IREN has started to facilitate implementation of the commercial model proposed in the Blueprint to Commercial Farming for Low Resource Farmers in Eastern Kenya through mobilization of the farmers' network and other farming stakeholders. On September 8, 2005 IREN Departmental Team Leaders visited a cross-section of farmers in Ikalaasa, Machakos district and also held a meeting with the steering committee of the farmers' network in Machakos town. The purpose of the meetings was to assess ways of kicking off implementation of the commercial model. The 32 farmers we met cited their urgent need of maize seeds amounting to 1,000Kgs. They said they had already grouped themselves, assessed the quantity of seeds required by each household and called upon the relevant seed companies to furnish them with seeds. To facilitate receiving of farming services, the farmers formed a village network (Ikalaasa Farmers Alleviators of Poverty).
The interim representatives of district networks indicated farmers’ willingness to engage in commercial farming and formation of village networks. They reported that farmers were in dire need of seeds and other services and challenged IREN to facilitate quick response from relevant stakeholders. Strathmore University SIFE has already started working with the farmers in Katheka village of Kitui district. IREN visited Africa Nazarene University SIFE on September 9, 2005 and found that the students had numerous projects that could greatly impact farmers’ productivity. One such project is the formation of village banks in Machakos and other parts of Eastern province similar to the one they had successfully initiated in Kiserian, Ngong.
IREN’s interaction with Moi and University of Nairobi SIFE teams on September 7, 2005 also revealed great potential that can be tapped in implementing IREN’s commercial approach. Moi University for instance were this year’s SIFE Kenya National Champions and proceed to Canada later this month. They have been involved in teaching farmers how to make cheap fertilizer. To realize success of the commercial model IREN plans to work with at least two village networks (60 households each) in each of the three districts (Machakos, Makueni and Kitui) pending support from other stakeholders to facilitate a full fledged roll out.
As part of reaching out to more people (particularly the professionals) on the need to press for individual liberty of low resource farmers, IREN hosted a very successful brainstorming forum with various experts drawn from the academia, NGOs, the business community and media on September 10, 2005. The forum not only offered more insight on the proposed commercial model and forthcoming book Blueprint to Commercial Farming for Low Resource Farmers in Eastern Kenya but also created awareness on the need to liberate the poor farmers through business approaches. The participants overwhelmingly endorsed IREN’s Commercial Approach. However, the biggest challenge identified was funding to enable ‘igniters’ of the proposed model to get started. Although the application of the model is in its infant stage, demand to have it replicated all over Kenya is growing. A participant from the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) urged IREN to replicate the same in other parts of Kenya particularly Western Province where many people are continuously food insecure and poor due to overreliance on sugarcane growing. It is IREN’s belief that the low resource farmers cannot continue to be perpetual dependants on food aid, which more often than not is used for political gains. Through commercial strategies, they can exit the vicious cycle of poverty and acquire socio-economic and political independence.
On education, IREN visited selected schools in Kibera slum and also held a meeting with members of the network from various schools on September 9, 2005 as a follow up of the study undertaken in the main slums of Nairobi. The participants observed that in spite of their poor infrastructure, the schools serving low income people still continue to register increasing numbers of children and operate innovatively. According to the headteachers interacted with, these schools are there to stay and wished to have them expanded to also cater for post primary levels. The members of the schools’ network indicated that they had held several meetings since its inception (2004) and are creating structures that will enable them attack their problems jointly. As a network they had already started exchange programs in examinations and sports. They called upon for facilitation and coordination support particularly from IREN. IREN plans to hold monthly meetings with the schools’ network and expose them to relevant stakeholders such as constructors, furniture and stationery manufacturers/ suppliers and credit providers. Further, IREN briefed them on the ongoing data analysis with the aim of publishing a book Adding Value to “Marginalized” Schools in Kenya that will create awareness on the importance of these schools and carry out capacity building strategies with the aim of adding value to their services. IREN intends to explore ways of strengthening and expanding the structure and role of the network already formed. Through the network, business approaches will be introduced to these schools to enable them compete favorably in the education industry. The overall goal of this project will be to inform policy with a view of encouraging a favorable climate for their service delivery.
IREN looks forward to actively continue accomplishing her mission of promoting policies that will make people in Africa to be more productive and rely less on government solutions to problems they can and should solve on their own. Impressed by what IREN does, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) visited IREN Office on September 13, 2005. The SIDA delegation and the Director, IREN Kenya, held a successful discussion on policy issues particularly on the agriculture and education projects.
By James Kathuri
Kathuri is a Lecturer at Kenyatta University
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