Outreach to farmers is key to increasing the adaptation of research innovations

A farmer prepares her farm for planting. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

While the climate crisis is a major contributor to food insecurity in the country, lack of information on good agricultural practices takes a fair share of the blame.

Unreliable and sometimes non-existent agricultural extension services have led to poor practices, which can lead in turn to low yields for smallholder farmers in many parts of Kenya.

However, farmers in Kiambu County have a reason to smile after a firm launched a crop protection knowledge centre for Kenyan farmers.

The Syngenta East Africa facility will offer various skills for farmers within the expansive county. The programme will see farmers change their ways of farming mono crops/staple foods to more diversified commercial farming.

Head of business Fredrick Otieno, speaking in Lioki, Githinguri sub-county on Thursday, March 23 said the timely launch of the facility will help tackle agriculture's most complex challenges, increase innovation, and advance more sustainable agriculture for food security in Kenya, East Africa and beyond.

He said farmers in Kenya with poor agronomic knowledge have continued with traditional agriculture leading to low production of food volumes.

This, he said, happens because there is no coherence in service provision or farm products readily available for them.

Additionally, Otieno noted that Syngenta will collaborate with government institutions, youths, students and researchers to take farming in Kenya to the next level.

Joseph Ndichu one of the local farmers said the knowledge centre will impact farmers with safe modern farming techniques.

He noted that farmers in the area have been experiencing low food production, especially in maize farming as a result of purchasing and planting the wrong seeds.

"There is hope for secure food baskets going by the clinics. I have attended and trained other farmers, we have also diversified farming, initially, we would plant maize and potatoes but now as you can see Kiambu can produce wheat and watermelons," he added.

Alice Muthoni a farmer said that though the national and county governments had failed in providing extension officers, the clinics offered free of charge at the facility came in handy for farmers in the area.

She said farmers will now improve both crop and animal farming.

''I have been a farmer for 20 years now and I have noted that specific extension recommendations are better tailored to the needs of individual farmers and fields, and enabled by digital technologies, could potentially bring about yield and productivity improvements, she said.

She added: "We have no reason for low food production, but nevertheless I urge the government to harvest water specifically for farming in this region, Kiambu is key to food production but the recent drought affected even this productive county."

Kiambu CEC(M) for Agriculture Wilfred Kiara challenged the firm to set up such facilities in dry zones like Ndeiya in Kiambu West and Ngoliba in Kiambu East in order to make the areas food sufficient.

Kiara also urged the agri-tech company to set up vertical farming in parts of Kiambu's urban sub-counties which have now become concrete jungles.

"I challenge you to not only focus on horizontal farming and also farm in more productive areas but move to dry zones and urban areas'', he added.

Mukuna Mutura an extension officer with Syngenta said that the launch of the facility closer to the farmer will bring harmony between technology and innovation from the laboratory to the farm.

"Part of the problem is that most agricultural research still occurs on the research station, where scientists experience conditions quite different from those experienced by farmers.

As a company we want to localize innovation and research closer to the farmer this will in turn boost global food security, this is through testing new varieties and training trainers'', Mutura said.

Mutura said agricultural extension to improve yields of food crops and close the yield gap often entails general recommendations on soil fertility, seedlings management, and the right use of pesticides that are distributed to farmers.

Otieno said that the firm will launch a second knowledge centre in the food basket-rich Uasin Ngishu county in the coming months.

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