RIU - Research Into Use
FIPS-Africa self-employed agricultural advisors build their careers and transform village agriculture
29 June 2012

Dorcas (left) promotes new varieties of vegetable seed to local farmers, Mungoya village, Emuhaya district

"I would have been married at the age of 19 were it not for FIPS-Africa" says 22-year old Dorcas Nyangasi, from Emuhaya, Western Kenya. "I missed whole school terms because there was no money to pay the fees. I saw my parents struggle and I wanted to reduce the burden on them. Like many young girls in the village, I thought about marriage as a way out."

Now, through the support of Farm Input Promotions -Africa (FIPS-Africa), Dorcas is successfully self-employed providing farm inputs, services and training farmers in her local area.

Most smallholder farming households in East Africa do not produce enough to feed their families. FIPS-Africa wants to change that. In Kenya, it currently works with approximately 200,000 small-farming households in Coast, Eastern, Central, Rift, Nyanza and Western provinces. It uses an innovative approach to supply appropriate inputs, and advice on their use, to thousands of farmers quickly and cost-effectively, at the same time creating self-employment opportunities.

Young people in rural areas have trouble finding paid work. Dorcas' parents managed to scrape enough money together for her high school examinations. Yet, four months after the exams, Dorcas was idle in the village. She had too much time but never knew what to do with it. "My mother thought I was depressed because they could not afford my college, or lonely because most of my friends were leaving the village. But the real reason was that I needed something to do," explains Dorcas.

In January 2010, Dorcas' life was transformed when she became a FIPS-Africa village-based agricultural advisor. Advisors work within their community to provide agricultural inputs, services and advice on best farming practices. For example, they deliver small packs of improved varieties of seeds to farmers for them to try out on their own shambas (smallholding).

If farmers like the new varieties, they come back to the advisor to buy them next season. This motivates the advisors to reach more farmers.

As Dorcas says "Within the first four months I noticed that I could make more money when I approached more farmers, so I expanded my operations to three more villages in Emuhaya District".

How do FIPS-Africa advisors make money?

Poultry vaccination
  • advisors vaccinate chickens against Newcastle disease at KSh 5 per bird (US 6 cents).
  • they buy a vaccine vial at KSh 350 (US$ 4.2) for 500 birds, so they can earn up to Ksh 2,500 (US$ 30) per vial and make a profit of KSh 2,150 (US$ 26).
  • they can use as many as four vials per month giving a total monthly profit of Ksh 8,600.

Vegetable nurseries
  • the advisors buy 50 gm of tomato seeds at a wholesale price. This equates to about 9,000 seedlings can be raised within three weeks.
  • They sell to farmers at KSh 1-2 per (US 1-2 cents) seedling. This means an income of KSh 9,000 to KSh 18,000 (US$ 110-210) in just three weeks.
  • It costs about KSh 1,000 (US$ 12) to set up the nursery so advisors can make a profit of KSh 8,000 to KSh 17,000 (US$ 100-200).

FIPS-Africa supports advisors to do other money-making activities, such as fruit-tree nurseries, goat breeding and multiplying sweet potatoes and cassava to sell. Hard-working FIPS-Africa advisors can make KSh 10,000 per month (US$ 120).

Dorcas reaches over 2,000 farmers a year. Farmers love her work because she gave them a solution to challenges like Newcastle disease, which used devastate their flocks. Once she started vaccinating, the number of birds in the village increased. Her standing within the community also increased - building her customer base.

British member of parliament, Heidi Alexander, visited Dorcas and observed her working with farmers. She noted: "I was really pleased to see that about half of the village based advisors are women. I think that the role of women in subsistence farming, small scale farming in Africa is absolutely crucial and in order to build up those relationships women and actually make the changes that need to be made in the local agriculture...

I think the whole feel of the project and the initiative is completely right. It is bottom up, it involves the community and I just think it is absolutely excellent".

Becoming an advisor gave Dorcas an alternative to marriage. "Girls from this part of the country get married so early, between 14 and 18 years, especially those who have not gone to college. At one point I thought my clock was ticking." Once she became known for her work with farmers, no one ever asked her why she had not got a husband at her age! "The marriage debate subsided; I was not a subject of gossip anymore."

Dorcas' sister faced the prospect of dropping out of school as her parents had no money to pay her fees. Because she had gone through the same problem, Dorcas wanted to help out. "I bought my sister's school uniform, costing KSh 2,500 (US$ 30), and paid tuition fees. Nothing makes me as happy as knowing that I touched her life in a special way. My sister is now in her final year at Esalwa Secondary School."

FIPS-Africa developed its village based advisor model with help from the UK Government's Research into Use - Best Bets Programme.

USAID, under its global Feed the Future initiative, is supporting FIPS-Africa to scale out its innovative model to benefit more young people like Dorcas.

With USAID funding, FIPS-Africa has recruited around 90 more advisors in six districts in Kenya. The organisation supplies them with small packs of seed to distribute and the other tools and training they need to start their own businesses. The project will result in many more young agri-entrepreneurs with success stories like this one:

Dorcas gets the last word: "My life has changed completely. I am happy because I have helped my village rise above the problem of hunger, there is poultry in abundance, we have surplus sweet potatoes and cassava to sell.

Thank you, FIPS-Africa. Without your intervention, I would have been in a failed marriage now, my friends who rushed to get married are now separated, divorced or unhappy."

For more information, email fipsafrica@yahoo.com - www.fipsafrica.org

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