How Extension Support to Smallholder Farmers is Supporting Food Security During COVID-19

Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy due to its significance in contributing to economic growth. Farmers in Kenya are involved in both small and large-scale farming of crops and/or livestock. The VBA project being implemented by LDRI in Kiambu and Embu County aims at improving maize productivity to enhance food security among small-scale farmers. The project recruits champion farmers who are referred to as Village Based Advisors (VBAs). The VBAs are then trained and equipped with appropriate agronomic information and sample seeds to distribute to farmers within their villages after training them. For the prevailing season (March-May 2020), the project recruited 750 VBAs in both Embu and Kiambu County. VBAs were trained and reciprocated the same to other farmers in their villages before the outbreak of COVID-19in the Kenya. However, the health guidelines to stop the spread of the Virus affected the distribution of sample seeds especially in Embu County; the turnout of VBAs was unexpectedly low due to fear of infection.

The crisis has disrupted supply chains in which smallholder farmers play a crucial role and a main source of income for many farmers. Travel restrictions, curfew and suspension of operations of periodic markets have disrupted trade flows of food commodities and other necessities. This has prevented smallholder farmers from selling their produce thus leading to loss of income which could be used in acquiring vital farm inputs.  At the same time, smallholder farmers were also not able to acquire necessary inputs for the current season (March-May season, 2020) due to hiked transportation costs and increased input costs. This has a ripple effect affecting yields considerably and food security in many households after the March-May rainy season.

Nevertheless, with the spread of the novel COVID-19 virus, LDRI provided the 750 VBAs in Kiambu and Embu Counties with face masks and sanitizers to ensure that they are safe when interacting with farmers within their villages. Also, due to rules and regulations set aside by the Government to control COVID-19.  LDRI also has come up with innovative ways of relaying extension information especially on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to VBAs and farmers via Bulk SMS. Moreover, LDRI is conducting follow-ups with the VBAs via phone call to ensure farmers receive the extension support needed. Timely and credible information especially on GAP is imperative in ensuring farmers are doing what is expected of them to improve their farm productivity. Before the pandemic, regular training sessions and field days we organized for the VBAs to keep them up to date with GAP and address any concerns, in so doing increase productivity.