December 11, 2013 – 5:34 pm
The LYF Smallholder Support Network (SSN) is now in its fourth year.
The LYF has been developing and running its Smallholder Support Network in Africa for three years now, and it is producing some amazing results. Launched in Kenya in 2010, the SSN now includes several core elements:
Weekly radio broadcasts (reaching millions of farmers)
SMS (text message) interactive service, enabling small farmers to text questions to the radio panels
Comprehensive training manuals available to local colleges to deliver face to face in farmer communities
Website for farmer co-operatives and NGOs to use to access information and advice
The SSN is now running successfully in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); in 2014, we aim to expand it in to tea farmers in Tanzania and to coffee farmers in Ethiopia.
Why not download the new SSN leaflet here SSN new leaflet Dec 13 .
September 17, 2013 – 7:59 pm
Social media platform helps share and exchange farming information and provides a marketing avenue for young and upcoming farmers
(extract from an article in the Nairobi Business Monthly Sept 13)
Joseph Macharia is probably most well known for developing the hybrid of a stingless bee when he worked at the international scientific research institute ICIPE (International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology) in 2011. But he describes himself as a farmer, and asserts that his passion has always been farming, whether socially, education wise or with work. And indeed he is one with three dairy cows and a small coffee plantation in Nyeri.
His enthusiasm for a sector that many Kenyan youth shy away from runs so deep that Macharia decided to broaden the appeal of agriculture among the country’s youth by engaging with them through the social media platform of Facebook.
He started the Mkulima Young Facebook page six months ago, and complemented it with the Mkulima Young website where farmers exchange information and market their produce. This, he says, was driven by the fact he wanted to pull the youth into farming because it is being viewed as an after retirement activity.
“The average farmer is 65 years old. In Kenya it is normal for one to be given livestock and other farming apparatus as retirement gifts. This classification of farming as an old man’s affair has to stop and what better way to do that than reach out to the youth via social media where they are most comfortable,” Macharia says.
Macharia, who is in his mid 30s, adds that young people might engage in farming if they were given the right information and inspiration. His decision to reach them through a social media platform, he explained, was because many of the youth were in their element when online or on Facebook, and as such would feel comfortable in seeking assistance and in sharing, selling and buy produce.
The Facebook page he set up, therefore, is aimed at reaching youthful farmers and those that aspire to venture into the field.
“The reason why I’m targeting the youth is because they are innovative and willing to learn. And also because I’m hoping that we can move away from conventional farming, embrace the use of technology and try to grow other crops apart from the traditional ones,” Macharia explains.
In just six months, the digital farmers’ hub has risen to over 17,000 members and is attracting graduates and school leavers into the agribusiness sector. On this same platform, success stories are shared to motivate members.
Macharia was surprised by the high interest that the page registered, but is confident that he will be able to provide quality information on these platforms because he can track the needs of these digital farmers and respond accordingly.
He works with a team of three who together track comments and questions and generate responses. The web page complements the social media page and creates an avenue for those that want to start a business and those who want to buy or sell agricultural produce. The two avenues together have seen youth who previously could not access markets earn thousands of shillings via the online platform.
Macharia also hosts a radio program called Mkulima Young on Kikuyu station Coro FM, in an attempt to reach the youth through broadcast media. The show is sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation
August 30, 2013 – 4:28 pm
Right now we are all a mixture of sadness AND excitement! How is this possible? Well, our very first short-term ‘Ethical Enterprise Course’ has come to an end. But the positive bit for us has been seeing the incredible changes in the lives, aspirations and the new social enterprise drives of all of those who have attended the course.
Supported by an ESF Community grant through the WEA, we delivered a 10-workshop course, using our successful ‘Not Just a Community Enterprise’ learning model. We wanted to help create some new ideas for The Oromo Coffee Co social enterprise – as well as helping local people back into work. We named our course ‘Equality and Unity’ and designed a bite-size course for people who are unemployed in the Tameside (east Manchester) area.
Over 10 sessions – and 5 ‘practice sales/work experience’ opportunities, the group learned how to set up and run a community-based social enterprise with a ‘fair trade focus’ – and one which used The Oromo Coffee Company as a great hook on which to hang this very practical series of workshops.
We deliberately created a course where the content and pace was set by the learners themselves, where it was tailored to their own interests and learning needs and where we had the minimum amount of stuffy classroom-based sitting and listening to the likes of us drone on!
As well as learning about the basic components of running a fair trade community enterprise, some of the fantastic learning events which the participants were involved with included:–
Visits to Unicorn Wholefoods in Chorlton cum Hardy and a crafts co-operative in Saddleworth
Running a Coffee/Cake and Crafts stall at the Chorlton coffee festival
Running a stall at Saddleworth ‘Yanks’ weekend
Running a stall at New Charter Housing Association community fair
For the LYF, one of the key aims of this course was to bring different communities in Tameside together in the name of ethical enterprise and supporting each other in employment opportunities. Being unemployed can crush the soul – and our work at the LYF has always proven to us that people who are marginalised in this way are eager to be able to support those who are also struggling in poverty – those in developing countries and whose lives are blighted by exploitation within the trading system.
We certainly feel that we have succeeded in our new venture and we were over the moon to receive some of the comments back from course participants – such as:
“It’s really helped me – more than anyone I have received advice from – to truly set up a business. I’ve learned how to price things properly – and fairly. Before I was too shy about it and wouldn’t ask for enough for all of the work that I put into my crafts.”
“I came to this course knowing nothing about social or ethical enterprise. But now I know how to begin one. And I understand my own drives in terms of the kind of causes I want to help in setting up a social enterprise. Of course I need to be able to support my own family too – but I’ve now got some solid plans…”
“English is my second language and I was so worried I wouldn’t understand it all. But I have loved having this learning for free. I just thought that this course would help me make my CV look nicer and maybe get another cleaning job – but I am flying now. I truly appreciate it. I cannot believe the support and help I have had from all group members in setting up my own little business and the other day when we held a stall together – I sold out of all of my products and had to ask for more to be brought in. Yes I am so very positive for my future now.”
We would like to finish by thanking the Workers Education Association (North West) who administered the ESF grant which helped us to run this course and also to give a huge clap on the back to Chandan Mistry and Nic Carter from the Health & Wellbeing team at Tameside Council who provided some fantastic support. To New Charter Housing Association too – who are seeing the huge potential in working with The Oromo Coffee Company and who are clearly proud of the commitment of their Oromo and non-Oromo residents!
So, if anyone else would like one of these bite-sized courses running with a community group – get in touch.
August 20, 2013 – 8:25 pm
Many followers of the LYF will know that back in 2008, we helped set up the Oromo Coffee Company with a group of Oromo refugees from Ethiopia who had been resettled in the UK.
Since then, the OCC has continued to grow and establish itself as one of the UK’s most innovative and progressive coffee companies – a non-profit social enterprise, owned and run by members of the Oromo refugee community. As well as selling high qaulity, Fairtrade and organic coffees from Ethiopia, the OCC is actively engaging in community development work in the UK, helping Oromos and local communities to learn about setting up and running a community enterprise, seeing the value of social enteprise and working for the benefit of the wider community both in the UK and back in Ethiopia.
This week we joined the OCC at a gathering of the England Oromo Community, set up to help Oromo people resettled in the UK to celebrate and promote their culture and identity. Some inspiring community leaders spoke about how important it was for the Oromo community in the UK to intergrate, to establish itself within the wider community, but to also ensure that, young Oromo people in particular, are able to learn their mother tongue language, understand their cultural heritage and what led them to flee their homeland.
It is great to see the Oromo Coffee Company becoming well-established both in the market-place and amongst the Oromo community across the UK. Onwards and upwards…..
August 16, 2013 – 8:28 pm
The LYF is now 10 months into our Farmer Radio project in DRC. We are working to engage 10,000 women cocoa farmers across the North Kivu area, delivering agricultural extension advice and answering their questions on farming and processing activities related to cocoa production.
Our local partners IDAD, have established ‘Listening Groups’ at the Union of Progressive Women Farmers (UFAP) and at the organisation Action for Development and Environmental Protection (ADEP) who work to ensure protection of the forest and promote agro-forestry. So far, some 1,500 new cocoa seedlings have been distributed to farmer members across the forest regions of Beni, Kyanzaba, Mutamba. Training has also been delivered by IDAD extension field officers to members from both organisations.
Every week, our female radio presenter takes interviews and speaks with the farmers and our Congolese expert on food and maternal health – co-hosts the programme, speaking to women in the field about food security and inter-cropping. (See excerpts from radio)
‘Over the air’ the women farmers use radio to encourage others to lift themselves out of poverty and to overcome the challenges they face. Getting their voices heard is a serious issue for these women. Serious – but not easy. For some, just writing a simple text message to the radio station so that they can ask about agricultural issues will involve walking for miles to find a friend or family member who can read and write.
Our radio programmes however, offer women something more than just agricultural extension – more than information on markets and prices. The women are asking us about equality and the right to earn a living, so that they can feed, clothe and educate their children. And crucially, in North Kivu, the programme is offering women the opportunity to find their voice at a time when the situation remains violent and unstable. A representative of a local partner group who travelled into Beni on 5th June 2013 reported;
“The security in the Kivu area around Beni has deteriorated. In the last week, two people were killed in Kasindi, one taxi driver the day before our arrival and another person two days before that. The maji-maje carried out another attack on the army camp in Beni town where some of their comrades were held. The attack was carried out in broad daylight and shooting went on for almost two hours. Most of the rebels were killed and the people in town were terrified. Abductions of females started a year ago and were first aimed at obtaining ransom. However, the abduction of women and young girls in the area Mavivi-Oicha, Mayimoya and Eringeti started about a month ago. Since then, more than a hundred have been taken away into the bushland. The kidnapping takes place at gunpoint and in broad daylight. One woman who was pleading to be allowed to take her young child with her was shot in the head and her body was dumped on the side of the road. The population protested against this and as a result, the left side of the Beni –Eringeti road was transformed into a military camp.” Regardless of this action, the right side of the road is very much perceived to be ‘zone rouge’. Where anything goes – even murder – when it comes to the casual appropriation of women.
“Male farmers living in this region risk their own lives or their wives, sisters or daughters being abducted and murdered if they attend to their fields. Women farmers in the area face extreme danger on a day to day basis. The road connecting to Nobili is even worse, with the whole area being largely under rebel control. It is not clear who is behind or who is leading these men. The local population are hoping that a neutral force will provide them with protection but fear that the current attacks are being steered by those who aim to be taken into account and to gain power, when the peace force arrives.”
Our LYF Programme Manager, Cristina Talens, travelled to the Congolese / Uganda border town of Kasese to meet our partners from Radio Graben and to translate the first transcripts of the radio programmes, telling us;
“The situation remains volatile in Eastern Congo. An offensive UN brigade was deployed in mid-May, so we have been unable to travel across the border to meet the farmers ourselves. However, we have been able to bring on board a new cocoa trader who is exporting out of Beni and who will be taking part in our multi-stakeholder group to support that will help women cocoa farmers to produce the very best quality crop.It has been heartbreaking to speak with the women here and to listen to what they are saying about their lives under these conditions of conflict.
On the 8th March 2013, to mark international women’s day, the women members from UFAP marched to the Ministry of Family and Health to demand that women be protected against the escalating violence and even there, one of their members was beaten during the demonstrations and ended up in hospital. We covered this issue in our radio programme and we sent messages of support to all the women in the region who were suffering violence in their communities.
Due to the ongoing situation, the LYF and our local partners needed to adopt an alternative approach to ensure that the women involved in our Farmer Radio DRC pilot could receive training. Instead, we were able to bring a group of women farmers from North Kivu across the border and into Uganda where we worked with IDAD, using the college facilities of URDT.
 Initiative pour le Developpement de l’Agoforesterie Durable (IDAD)
Union de Femmes Agricultrices et Progressistes – UFAP
 Action pour le Developpement et la Protection de l’Environnement – ADEP
August 10, 2013 – 8:36 pm
Have a look at the latest LYF Newsletter, with author Joanne Harris presenting our BBC Radio 4 appeal; news of our latest campaigns, and how to support them. Read the newsletter HERE.
August 8, 2013 – 12:05 am
Our farmer extension radio programme has provided a source of information and connections for farmers across Africa. This unique programme uses a multi-pronged approach. Through the medium of African radio and SMS (text messaging) we reach millions of poor smallholders with the information that they desperately need in order to manage their crops effectively.
The farmers ‘set the questions’ for our radio programme and the LYF provides them with access to answers from experts in the field. We also work in partnership with African educational institutions matching them together as peers so that in-country capacity is built and the necessary business education is provided for smallholders, rather than flying in ‘experts’ from the North.
Our first ‘Farmer Radio’ programme in Kenya was named Dhahabu Ya Murimi (meaning ‘Farmer’s Gold) and reaches around 4.5 million people (half a million coffee farmers.) Working with coffee farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia and now with women cocoa growers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) we want to roll out and replicate its success throughout the developing world.
Through our ‘Peer Partnering’ scheme we want to build on our work with local partners Ambo College in Ethiopia and Nyeri Technical Training Institute (NTTI) in Kenya. To date, the programme transfers Ambo’s knowledge and experience of working with smallholders to the NTTI, enabling the NTTI to then train their own staff to work with local smallholder producer organisations in Nyeri. This approach delivers real independence, opens up market access and creates sustainable local capacity in a cost-effective manner as it builds on the skills, knowledge and infrastructure already widely available in East Africa.
Most recently we have also created the new Farmer Extension Website, specially created for ease of access to smallholder organisations in Africa. This is a tool that provides support to smallholders and their organisations. Through it, farmers can access relevant and timely information on radio broadcasts, weather reports and crop prices. We are also thrilled with our new beautifully illustrated training manuals for smallholders – which provide important information about co-op governance, ethical trade, supply chains and marketing. We have also created specially designed picture books on crop cultivation which can be used by smallholders with little/no literacy skills. Our new Farmer Extension website is here www.farmer-extension.org.
Our site also enables farmers to access Visual Weather Forecasts: These are weather maps using live data from NOAA servers in the USA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organisation). Our partners at Theyr, will prepare the data for visualisation so that weather maps can be seen live by producers globally. These maps provide 6 days of forecast data updated every 12 hours, providing multiple parameters of air pressure, rainfall, temperature, wind.
To find out more about the impacts of LYF’s work so far in Kenya please see here. But our Farmer Extension Radio approach can work outside of African countries too! Our aim is to build a network of local organisations working towards a common purpose – to strengthen smallholder producer organisations, lifting their farmer members out of poverty.
July 26, 2013 – 9:43 pm
The LYF has been broadcasting weekly farmer radio programmes since Autumn 2011. The radio programmes are delivering a significant impact. For example, smallholder farmers have already changed some of their practices in the cooperatives where the Farmer Field Listening Groups are operating – as a direct result of the farmer extension radio programmes.
The first programmes covered the issue of the Coffee Calendar, Coffee Crop Varieties, Yields, Weather and Pest Resistant Crops. The programmes receive atleast 20 SMS messages after each broadcast. Most of the SMS asked about the Batian variety of coffee which was being marketed by the Coffee Research Institute (CRI) – a variety which is supposed to produce greater yields, better quality and which is pest and disease resistant – particularly in relation to Coffee Berry Disease and leaf rust. As a result of the content of the SMS messages received, we decided to re-schedule the broadcast and instead, prioritise an interview with the Director of the Coffee Research Institute which would focus on the Batian coffee variety.
Immediately following this interview, the demand for Batian coffee at the CRI became so high that the CRI is now currently unable to meet the demand and has run out of seedlings altogether. Both of the coffee co-operatives involved in the Farmer Field Listening Groups also bought seedlings, which they are selling to the farmers via a credit facility. As a result, there have been notable changes in practices in the two cooperatives. These are:
Planting of the new Batian variety:
The Gikanda cooperative has purchased 2000 Batian trees and these are being planted by 50 farmers, with a further 8000 more being ordered. Rumukia cooperative has planted 30,000 batian trees and has ordered a further 30,000 trees. Due to these incredible increases it is anticipated that this will lead to higher yields and greater levels of resistance to disease and pests as a result.
An Increase in FEMALE Member Enrolment at both Cooperatives:
One of the key objectives behind the SSN was to increase the number of women smallholders represented within the cooperatives (the LYF’s work to empower women in this way was recently recognised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who chose the SSN as a case study of good practice in this area). Following the radio broadcasts, there have been excellent achievements in this area with;
Gikanda Co-operative welcoming 205 new farmers for the last year – of which 103 are women.
Rumukia Co-operative welcoming 500 new members during the last year – of which 250 are women
A Marked Increase in Production at both Cooperatives
At Gikanda cooperative, production figures for the last financial year were 1 million Kgs of coffee. For this financial year, the figure has increased to 2.7 million Kgs.
Rumukia cooperative produced 1.2 million Kgs for the last financial year and this year has reported that it has reached 3.7 million Kgs.
Given that these remarkable achievements cannot be correlated solely by the increase in membership, the figures do point to an increase in production amongst existing members. It further suggests that greater transparency on pricing (i.e. pricing information is now being broadcast via the radio programmes) is leading to more smallholders wishing to become members of those cooperatives which are actively engaged in the farmer extension project.
An Increase in Income for Smallholders
Coffee Management Services (CMS) which markets 34% of all coffee produced in Kenya – have confirmed to the LYF that as a direct result of the radio/ SMS initiative, the organisation has received an increase in interest in coffee farming, more coffee seedlings planting (of the Batian Variety), improvement in the implementation of Good Agricultural Practices, increased agro-input use in order to realise increased production and a visible increase in smallholder desire for better governance within the cooperatives. The information supplied from CMS has been further corroborated by statistics which the LYF has received from both Gikanda and Rumukia cooperatives which confirms that a marked increase in income for smallholders should be seen as a direct result of (increase productivity and volumes).
But of course, we must stress that these are just the outcomes achieved by only TWO of the cooperatives in the region, that the LYF has chosen as ‘pilot Listeners’. Our aggregate achievements therefore – for all smallholders in the area must be magnified…thanks to the outreach capability we have harnessed via Coro FM…
To summarise, these achievements in such a short space of time – from our analysis of the project to date – it seems that in particular, the programme has directly led to:
Improved practices on the use of resistant varieties such as Batian by the farmers. This will reduce the cost of their production and use of fungicides and pesticides (a clear cash saving for the farmers)
Better education about, understanding, use and choice of Agro-Inputs (NB Agro-Inputs are items that are added to the ‘growing process’ – such as fertilisers and pesticides etc) This will lead to overall increased production of crops in the longer term.
Increased quality as a result of better use of Agro-Inputs. Although there is an 18 month lead time from intervention to seeing the results in terms of crop yield – the programme will accelerate much better quality in crop yield – in the longer term
Improved coffee processing at the wet mill level – leading to a better cup
Improved Cooperative Society efficiency as smallholders have learned to ask more searching and better informed questions of the cooperative leaders(in relation to costings, pricing etc.)
Demand for training from other coffee cooperatives beyond the Rumukia and Gikanda Farmer Field Listening Groups. The LYF has been informed that other coffee co-operatives in the region have been inundated with demand for information since the SSN Radio Broadcasts. We have been reliably informed that on aggregate, the other coffee cooperatives in the area have had to hire a further 8 agricultural extension field staff in order to meet the demand for coffee marketing, pricing and overall industry knowledge.
July 26, 2013 – 4:46 pm