Food insecurity and extreme rural poverty are major socioeconomic problems facing many households in Kenya today. A large proportion of rural residents live below the poverty line of US $1 per day, with an average of 56% experiencing food insecurity. Years of continuous mining of soil nutrients has contributed to the lack of sufficient soil nutrients to support plant growth and good yields. These trends have contributed to escalate the level of food insecurity and absolute poverty in Kenya. Sustainable Community Oriented Development Programme (SCODP) is a non-governmental organization based in western and eastern Kenya that works with resource poor small-scale farmers to increase productivity, reduce production costs, and empower rural communities to control and reverse these negative trends and improve household livelihoods. SCDOP offers technical options to smallholder household in the area of soil fertility management.
Seed and fertilizer are major inputs in crop production. Most seed companies charge high prices for seeds beyond the reach of poor farmers. Many farmers are forced to use low-yielding inferior local seeds. SCODP initiated seed testing and bulking to improve the quality of local seeds to give farmers high potential seeds at a lower cost. Currently, many farmers are using open pollinated varieties and improved groundnut seed, which has doubled yields. Most conventional fertilizers available on the market contain mostly nitrogen and phosphorus. However, soils are also deficient in potassium, sulphur, magnesium and other trace elements. SCODP blends fertilizers to provide a balanced fertilizer that contains all the macronutrients and trace elements. This innovative blend, NPKS, has enabled farmers to access balanced fertilizer at a lower cost and control soil acidity resulting from the use of ammonium-based fertilizers. Most households in the project area cannot afford the conventional fertilizer packaged in 50 kg bag that costs between $ 20-24. Small-scale farmers have small land holdings due to land fragmentation and the large packages of fertilizers and seeds are expensive and do not provide opportunities for trials on small farms. SCODP repackages fertilizers into smaller units of 100 grams, 200 grams, and 2 kilograms retailing at 3 cents, 4 cents and 50 cents. Seeds are repackaged into smaller units of 1 gram that retails at 3 cents. Repackaging of inputs has empowered the community to access fertilizers and seeds and has promoted trials with modern technologies. As a result, many households has increased their food production and improved household income.
The project uses a bottom-up community approach in implementation of its activities. The community identifies their problems and resources, and then works with SCODP to formulate solutions. SCODP facilitates the capacity - building of farmers, provides supplies and interprets results from research findings. The Community Learning and Exchange Ground (CLEG) was initiated to facilitate transfer of knowledge, generate more knowledge and to enhance implementation. Analysis of results is simplified and is farmer participatory. SCODP works with researchers and involves farmers to analyze results from on-farm research. This has increased the farmer's understanding of their own farm conditions and what is required to improve them. Farmer Participatory Adaptive Research (FPAR) has increased the pace of adoption of technologies by farmers. SCODP uses simple mechanisms like posters and leaflets some of which are printed in local languages to disseminate and share knowledge and experiences.
Poor and asymmetric access to market information, manipulation by middlemen, poor negotiation capacity of farmer's has led to depressed farm gate prices. The poorly coordinated markets have resulted in areas of surpluses co-existing with areas of deficits because farmers are unable to take advantage of the opportunity. The farmer's poor organizational capacity makes it impossible for them to bulk, store and market their produce and negotiate favorable prices with traders. The consequence of this is that immediately after harvest, farmers receive as little as $9.30 for a 90 kilogram bag while production costs are $7.80. Furthermore, farmers often have an urgent need for cash to pay school fees and medical expenses and they cannot wait several months for prices to improve, leaving them further vulnerable to opportunistic middlemen. This situation has reduced assimilation of new technologies such as new crop varieties and soil fertility techniques. SCODP initiated a Central Cereal Banks project in Western Kenya to improved maize marketing and accelerated Technology uptake. The project aims to project is to explain mechanisms that stimulate agricultural produce markets and to integrate the crop production technologies, food security and marketing activities in western Kenya. The Central Cereal Bank provides quality control, local transportation and marketing services and bulk produce for sale to larger buyers. The local cereal banks are operated by farmer associations that serve as focal points for training in improved crop technologies, post-harvest handling, bookkeeping, and sales and marketing. The project involves 1125 farmers who market approximately 2360 tons of grain for an estimated $487,000. Cereal banking provides a platform for the promotion of new farm technologies among its members. A cereal bank assembles members through its regular general meetings and special events. Local extension agents are invited to join cereal banks and share their expertise among members. Agricultural suppliers and rural development specialists are also invited to attend meetings to distribute samples and extension materials. Interested farmers may organize on-farm trials involving these materials and technologies, and hold demonstrations and field days. In this way, farmers' marketing associations also operate as farmer field schools.This project has established several marketing centers servicing smallholder farmers throughout three districts in Western Kenya.
Overall Impact of the SCODP Project:
On farm trial results indicate that the best technologies have the potential of increasing food production by 500%. Farmers using NPKS fertilizer had a yield of 5-6 ton per hectare. Those who used no input recorded 1 ton per hectare yield. Improved use of farm inputs and improved soil fertility has enabled most households to cross over the food poverty line.
Food expenditure has been reduced as more households are food secure. Reduced food expenditure has increased savings and investment.
Farm input delivery and use has improved as a result of SCODP's intervention. Farmer's knowledge of, and access to inputs has improved by 76%. Egg production has improved with SCODP's intervention to make animal feeds and drugs available.
SCODP has created sustainable employment both directly and indirectly in the agricultural sector within the target area, where over 80% of the population is involved in agriculture.
Most households have reduced malnutrition among children as a result of improved nutrition.
Most households have been able to maintain better health, improved living condition and reduce child mortality.
The community is empowered to add value to their produce, for example the use of groundnuts to make peanut butter.
The project empowers farmers to bulk, process and use their own homemade seeds. It's estimated that community seed bulking and processing will cut production costs by about 25% and hence raise their income by over 20%.
It's also projected that through this initiative, farmers will be empowered to take control of their germplasm and reduce influence of commercial seed producers who do not understand farmer's conditions.