Sireet OEP Microbusiness and Income Diversification
In the west of Kenya, spread across the Nandi Hills, the Sireet Outgrower Empowerment Programme’s (Sireet-OEP) smallholder farmers grow, pick and sell their tea. Although smallholders are not generally recognised as entrepreneurs, farmers facing poverty, food insecurity and climate change, among other concerns, are driven to develop innovative solutions to these challenges. In this way, they become a rich source of experience and expertise. CPF’s programme Upscaling Farmer Innovation works closely with smallholders across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to enable farmers to share this valuable knowledge across farmer networks.
One of the main ways of doing this is through the development of “Centres of Excellence” (CoEs). These CoEs, based in three cooperatives across the region, all have different focuses, determined by the needs of the farmers in each area. Demonstration sites are established as living, learning classrooms where farmers can test and try new ideas and approaches. Each CoE is working to develop a knowledge bank of innovative ideas and establish best practice in combating a range of challenges. They also build the capacity of farmers to explore new strategies through training-of-the-trainer and farmer-promoter initiatives. As these sites begin to flourish, visitors from all 13 of the partner cooperatives in the region can come to find out more, get ideas that they can use, and share their thoughts on the development. Seed funds are also available to allow visiting smallholders to try the new approaches they have discovered on their own farms. This results in a sustainable support model which enables African producers to improve their knowledge, decision-making skills and livelihoods.
The two CoEs in Uganda, Mabale and ACPCU (Ankole Coffee Producers Co-operative Union Ltd), target ‘coffee quality’ and ‘techniques in environmental sustainability’ respectively (more on these two programmes later!). Sireet-OEP, however, is focused on the promotion of micro-business and income diversification. Relying on a single crop is a risky business for smallholder farmers. Price volatility, coupled with decreasing yields due to a changing climate, mean that farmers’ incomes and livelihoods are under constant threat. Therefore, by empowering farmers to seek new ways of using their existing expertise and knowledge of the land to diversify their incomes, the CoE at Sireet -OEP encourages the development of farmer-led solutions.
Watch our video about our Centre of Excellence network in East Africa
Luke Metto’s Demonstration site
The images below highlight one of the innovations of a demonstration sites at Sireet-OEP. Luke Metto, who runs the site, is a retired teacher with a vibrant sense of humour and a passion for innovative solutions to challenges on his farm. He had expressed a growing concern about the reduction of land sizes in his community, resulting in an intrusion of farms into the forests. Luke, however, has seen the opportunity to use his influence as a promoter-farmer and community leader to show other smallholders how to farm innovatively on a small piece of land. He has organised and his 3 acre plot, maximizing its use and potential. Alongside continued tea production he has created a kitchen garden, an artificial wetland and even a fish farm.
The Hydroponic Unit
This site also uses simple hydroponic techniques to help develop a zero-grazing unit for cows. Hydroponics is a farming technology that does not require any soil but instead uses a water based solution that contains all the nutrients plants need to grow. They use very little space with a guaranteed high yield. This means that they can help to feed their livestock on limited plots of land, enabling further possibilities for income generation.
The hydroponic unit uses barley seeds which are washed thoroughly and placed in containers covered overnight to start the germination process. After this they are spread on the trays and the hydroponic solution is sprinkled over the seeds twice daily.
After a week the seeds are ready to be fed to the animals in the zero-grazing unit.
Luke Metto has two cows in his zero-grazing unit. After starting to feed his cows using the hydroponic feed, he has noticed increased milk production. "I have a cow that was about to have a calf, and as required you stop milking the cow prior to the birth" he said, "but the milk just kept coming."
He then uses the cow dung from the zero-grazing unit to generate biogas. Biogas is an odorless gas produced from cow dung that, when trapped, can be used and ignited for cooking and heating. This 2000 litre tank with an inlet and outlet, guarantees unlimited supply of biogas - the holder is Luke Metto's own innovation, stopping the gas from escaping and running out quickly.
These methods for diversifying income are just some of the innovations that farmers are developing and sharing. You can see more exciting ideas and solutions to common challenges from across our network as presented at our Innovation Marketplace held at Sireet-OEP last year – check out the posters on Facebook.