Knowledge is like a homemade soup

The dissemination of knowledge on innovative agricultural practices lies at the heart of many Biovision projects, including Kenya; here farming families and others are learning how to make biologically-based pesticides. One of the farmers attending the courses was Eunice Wayu. Others obtain their information from the radio, the magazine for farmers or the Internet.

Shruti Patel; manager Farmer Communication Programme, Biovision

Bring to a simmer and stir continuously for 20 minutes. Remove from fire, let cool, and pour through a sieve. “It’s like making soup,” says Eunice Wayua, a farmer in Kenya’s lower eastern Machakos region. The foamy concoction bubbling away underneath a gum tree may be easy to make, but is neither nutritious nor tasty. It is in fact a poisonous brew of water, soap and ash. The mixture is used to kill pests and control the damage they cause to food crops. Eunice and other members of the Green Shade self-help group are being shown how to make this biopesticide by Margaret Kioko, a Biovision field adviser. As the liquid cools, Margaret repeats the recipe’s key ingredients and quantities. Her aim is simple: to ensure group members can recall and practice the recipe on their own. She jokes that there may even be a test when she visits them again in three months.

Margaret Kioko, a Biovision field adviser, demonstrates how to make a biological pesticide.

Many problems, much to know

In this region, most farmers’ crop yields have been affected by the changing climate. Unpredictable rains, drought and crop diseases are becoming increasingly common and often occur at the same time. Although Eunice’s maize, beans, peas, kales and cowpeas will no doubt benefit from the homemade pesticide, it is only part of the solution. Additional measures such as composting and tree planting are essential to improve crop yields and counter water scarcity. Thankfully there is no shortage of enthusiasm. “The skills training has greatly empowered us and we want to continue,” says Eunice. She and several other members walk over to a heap of compost. Margaret continues her training by picking up a shovel and using it to toss parts of the compost into the air. She explains how this action feeds good microorganisms and kills bad ones. Within a few minutes, everyone is eager to try.

The weekly farming programmes on the Kenyan station of Radio KBC can also be heard in Eastern Uganda, where they attract considerable interest.

From learning to action

Such on-farm demonstrations and participatory training are part of Biovision’s Farmer Communication Programme. They go hand in hand with a monthly magazine, The Organic Farmer, a weekly radio programme and a comprehensive knowledge repository, Infonet, available on- and offline. The varied communication channels allow Biovision to reach a larger number of farmers and ensure that knowledge is translated into action. Indeed, this is how the Green Shade group began practicing ecological farming. After listening to Biovision’s radio programme, the group’s chairman Stephen Kithuku learnt about Biovision’s Farmer Resource Center in the nearby town of Katumani. Here he was able to access information materials and schedule a training with Margaret Kioko. “The different channels have allowed us to move out of knowledge darkness,” he says.