, challenges and risks as perceived by farmers (men and women) and as observed in the field by an interdisciplinary team of experienced rural and agricultural development specialists.
To give some background, for several years we had been operating a simple program that served to stabilize an area in Kenya's Upper Rift Valley Region by providing seeds and fertilizer to impoverished small-scale farmers. Since our organization's inception in 2009, our long-term vision had been to implement an agriculture pilot project that was comprehensive and sustainable, in order to truly partner with farmers to bring year-round food security to their families.
Then, in 2014 our organization won the top award for Syngenta's 2014 Big Idea Prize (given by their Good Growth Plan). The major premise was to design a team of five independent ag experts to travel to Mama Ada's community in Kenya (as well as two other local communities) to work with local communities to learn more about their farming environs and to design simple solutions that bring food security to their areas.
We began by recruiting two experienced agricultural development professionals (Steve Clarke and Lewis Kamiri) to design the Participatory Farming Constraints Diagnostic (PFCD) - a participatory, gender-sensitive and systems process to identify and understand major location-specific constraints, challenges and risks as perceived by smallholder farmers in Africa (men and women) and as observed in the field by an interdisciplinary team of experienced rural and agricultural development specialists.
After developing this tool, Clarke and Kamiri in turn recruited three Kenyans to form a strong interdisciplinary team with diverse skills, including agronomy, soils, livestock, horticulture, agribusiness, marketing, community development, and farmer groups. Their five-person team (bios attached) deployed in August 2015 and interacted with local farmers and agricultural organizations in the three communities during an intensive two-week period.
Key components of the PFCD tool included: (1) walk-arounds with farmers of their farms (shambas) to observe firsthand current practices and the biophysical environment in which the farming systems are embedded; (2) individual household interviews using a standardized farmer survey customized to the region and context; (3) visits and meetings with local agricultural research, extension, educational, market linkage and development organizations with relevant experience and knowledge; and, (4) group discussions with farmers and local leaders both at the time of the team’s arrival in the community and at the end when findings and options for addressing key constraints were discussed together.
Through the use of the PFCD tool, the team learned a considerable amount in the short span of two weeks and gained a fairly deep understanding of the nature of farming systems of smallholder farmers in these western highlands, and especially the constraints, challenges and risks they face. In the team’s general view, these problems are not insurmountable. On the contrary, there is significant room for improvement for increasing crop and livestock productivity and for generating more cash for farm households. And most exciting, the team identified practices and inputs that are relatively simple, accessible and affordable and which for the most part are within the resources and skill sets of these farm families, given modest levels of training and support.
Based on the team's findings through the use of the PFCD tool, we are designing a comprehensive pilot project that will connect smallholder farmers in Uasin Gishu and Nandi Counties with the critical information, improved technologies, support services and markets they need to sustainably transition from subsistence agriculture to more business- and market-oriented farming that in turn enables them to increase incomes, ensure food security throughout the year, and significantly improve the livelihoods and well-being of their families.
Planning is now underway to take the entire set of Mama Ada Ag Team recommendations and design a multi-year pilot project. Additional recommendations (to those above) include: maize marketing; dairy production; indigenous chickens; market-oriented horticultural crops; and farmer groups. However, we are requesting immediate funding for the aforementioned steps, as these activities can be implemented as soon as funds are available, thusly strengthening outcomes for farmers for the current growing season.
Pilot Project Objectives
- Build a coordinated network of smallholder farmer groups in the three initial communities selected for the pilot to enable connections to each other (peer learning-mentoring) and to external resources including information, training and markets, using mobile phone and other digital technologies to the extent possible.
- Develop a program of demonstration fields, on-farm trials, trainings, field trips etc. to help the farmer groups, including women and youth, connect to sources of information and expertise that will help them improve and diversify the productivity, production and profitability of their farm enterprises.
- Link farmer groups to market opportunities and help them learn to deliver timely, reliable and consistent supplies of high-quality, higher-priced farm products in response to market demand and requirements.
Year 1 (2016): Design and support implementation of pilot project, working with the three local communities; evaluate results and revise-improve pilot project based on results and experience.
Year 2 (2017): Guide, support and evaluate implementation of pilot project for the second year; prepare and distribute an evidence-based Handbook on the PFC tool as widely as possible in both the Kenyan and international development community.
Year 2 (2017) and Year 3 (2018): Begin program expansion in additional local communities of Kenya’s Rift Valley by replicating the pilot project in other local communities in service area.
Priority Activities Related to Pilot Project Objectives
Those immediate and necessary activities for agriculture pilot project, for which we request funding include:
Establishment of demonstration plots: Sites will be established in each of the three participating local communities that show best practices for key crops such as maize, possibly a grain legume (important for crop rotation and soil fertility) as well as selected vegetables. The Mama Ada Foundation will support the cost of inputs and related expenses but the labor will be provided by the sponsored farmers and other local people.
Project Coordinator (in-country): $25,000
Friends and Supporters
We are currently organizing a group called Ada's Roundtable (description attached to this proposal) which will serve as an "engine" for this pilot project - in terms of providing fundraising support and ag expertise. Steve and Lewis are also most generously donating their time to lead this project forward.
The head of Syngenta in North America, Ponsi Trivisvavet, sits on our organization's board. We also are speaking with motivated contacts in various companies and universities, such as Land O' Lakes, Cargill, the University of Minnesota (including the Humphrey Institute and agriculture professors/researchers) and the University of St. Thomas and Augsburg College. We have significant interest in this project from the Regional Director of Syngenta Foundation in Nairobi, George Osure (who hosted the Mama Ada Ag Team last August in their Nairobi offices)). And, we have identified potential partners including Purdue University and CTI (Compatible Technology International; we will initiate discussions with these entities as funding is available, though our contact with Purdue has already been significant and productive.
Innovation and Scalability
There is great excitement that is growing from these friends and supporters about this pilot project and the emergence of an extremely innovative diagnostics tool that can be replicated and scaled to other parts of Africa and beyond.
Our organization's Kenyan operating structure contains the capacity for scalability of an innovative pilot project. The overarching governance body in Kenya is the Mama Ada Advisory Council (which is housed within the Anglican Eldoret Diocese). The three local communities referenced through the proposal have highly-functional Local Mama Ada Committees that operate out of local Anglican churches. It must be noted that program beneficiaries do not need to be Christian, or any faith, to receive assistance from our organization.
The Anglican Church is an already-existing operational structure within Kenya; it has a highly esteemed and trusted reputation among people in the country and can serve as a structure to realize scalability. There are currently 60 plus churches within the Eldoret Anglican Diocese, which could house Local Mama Ada Committees (to implement expansion of agriculture pilot project) as our pilot project is tested and achieves success.
Of most importance, any Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Plan will utilize local feedback. Our organization has an advantage in getting this feedback from local people, due to our very strong and long relationships with local people and leaders in Kenya. They will certainly be a part of any evaluation plan (including its development), as we have the finances and capability to develop the plan outline (below). Of course, it will be critical to show that farmers have access to this tool and information; again, it is our very strong relationships (and well-known and respected reputation in a large area in Kenya, including our local committee structure that can be replicated) that will enable us to reach more farmers than a new or foreign-based organization could do.
The Mama Ada Foundation will finalize a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Plan prior to pilot project launch with assistance from a consultant with expertise in small-scale farmer development projects. The monitoring component will involve the systematic and routine collection of information to check progress against work plans, to document results/impact measurement and local experiences. The data will also be used to assist the evaluation process.
The Foundation will conduct periodic evaluations as certain phases of the project are completed. These evaluations will be designed to provide the necessary information for strategic decisions and project improvement going forward (including an "exit strategy" for each local community that is based on the achievement of pre-determined, locally designed objectives that indicate "self-sufficiency" has been achieved by a set number of farmers in that particular community).
For this pilot project, MAF will base its M&E plan on the World Bank’s Handbook for Development Practitioners and include outputs, outcomes, impacts and indicators.