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Agricultural knowledge and information systems in Kenya - implications for technology dissemination and development

Research reports

This paper reports on a study of agricultural knowledge and information systems (AKIS) undertaken by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture. Field research was conducted in four districts of Kenya, including high-potential and pastoral areas, to document and assess the significance of different actors and organisations as potential uptake/dissemination pathways for agricultural technologies, and to consider ways to improve the performance of the knowledge and information systems in the districts. Databases of the organisations, institutions and actors involved in agriculture in the four districts were compiled, and a series of participatory and rapid appraisal exercises were carried out with people concerned with agriculture in selected sub-locations and divisions within each district.

The AKIS of Kenya’s smallholder farmers are diverse and complex, varying with agricultural enterprise, agroecology, and from district to district. Agribusiness plays a major role in the AKIS of Kiambu district near to Nairobi, whilst government and non-government agencies are the major ‘external’ actors in the pastoral areas of West Pokot. NGOs and church organisations are particularly active in Homa Bay, but their coverage is limited. Links between external institutions and organisations, for both government organisations and NGOs, are generally weak and poorly coordinated.

The major sources of knowledge for smallholders are local (neighbours, family, markets and communitybased organisations). Between 40 and 70 per cent of respondents reported government extension as an important source of information, though both farmers and extension personnel themselves expressed dissatisfaction with the quality and frequency of their interactions. NGOs are also important sources of information in those areas where they are active. Churches, chief’s barazas (community meetings) and agricultural companies are significant information sources in some locations.

Most farmers considered that their most pressing information requirement which was not being adequately addressed was information on technical details of farming (e.g. chemical application rates, how to manage late blight in potatoes, where to get certified seed, the most appropriate varieties for a given location, housing and management of livestock, etc.).

Inadequate human resources (government and non-government extension) and poor local leadership (particularly for CBOs) were seen as the most serious barriers to effective information flow by farmers, whereas government and NGO extensionists stressed lack of resources to mobilise communities, and poor communications with researchers leading to information distortion.

Potential delivery systems and entry points for knowledge dissemination were tabulated, but were quite diverse – district-specific and commodity-specific strategies are needed. Increased use of networking and pluralism in provision of extension and research services are advocated to increase cost-effectiveness, equity and efficiency of agricultural development. The importance of participatory learning approaches was emphasised by many of the study participants. Government research institutes could capture a pivotal role in the AKIS of the future through increased emphasis on strategic alliances with other development agencies, the production of teaching materials designed for facilitating participatory learning, and the production of ‘basket-of-options’ information materials for farmers and extensionists.

David Rees, Martha Momanyi, Joseph Wekundah, Felister Ndungu, Jacob Odondi, A. O. Oyure, Dymphina Andima, Marion Kamau, Jessica Ndubi, Francis Musembi, Lucy Mwaura and Rita Joldersma.