Food security through knowledge

Far too little rain, depleted soils and on top of that hordes of pests decimating their harvests and threatening the food security of East African smallholders and their families. The Biovision “Infonet” provides them with the necessary knowledge and gives them the chance to produce enough food for themselves. World Food Day is on 16 October.

Peter Lüthi, Communication

“The Biovision Infonet is the best farming website – I know that from personal experience,” stresses Matthew Muendo, an agricultural adviser from Machakos in Kenya. The 37-year old environmental scientist, who has a Masters in Resource Management is confronted on a daily basis with questions relating to the countless problems facing farmers. He works for “Inades Formation”, a non-governmental organisation that educates and trains farmers. On four days per week, Muendo teaches basic agricultural knowledge and techniques to various groups of farmers. He also disseminates very specific knowledge on current problems.

Best website to consult for course preparation

Muendo devotes one day a week to planning his courses. The topics are determined partly by the farmers themselves and partly by Inades. When preparing the courses, Muendo relies primarily on the Infonet. “I prefer the Biovision web platform because it contains filtered information that is carefully prepared, clearly presented and is of actual use to the smallholders,” he explains, adding that the content published on the Infonet is tailored to the prevailing conditions in East Africa and so is really relevant. “The information and tips are reliable; they have been scientifically tested and are practical,” explains the experienced agricultural adviser. “The information is always there on tap and so you can’t lose it”. Muendo particularly appreciates the fact that he can download every edition of the Kenyan magazine for farmers “The Organic Farmer”. This gives him access to a wealth of additional practical advice that can be adapted, if necessary, to the seasonal needs of farmers.

New solutions for current problems

He finds particularly relevant the information on how to prevent erosion, e.g. terrace, construction, the digging of plant holes and the correct way to plant selected tree varieties. He also values the availability of detailed instructions on measures to combat the effects of climate change, such as water management and risk-sharing opportunities. He also appreciates the information on ecological ways to improve soil quality, the use of nitrogen-fixing intercrops and the control of pests by producing and using organic material grown on the farms themselves. Inades disseminates information on both conventional and ecological methods of cultivation but Mathew Muendo prefers to use ecological methods because they are less expensive and can be implemented with resources available locally .

Doing the job without formal training

You may ask why the smallholders lack the required agricultural know-how? “As a rule, young farmers use the traditional knowledge handed down by their parents,” explains Muendo. Good agricultural training is not available in Kenya. In addition, most people working on the land are only able to complete elementary school and so they have to run and develop their smallholdings with what is in some cases outdated knowledge. “It is not enough for their current problems,” says Muendo.

Always available everywhere

New this year is an offline version of the entire Infonet content; it is distributed on a computer stick and can be copied to laptops, tablets and smartphones. It gives farmers, agricultural advisers, government agencies and NGOs access at any time to an extremely valuable encyclopaedia, which covers the main issues relating to ecological agriculture. It can even be consulted out in the field, even if there is no Internet connection.