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Farmer to farmer extension: experience in drylands Kenya

Benard Muok, James Kimondo & Ioki Atsushi


The on-going rationalization of the civil service in Kenya has adversely affected the delivery of services to the rural communities. Among the affected services are the government extension services. The current numbers of extension officers are grossly inadequate to effectively-serve the populations. To address the problem the government of Kenya in collaboration with the Japanese government initiated a project, social forestry extension model development (SOFEM). The project aims at equipping the inhabitants of the semi-arid areas of Kenya with appropriate techniques to plant and mange trees through establishment of farm forests by the local residents. One of the expected outputs is to develop appropriate method of farm forest establishment with initiative of the local residents through practical training of farmers and extension agents. The trained farmers are expected to act as models and facilitated to act as extension agents. Representative farmers are selected by the communities using some set criteria (accessibility to other farmers, willingness to train other farmers, etc). The selected farmers are given residential training by the project as well as on-job training at the project’s farm forest demonstration plot as well as on the farmers’ own farms. The farmers selected are exposed to a number of developed technologies and are free to select whatever technology they wish to try on their farms. With the technical assistance from the project officers, the farmers establish farm forest on their own farms.

Once the establishment is done successfully, the farmer invites neighboring farmers for an open day/training session, using their own farms for demonstration. The system has become popular in the area judging from the people who willingly attend the training session organized by the farmers. About 100 farmers have been recruited and the average attendance for is training session is about 200 people. Local schools and organized groups also attended the training sessions organized by the farmers.


Through out Africa, land resources are deteriorating an accelerating pace. A complex matrix of factors has produced the current crisis. The interaction between uncontrollable external factors, such as drought and human abuse prevents formerly effective productive systems from satisfying the needs of the population. Increased pressure on the land has led to overgrazed range areas, diminished soil fertility, deteriorated soil structure and increased soil erosion. Added to this cycle are the effects of excessive tree cutting, over-exploitation for timber and fuelwood and expansion of agricultural land into marginal areas. Through overgrazing, over-cultivation, over-cutting of woodlands and deforestation has led to environmental degradation (or desertification)

The effect of desertification is frequent crop failures and famine in the drylands, erosion of genetic resources, poor food security and severe poverty. With the ever-increasing population, there is severe shortage of forest and forest resources in drylands, which the supply from the little government forests, cannot satisfy.

Government extension services

To mitigate the problem the government of Kenya through the Forest Department started the Rural Afforestation Extension Scheme (RAES) in the early 1970s with the sole mandate to carry out forest extension activities on private land. The initial approach of the service was production of seedlings, which were given to the farmers free to plant. Since then, the service has gone through a shift in policy from performing production role to facilitation role, where the local communities are facilitated to produce their own seedlings and plant on their own farm or for sale. The name has also since change to Forestry Extension Service Division (FESD).

To achieve its objective of facilitating tree planting by farmers on their farms, the Forestry extension Division has been striving to deploy forestry extension agents from the national level to the smallest administration levels (locations). The extension agents are expected to facilitate farmers by providing technical advice through different methods such as farm visits, holding of public lecture during formal gatherings called by government administrative officials in the locations, etc.

Though the extension service has been facing a number of problems such as poor infrastructure, inadequate facilitation by the government, inadequate extension staff on the ground etc, some progress had been made. In the recent past, the extension service has face one of its major problem, which has forced it to look for alternative ways to provide the extension service. The main now facing the service has been brought about by the on-going structural adjustment program, which as forced the government to retrench its civil service. In the retrenchment program a substantial number of the extension staff have been affected to almost less than half of its original work force. At the moment, extension services to the farmers are almost a thing of the past, not only in forestry but also in other ministries. At the moment there is already attempts to privatize extension services in some department such as veterinary. Much cannot be said at the moment, but following the same for forestry is a tricky situation given the long-term investment in forestry and the level of poverty in the drylands areas where the immediate priority is to survive.

Contribution from the Non-governmental organizations

Apart from the government, non-governmental organizations have also been providing extension services, which are environmental conservation oriented. With the renewed interest in drylands, many of such organization are operating in these areas and providing parallel extension services and supplementing the government efforts.

Most of the NGO programs, however are program based and operate in an area for a defined number of years and after that they move on to other areas. During the period of the project, most of the organization ends up employing own extension stall to meet the objective of the project. However, the personnel recruited by these organizations are normally laid off after the termination of the project period.

Furthermore, there is no uniformity in the extension approach used to reach the farmers. It becomes even more confusing when some of such organization are well funded and will not hesitate to give incentives to the farmers inform of handouts. Once the project pull out and the incentives are not forth coming all the activities quickly collapse.

Social forestry extension model development

In the view of the above, there is need to develop an extension approach that is self-supporting and thus more sustainable. As noted by Farrington (1995), the way forward is the need to offer farmers with particular technical knowledge and training, which lie outside purview of their own indigenous knowledge. In this way the farmers themselves, will act as the resource persons without having to depend on people from outside. In simple terms the farmers themselves must be their own extension agents if the extension service is to go on.

To address the problem, the government of Kenya in collaboration with the Japanese government initiated a project, Social Forestry Extension Model development (SOFEM). The project aims at equipping the inhabitants of the semi-arid areas of Kenya with appropriate techniques to plant and mange trees through establishment of farm forests by the local residents. One of the expected outputs is to develop appropriate method of farm forest establishment with initiative of the local residents through practical training of farmers and extension agents.

Farm to farmer extension: The SOFEM approach

In this approach core group farmers are selected and trained in practical skills of tree planting as well as communication skills to act as the extension agents to the neighboring farmers. The selected farmers are also expected to establish farm forests on their own farms to act as demonstration and teaching fields to their neighbors. The process is as follows:

Farmers` selection

Three approaches were used to select the farmers:

Village approach – The farmers in a given village are requested to select a representative farmer from their village to be train by the project. The remaining village members are expected to learn from the farmer that they have selected.

Group approach – The project identifies an existing group, who has interest in farm forest establishment, to select a farmer amongst its group members to be trained by the project to act as their extension agent.

Individual farmer approach – This approach was meant to give a chance to a farmer who does not fit in either of the above but who has shown interest and potential to act as an extension agent. The project staff at the grassroots level selects these categories of farmers.

Criteria for selection

Criteria for selection was developed and agreed by the stakeholders as listed below.

Among the criteria for farmers to be selected are that the farmers must be:

  • Accessible to the other farmers as well as the project staff in terms of infrastructure
  • Willing to collaborate with the project and the other farmers
  • Willing to act as an extension agent and train other farmers
  • Have enough piece of land to establish farm forest
  • Have labour to establish farm forest

Training of farmers

Before the implementation of field exercise, the farmers have to undergo a one-week residential retraining program. The objective of the training program is to equip the farmers with technical package and communication skills in order to prepare them as effective resource persons in their day-to-day technology transfer activity.

Among the course contents are:

  • Communication skills,
  • Roles of core farmers on farm forests establishment,
  • Profile of some important tree species in ASALs,
  • Tree nursery techniques and management,
  • Soil improvement methods,
  • Tree planting and tending techniques,
  • Importance of trees in bee keeping,
  • Fuelwood conservation measures
  • Plants improvement technologies e.g. budding and grafting.

Farm forest establishment

After the training program, the farmers were given ample time to establish farm forest and prepare some teaching materials on their farms. The project facilitates the farmers in several ways.

Services provided by the project

Providing technical advice

Project staff visits farmers and provide technical advice during the period of farm planning and design, preparation and actual farm forest establishment.

Seed and seedling information system

The aim seed and seedling information system is to disseminate information collected at the grass root level on seed and seedling availability in order to create awareness and open markets for seedlings produce by farmers as well as linking the farmers, who wish to buy seedling, with the production centers. The location extension agents (Technical Assistants (T.As) collect data on seedling production from nurseries in their respective locations, which they submit, to their respective divisional forest extension officers (DFEOs). The DFEOs compile the data for the whole division and submit them to the project office for final compilation. Once all the information is compiled, the information is published as a poster, which is then distributed to all social centers such as schools, churches and market places.

Cost sharing for tools and materials

The process assist farmers to acquire some materials, which are not readily available in the local markets and sell to the farmers at a subsidized cost at a rate of 50:50 project to farmer. The rate is then reduced to 25:75 (project: farmers). As the rate of project contribution goes down, the project identifies a trader who takes up the responsibility to stock the materials with reach of the farmers. Once the trader starts supplying, then the project stop the acquisition of the materials.

Farmers field training

Once the selected farmers establish their farm forest as well as training materials, then the farmers organize a training session on their respective farms. The farmers charged with the responsibility to invite their neighbors during the field exercise and conduct the whole exercise. During the training session, the project staff may attend as observers but the respective farmer who organized the training session does everything.



In the year 2000, twelve selected core farmers conducted the field exercise at their respective farms with a total of 629 participants attending. This gives an average attendance of 52 people per farm, which is appropriate for effective demonstration. Technologies demonstrated per farm varied from one farm to another depending on:

Technologies already on the ground

Availability of teaching materials

As well as the farmers understanding on the technologies

Some of the technologies demonstrated by these farmers ranged from fruit orchard establishment, woodlot, boundary planting, planting and tending, soil and water conservation, bee keeping, basket composting, grafting and budding, charcoal filter as well as tree nursery techniques.

In the year 2001 the same number of farmers were involved in the farmer-to-farmer field exercise with total attendance of 468 farmers. Average attendance was 39 farmers per site. After the field exercise, the attendants had to fill a pre-designed questionnaire to give their views about the field exercise.

Sex of participants

From the two years field data, it was noted that over 60% of participants were female. Figures 1 and 2 show the participants attendance in farmer-to-farmer (on-farm training) per sex per site in the year 2001 and 2000.

Data obtained also showed that there was a relationship between genders of the resource farmers with attendance. Where the resource farmer was a lady, there seems to be a higher attendance of female compared to male farmers. Consequently, where the resource farmer was a male, some good number of males, though not majority, attended the training.

Another observation made was that if the male resource farmer was a member of a given group, some good number of females still attends since most of the members within local community group are females.

Age group of participants

The results from the two-field exercises indicates that the majority of the field attendants were from the age groups 21-30 and 31-40 giving average attendance for the two age classes as 27% and 30%, respectively. The other age brackets 10-20, 41-50 and Over 50 recorded the average attendance of 6%, 17% and 19%, respectively. Age group 10-20 recorded the lowest turn out.

Source of field day information

The participants cited three major sources of information. These were through the host target farmers 74%, the project and the F.D Technical Assistants 30%, both host farmers and TAs 7.9% and through the location chiefs 3.9%.

Participants’ opinion on field activity

All the participants concurred that the field activity was of great important to them since they were enlightened on some of the technologies which they were not aware of and more so, they were pleased by the fact that one of them (host farmer) was the resource person.

Technologies preferences

The results indicated that most of the participants preferred planting and tending technique teachings followed by nursery practice and management. Soil conservation technology was also preferred by a good number of attendants probably because it is more directly related to food production, which is a very crucial activity in Kitui and Semi-arid areas as a whole.


Gender of participants

The fact that majority 60% of the participants to the farmers` field training were females was an important observation. We may not out rightly conclude that males are not interested in tree planting activity but just because the males are not available due to a number of reason, one being in towns for paid jobs. Muok et al.,(1998), in an earlier survey noted that most men in the interviewed homestead were living in town and leaving the households to be headed by females. Such women are left to take care of household activities including farming and other related activities such as tree planting. This is a clear testimony as to the reason why in the past two decades, many forestry and related development projects have involved more women than men in forestry activities. For example, past activities of the project dealing with small scale group nurseries indicated that over almost all (99%) of the community based tree nurseries were ran by women (Atanas et al., 2001). Incases where some few men were within the groups, their participation were mainly in terms of financial contribution.

Another reason which may make men tend to give financial support rather than being physically involved could be because since women are the majority most men may feel uncomfortable in a group where majority are women. This observation is further supported by the fact that in field training, more men attended courses where the resource farmers are men than when the resource farmers are women. This observation suggests a fact that gender analysis should be conducted carefully so as to address specific problems of women and men without disadvantaging either. Most projects in the recent past used women groups as entry point.

Age of the participants

The two age classes 21-30 years and 31-40 years where majority of attendance was recorded are the most active as it contain the youth who have just completed their schools and yet to get paid jobs and also young families who are yet to have a lot of family commitments. The group also contains the most knowledgeable members of the society and therefore is more receptive to new ideas. The younger age 0f 10 to 20 years had conspicuously low turn out because it is the school going age and most of the members were in school. It important to hold such field training during school holidays or even has separate activities for schools all together. The school going age is one of the very important groups that need to be considered.

Role of resource farmers in technology transfer

The fact that majority of the participants received their invitation from the resource farmers’ underscore the viability of using resource farmers as extension agents. This fact was further evidence by the enthusiasms and response from the farmers who participated in the fieldwork training. The resource farmers were also able to explain a number of technologies with a lot of competence which they gained during to training given by the project as well as practical experience gained during establishment of farm forests in their farms.

The fact that most of the participants preferred planting and tending technique teachings followed by nursery practice and management may be attributed to the impact of the core farmers’ field success such as the presence of the farm nursery, woodlots and the fruit orchards. Soil conservation technology was also preferred by a good number of attendants probably because it is more directly related to food production, which is a very crucial activity in Kitui and Semi-arid areas as a whole.

Participants’ recommendations

According to the participants, farmer-to-farmer field exercise is a very important field activity and therefore they generally recommended that:

  • More time to be allocated on plant improvement technology.
  • More technologies related to tree planting such as seed collection and handling to be included.
  • Such field seminar to be conducted at least twice a year when there is no much farm work.
  • More emphasis on contour planting, soil protection to be done in future.
  • Tree seeds to be issued during the seminar.


From the field data as well as the response from farmers, farmer to farmer extension have proved to be an effective extension approach for sustainable technology dissemination, bearing in mind the limited human resources facing the forestry sector today. These target farmers can simplify technical information from extension agents using the local language and which other farmers can easily understand. Core farmers can also mobilize other farmers, especially if she or he is a member of a given group, for tree planting activities.


  • Farmer to farmer extension is a viable approach that can help to sustain the current forestry extension initiative in the light that the government resources are dwindling.
  • Further training should be given to the resource farmers so as to widen their knowledge on the current technologies and organization of extension activities.
  • Further monitoring and evaluation is still needed to come up with a well tuned model if it is to be recommended on a wider scale
  • More gender sensitive extension methods should be considered to accommodate the interest of all the interested parties.
  • Farmer should be given time and support to prove their capability in extension.


I thank all the project staff and administration for the cooperation and tireless effort in coming up with this extension model. My special thanks go to Ali Atanas, who availed the survey data. I also wish to thank Kenya Forestry Research. My participation to this important symposium if made possible through the funded from CTA whom I am indeed indebted.


1. Atanas A, Kimiti J, Kitheka E and Shimada K (2001). On-farm technology transfer: A sustainable extension tool. Paper presented during the 2nd Social forestry conference. Nairobi, Kenya

2. Farrington J.(1994). Public sector agricultural extension: Is there life after structural adjustment? London, IIED.

3. Muok BO, Kamene JM and Kemmuchi K (1998). Socio-economic and resource survey of Kitui District. SOFEM/KEFRI

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