By Susan Beccio
I just spent a week in Western Kenya visiting farmers who participate in IFAD-funded projects. Getting out of the office and out to the field is always a deeply moving experience for me. It is not just about the thrill of being in a new environment, trekking through the countryside and getting my boots dirty, while carrying a heavy camera bag. I think it is more about how real everything becomes. Our work in IFAD is about real people, and through IFAD-funded programmes and projects, we are doing what we can to provide farmers with real opportunities to improve the quality of their lives.
During visits to the Smallholder Dairy Commercialization Programme and the Smallholder Horticulture Marketing Programme, I was particularly impressed with the spirit of entrepreneurship and willingness to try new things that farmers showed me. It was contagious and exciting. There was not one magical thing that they needed to do or that needed to happen for them to benefit, but a series of steps both within and outside the realm of the projects. One thing led to another, and with each step they gained more confidence and continued to expand on their opportunities. As they talked of their experience, I could see the horizon opening up in front of them.
Through the projects, farmers were encouraged to form groups, pursue training and write business plans. They received both technical and business training, and they shared their knowledge with each other. They got organized. The project staff on the ground encouraged farmers to try new things – like planting a biogas digester in their backyard, collecting milk and opening a ‘milk bar’, making ketchup with less attractive tomatoes and building a cedar shed to collectively store and sell potatoes, in order to get a better market price between harvests.
Whenever I asked the farmers how their lives had improved, the first thing they said was that they were able to send their children to school. Many also said they had or were planning to build a better house. One farmer proudly told me that he had put in an electrical line. While we talked, two girls in school uniform stood by his house, waiting for him to come over and recharge their mobile phone– for a small fee, of course.
|Members of the Sitawa Dairy Group in Bukembe, Bugoma County, Kenya. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio|
|Priscilla Wakhisi lights a gas stove that runs on the biogas that she brews up in her backyard in Chetambe, Bungoma County, Kenya. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio|
|Phoebe Chessi’ sells fresh milk, yogurt and mala or fermented milk to local customers at the cooperatively run milk bar in Ndalu, Bungoma County, Kenya. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio|
John Rimui with his newly bottled tomato sauce or ketchup that he makes with a fruit pulper near Leshau, Nyandarua County, Kenya. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio
|A member of the potato growers group in front of the group’s storage shed in the hills of Nyandarua North County, Kenya. ©IFAD/Susan Beccio|