African Conservation Tillage Network (ACT) has been implementing Conservation agriculture for Food security and profitability (CA4FS) project in Laikipia in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural and livestock research Organization (KALRO) and the Ministry of Agriculture. The project is funded by the Alliance for Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA). The goal of the project is to improve food and income security by building the resilience of smallholder farmers in Laikipia county of Kenya through enhancing the adoption of conservation agriculture practices. Conservation agriculture helps achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and subsequently improve livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations. One such method of increasing awareness of conservation agriculture among smallholder farmers is the use of lead farmers (LFs. This approach has helped facilitate the spread of information on CA to many farmers. LFs are referred by different names by different communities in Kenya. They may be named as farmer promoters, farmer teachers/trainers or community extension workers in different areas. LFs are farmers who are taken through a process of training and experimentation by ACT so as to increase their knowledge and skills which they share with others within their farmer groups and the community. CA4FS project is dealing with 100 groups which are assigned 113 lead farmers in Laikipia County. On average each group is composed of 15–20 farmers. Each group has at least one LF. The LFs were selected through a participatory process involving the members in conjunction with the extension staff. The selection criteria included:
-Ability to read and write (Capable of collecting farm data)
– Ability to interpret CA training material to farmers
– Having the willingness, interest, and ability to disseminate new innovations and knowledge to others without pay
-Being a member of a farmer group and a resident in the community
-Being willing to set aside land for setting up Conservation agriculture (CA) demonstrations plots (13 are research managed and 100 are LF managed).
As part of the CA4FS Project, LFs have been receiving training and inputs for setting up demonstration plots every season since the inception of the project on July 2013. They were supported to set up demonstration plots composing of control (Conventional practice) and CA treatments (with different aspects of CA). These demonstration plots are used as field schools for learning and for conducting research studies. LFs are trained by the Field Officer (CA field facilitator) on CA principles which include covering soil, Integration of cover crops, CA tools and implements, good agricultural practices (GAPs), post harvest handling techniques and market linkages. The training activities are interactive and often involve practical sessions. The Field Officer normally visit the LFs from time to time to get feedback on experiential learning and improve their knowledge and skills on aspects they do not understand. LFs train their group members at the village level through forums such as group meetings and during agricultural events such as field days, world food day celebrations and exchange visits. During major farmers events organized by ACT in conjunction with the ministry of Agriculture, LFs are often given the opportunity to take part as CA trainers during which they share their CA knowledge to other farmers. The LFs approach is a highly effective tool as it; allows easy passage of CA technology skills using farmer friendly pedagogies & techniques; is highly sustainable and can reach wider farmer audience with minimum resources. As it currently stands, 85% of the LFs are now practicing CA at least on a half of an acre land with each having at least influenced 3 farmers in their respective groups to adopt CA.