Key Farmers and Community-Based Trainers: An Extension Sustainability Strategy
By Elijah Mwashayenyi, Head of Africa, EWS-KT
When East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT) began working in northern Uganda in 2017, it found very weak vegetable value chains that were in need of revitalization.
After all, this region was still recovering from the civil war that had ended about a decade earlier. Yet the potential for the region to be a hub of vegetable production was there for everyone to see. All that was needed was the right catalyst.
It was to this environment that EWS-KT brought its capacity-building approach for smallholder farmers, characterised by vegetable-growing demonstrations and a longstanding partnership with leading horticultural research university Wageningen University & Research (WUR).
With EWS-KT’s local agronomists providing consistent technical advice, supported by technical guidance and pest and disease management from WUR, the initiative proved to be an effective approach. Fast-forward to 2020, and the progress was clear: EWS-KT and WUR had, in part, catalysed vibrant vegetable value chains and had trained over 35,000 farmers, including over 1,500 refugees in West Nile whose economic situation and lives were changed by this initiative.
But every project has a shelf life, and it became apparent that if the long-term commitment to farmer training was to endure, the game plan had to include sustainability. This is especially true in Uganda, a country where government extension services are overstretched, with just one agricultural extension officer for every 1,800 farmers.
Right from the onset, the EWS-KT approach of selecting highly motivated key farmers to host field demonstrations, with each demonstration plot used by EWS-KT Technical Field Officers to train 20 to 30 neighbouring farmers throughout the crop cycle, positions the key farmers to be resources in their neighbourhoods. When a project ends, the intensively trained key farmers can advise their peers. EWS-KT trained a total of 1,372 key farmers in Uganda from 2017 through 2020.
In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic extensively restricting movement and the end of the Nutrition and Income Generation Intervention project in sight, Annet Kiiza, KT Manager for Uganda, and her team came up with an additional sustainability strategy: from amongst the key farmers, identify Community-Based Trainers (CBTs) capable of training other farmers; provide them with further training in learning sites (large demonstration plots with various vegetables); and offer them ongoing support.
This strategy ensures that communities have a pool of resource people who will actively train other farmers on a regular basis. Since February 2020, 20 CBTs have been trained in Gulu, 20 in Lira, and 20 in West Nile—and they are already training other farmers.
While this approach is just beginning to take hold, it is clear that CBTs have a big role to play in training smallholder farmers in Uganda. Their work is revitalising the vegetable value chains, improving farmer incomes, and ensuring sustainability as successful growing techniques are passed from one farmer to another. We anticipate that CBTs will continue to be a knowledge hub for smallholder farmers for many years to come.