An international agricultural organisation has launched a three-year initiative training agro-dealers as experts to take up the traditional role extension officers, in a move aimed at raising agricultural output and farmer incomes.
The programme has so far trained 500 agro-dealers from 20 districts.
Currently, the ratio of farmers to agricultural extension officers (AEOs) in Kenya is over 1,200 to one .
But it could be higher than that, said Philip Karuri, the project coordinator with the International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development (IFDC) the body overseeing the new training initiative, dubbed the Extended Agro Dealer Networks (EADN).
IFDC says it is targeting agro-dealers as they are the first contact with farmers, said Mr Karuri.
IFDC is offering training in the quality certified hybrid seeds to stock and farming conditions conducive for the seeds to yield bumper harvests.
The dealers also learn how to treat, store and package their seeds and other farm inputs, shielding them from exposure to moisture.
The dealers are also trained in the right crop protection products to sell and how they are likely to benefit the farmers buying them.
They also learn how to safely handle the chemicals they pass onto farmers.
The three-day training also links the agro-dealers with financial institutions such as Equity Bank to ease their access to credit facilities to restock.
Meanwhile, IFDC in conjunction with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has launched a set of projects to assess the effect that greater knowledge has on outputs on earnings.
The projects hold crop demonstrations, and have been focused particularly on semi arid areas. We choose a crop that has the best impact in that area, said Mr Karuri.
In parts of semi-arid Mukurweini, an initiative from 2009 to 2010 doubled maize yields, following from demonstrations on 1 acre plots that initially produced 0.72 tonnes.
In Ndaragwa Nyandarua North, IFDC facilitated potato farmers in getting quality certified potato varieties Asante and Tigoni from Njoro Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) and trained growers on the right seed varieties to plant, the correct timing and measure of chemicals, and furrowing and hilling techniques for the growing plants.
Farmers who had been averaging yields of 5.5 tonnes an acre got yields of between 6.7 to 9.5 tonnes in the following season.
IFDC is also working with various agricultural technology stakeholders to introduce new farming practices such as soil testing kits, new seeds and fertilisers.
In Mwea rice fields, last year, they introduced urea super granules, a kind of fertiliser that has increased rice yields by 22 to 25 per cent for Bangladeshi rice farmers.
Instead of the conventional spraying of urea on rice, one granule the size of a sweet is placed on the wet ground between four rice stems, in what is termed Urea Deep Placement (UDP) Technology.
It reduces the amount of urea fertiliser needed for spraying by 47 per cent, cutting waste and pollution, and with huge results in Bangladesh, where in 2009 UDP cut the country’s imports by 50,000 metric tonnes, saving $22 million, according to Farming First.
EADN is seeking to train the agro-dealers with this and similar technologies, and also training trainers, in order to accelerate the process.
From the 20 workshops so far, the project organisers calculate the expanded knowledge and techniques have already had an impact on more than 2100 farmers.
To facilitate the EADN workshops, IFDC works with District Agricultural Officers who invite the agro dealers to the forums they organise.
They are free, said Karuri, the only cost being Sh200 for the certificate.