In Kisumu, Western Kenya, farmers can serve as an example for how innovations can address the numerous food challenges across East Africa—and across the globe. Kenyan farmers are growing increasingly concerned as climate change continues to impact their livestock and crops. As in many other African countries, over 75 percent of the total agricultural output of Kenya is produced by smallholder farmers who account for about 80 percent of the working population.
Innovations are emerging across Western Kenya that stand out as exemplar approaches or methods to addressing the myriad of challenges farmers face. These challenges range from maximizing the potential of a landscape to adapting to a changing climate—challenges relevant to farmers not just in Western Kenya, but all over the world.
Recognizing the growing number of farmer-innovators in Western Kenya, A Growing Culture (AGC) partnered with Farmer-Led Innovators Association of Kenya (FALIA) to scout and document 20 farmer innovations in Kisumu, Kenya. From January 18 – 24, 2017, AGC and FALIA staff identified 20 promising innovations addressing a range of issues from biodiversity preservation and economic empowerment to gender equality and improved food security. The long-term objectives of this project are:
- To identify and document useful innovations to be included in the Library for Food Sovereignty (LFS).
- To amplify and spread innovations through a participatory farmer-led innovation documentation framework.
- To recognize farmers for their work and identify opportunities for scaling out and building off of innovations.
After an initial scouting of innovations by FALIA, an AGC representative and innovation documentation expert joined other stakeholders in the field. Farmer innovations were documented using a scouting innovation tool kit. Each innovation was required to meet specific criteria that addressed economic potential, originality, adoption potential, environmental friendliness, and gender responsiveness. A number of indicators and verification tools were used to ensure the credibility of innovations.
Each innovator was profiled and interviewed to further showcase the origin, history, and impact of their innovation. All innovators had their pictures taken, offered quotes, and advice for scaling out their innovations. Finally, lead farmers were identified to build stronger relationships and ensure future collaboration with potential partners.
At a community level, farmers have come to realize and respect the innovativeness of fellow farmers in their region. Many farmers have expressed interest in collaborating with other innovators and collectively scaling out their innovations. The collection of these innovations has ignited a spirit of togetherness and mutual respect for the varying, but important work of other farmers.
Innovations covered a great number of economic, nutritional, and environmental categories. Many innovations had an impact in all three areas. Based on the criteria established in the innovation scouting tool kit, innovations were easily categorized into areas of greatest impact. After combining the impacts of individual innovations we have seen results including:
- Fifteen innovations that save money and increase incomes.
- Twelve innovations that enhance food security.
- Eleven innovations that reduce the need for external inputs.
- Nine innovations that adapt easily to climate change.
The project made important strides in identifying innovations that are increasing farmers’ incomes. 75 percent of the documented innovations played an important role in saving farmers money and in many cases changing social norms and improving the conditions of women farmer workers. A wide range of practices were used to increase the incomes of farmers. While some farmers’ innovations enabled them to reduce the amount of costly external inputs, other farmers developed methods that helped boost the productivity on their farms. Other used new techniques to develop new value-added products and labor-saving tools.
Health and nutrition play an important role in improving the lives of rural communities. Over half of the innovations documented in this project yielded a positive contribution to food security and the reduction of external inputs. The improvement of health and nutrition was a common theme in many of the innovations. It is important to note that in two-thirds of all innovations that reported improvements in health and nutrition also showed the ability to easily adapt to climate change. In many cases nutrition and climate change are inextricably linked. Moving forward, it will be important to identify the “sweet spots” where nutrition and climate change overlap.
Innovations that contributed to environmental improvement were plentiful. In many innovations, improvements to farming practices and natural resource management were noted. The preservation of biodiversity was also a common trend among the innovations documented. When reviewing the quotes from the farmers, many mentioned the importance of protecting the environment.
There is great potential to scale up documentation projects in Kenya and elsewhere. Additionally, this process of documentation is easily transferable to other regions around the world. The evidence gained from this project can be leveraged in numerous ways. First, the same farmers can continue to improve and build off of their innovations. Secondly, innovations can be shared with other farmers to spark new ideas and inspire new innovations. Furthermore, farmers would also benefit greatly from other farmer-led documentation activities including participatory video and other documentation workshops. As farmer innovators learn more about each other’s innovations there is great potential to form larger alliances and leverage innovations on a broader scale.
No project is without its challenges. However, this innovation documentation project had very few obstacles. A project of this type is relatively simple. It is important to ensure that facilitators are very thorough in their communication with innovators. This will guarantee that innovations can be leveraged to their maximum potential.
This project is advancing the agroecology movement in a number of ways. First, many of the innovations documented rely on ecological practices and exemplify the importance of working with nature to ensure ecosystems are protected. Secondly, the innovations are being shared with others and being built off of through the co-creation of knowledge. This method of farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing is a key concept of agroecology. Finally, the innovation documentation process is scalable, transferable, low-cost, and participatory. This initiative is cognizant of the social, cultural, and environmental challenges the farmers face.