When the Nyeri county government invested Sh23 million in additional cars and motorbikes to enhance movement of extension officers, there was hope of increased agricultural production.
The cars and motorbikes were to be distributed to extension officers in the hope of making their work easier.
Governor Mutahi Kahiga launched the project in May 2018.
However, four years down the line, the project appears to have hit a dead end. Reason? The aging officers, especially in the department of veterinary services, who were the main target, refused to ride the motorcycles.
They said they feared contracting respiratory diseases due to their age and exposure to the wind.
The project was expected to benefit 234 extension service officers. Unfortunately, the department is grappling with an aging workforce, with most of them resisting the motorbikes.
Indeed, the county government is grappling with an aging workforce said to be affecting services in other departments.
Currently, the county has over 4,000 workers aged between 24 and 59. Close to half of these (40 per cent) are over 55 years.
Health and agriculture are the most affected departments with 56 per cent and 30 per cent of their staff, respectively, being over the age of 55.
Over the last seven years, at least 100 workers have exited the agriculture department through retirement. Some have exited through natural attrition, with the livestock department being the hardest hit.
Currently, the department has only 16 workers, some of who are set to retire in the next two years.
The department has 22 motorbikes that are currently being used by interns who are now running extension services.
The ratio of farmers to extension officers stands at 1:2,000 against the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s recommended 1:400.
A majority of livestock officers in charge of meat inspection in slaughterhouses, and other extensions services such as insemination and vaccinations have retired.
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So dire is the situation that out of the eight sub-county meat inspectors, only two are still in service, putting a strain on the slaughterhouses, which cannot operate without the services of the officers.
Agriculture Executive James Muchiri confirmed that one meat inspector is currently working in up to four slaughterhouses.
“All meat must be inspected. After the officers retired, we had to hire more staff and so far, we have employed 35 workers mostly in the livestock department,” said Muchiri.
He said that the government has been forced to go back to the drawing board after the elderly extension officers refused to use the motorbikes.
“We had to come up with a more practical way to improve the working environment for our staff. That is why we purchased more vehicles for the department,” he said.
Muchiri said the future of extension services is in technology and partnerships that can support these services.
“Gone are the days when extension officers had to travel physically to your farm to offer support. Now, farmers can access information on their mobile phones or through our call centres,” said Muchiri.
He added: “The role of government should be to regulate and standardise the information reaching farmers to ensure it is accurate.”
The agriculture department has promoted over 200 officers in the last three years.
One of the challenges the county faced is that as a former provincial headquarters, the government absorbed a high number of employees, most of who were already on their way to retirement.
National government employees nearing retirement were stationed in the provincial headquarters while new employees were posted to district headquarters, away from home so as to gain experience. The national government froze hiring of employees in the late 1990s and early 2000s and this has adversely affected service delivery.