ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.

Teaching  farmers better farming practices helps them increase their incomes and improve their families’ living conditions.

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Through Farmer Field Schools (FFS), small-scale farmers have not only learned new and improved agricultural methods but they have also shared useful experiences in groups to make the most of their agricultural potential. An ActionAid funded program has supported more than 32 farmers’ field schools in Makima, Mbeere South District to empower small-scale farmers to overcome poverty.

On a Thursday evening, Beth Syombua, a smallholder farmer is busy harvesting passion fruits and Pawpaw. At the FFS, she has learned to overcome her physical disability and the fruits are ready for the market.

The entire Mbeere area is dry but 25 smallholder farmers from the area, living with different forms of disability have turned part of it into a green haven, harvesting tons of passion fruits, pawpaw, onion and vegetables on their 2-acre land.

I never imagined I could be such a successful farmer

says Syombua the secretary of Mwea Disabled Farmer Field School.

Before I joined this farmer field school, I knew nothing about how to take care of a passion fruit plants. Then I found out it was just like taking care of your child. I am 50 years old and I practiced the traditional crop almost all my life. ActionAid awakened our interest to learn more and taught us new ways

she adds.

Mwea Disabled Farmers Field School Group is just one of several groups in the area that helps small-scale farmers feed their families

File 2315130 year old Beatrice Kanini showing a passion fruit Plant

Increasing productivity

In their first growing season after joining the group in 2011, the secretary of the FFS said that they applied the intercropping techniques they had learned through FFS and increased their passion fruit yield from 280 kg per acre to 900 kg per acre. Having intercropped with Pawpaw fruits, they also harvested 300 kg bags of Pawpaws. Applying the training on collective marketing to their increased production, Syombua and her FFS group decided to pool their produce and sell as a group.

Explaining this decision, Syombua says: “Before FFS, our yields were low and in some seasons we did not manage to harvest anything. Through hands-on training, Syombua and her group members have learned to employ new farming technologies to increase yields of their farm produce.

She attributes their success to the farmer-to-farmer exchange visits and weekly forums that has enabled many farmers to learn new skills and techniques from each other.

"Maize failed to cushion us from hunger, but today when you look at what we are getting from farming Passion fruits and other drought resistant crops, we can say, if we continue, hunger will be history for us, and not only here, but feed other parts of the country too."

John Munyi Nyaga the Chairperson of the group said, "It is possible for us to get rid of poverty by adopting new farming techniques. I would really like this community to diversify their farming practices. I want to use my knowledge to spread this message and help my community which is often beset by numerous problems,"

"The majority of our farmers, first of all, didn't go to school. They had very little knowledge of modern farming methods, and the practices they used on their farms were conventional, So there was a gap,"says Josephine Wangari, ActionAid's Community Development Facilitator,Makima.

From 2011 to 2013, the program set up 32 farmer field schools in Makima division. The schools are led and managed by smallholder farmers, who share new research and technologies and incorporate them into their farming activities. Each community decides what its specific needs are, and the programs team then draws up a suitable curriculum, bringing together a group of farmers to study during an entire farming season.

Half are Women

Members of a farmers’ field school engage in different activities ranging from bee keeping, farming (horticultural) and animal rearing to goats, rabbits and chickens. More than half (56 per cent) of the farmers constituting the working farmers’ field schools are women.

Most of these farmers’ field schools are led by women, in an effort of ActionAid to ensure the high participation of women in economic activities

says Josephine.

 "The most positive impact we see of the farmers field schools is the empowerment of farmers,” Josephine adds, "before farmers were asking for cash, now they are asking for training and support to develop new activities, and of course they are also more food-secure now.”

The 25 members who largely depended on food aid some two years ago have become net producers of fruits, selling them in a number of towns including Makima and Embu.