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Sauri farmers learn about new concepts in water and agriculture management

Fifty farmers, including 10 women, from Sauri Millennium Village, Western Kenya, were trained in July on new concepts in water and agriculture management by a team from the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies. The training came as a result of a two year old collaboration between The MDG Centre and Mashav, Israel's National Agency for International Development Cooperation.

In December 2008, three staff from the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) went to Israel for a month-long training on water management. They asked their hosts to arrange for a tailor-made training on the drip irrigation concept as well as improved domestic water system. Upon returning to Sauri, where crops are mostly rain-fed and often affected by droughts and erratic rainfalls, they introduced farmers to family drip irrigation systems for production of high value crops during the dry season.

As a result, a partnership with The MDG Centre, East and Southern Africa, was born and the Director of Research at the Arava Institute, Prof. Clive Lipchin, visited Sauri and met with farmers who expressed their wish for more capacity building. After the needs assessment, a suitable program was developed. Farmers who are community leaders, ordinary men and women, the youngest a 19-year-old man from Nyawara, were selected for the five day training.
They learnt about drip irrigation, integrated water system management, bio digesters for production of bio gas using locally available materials, composting, seed protection by use of bio generator, marketing and cooperatives. To construct a biogas digester, two plastic bags are used as follows: the bigger bag, which is three times the size of the smaller bag, is placed on the ground to serve as a bio-digester of animal droppings mixed with kitchen waste materials such as banana peels, green leaves etc. This leads to the generation of methane gas that is collected in the smaller bag and conveyed to a gas burner for domestic use in the kitchen. Farmers learnt that 200 liters of gas can be produced per day and used in the kitchen for 3 to 4 hours. The group installed a biogas plant at Nyamninia primary school which will be used to make porridge for nursery children and light meals, and allow the community to save wood fuel.
As part of the training, the farmers visited other farmers who are already practicing drip irrigation in Boro division of Siaya District. The Yogo farm started two years ago. Farmers there plant kales, groundnuts, flowers for export, and tomatoes in a green house, in addition to fish farming. Sauri farmers learnt how they can be technically supported to acquire drip equipment including water tanks for storage and practice intensive farming.

Dr. Steven Ngigi, the MVP Water Sector Coordinator, encouraged the trainees to adopt technologies that can be used regardless of their level of education. He told them that the best place to keep their certificate of training was on the farm where people can witness their transformation whenever they visit.
The trainers Shira Kronich and Yair Teller were very impressed with the participants who they described as “marvelous, good people, hands-on and always curious to learn,”. “I hope that this is only one step in the longer term collaboration,,” remarked Shira.

The Millennium Villages Project is encouraging communities to form marketing cooperative societies which will give farmers a higher bargaining power in the market place. The construction of a market service centre in Yala as a bulking and marketing site will go a long way in ensuring farmers access markets for their produce. So far, 22 farmers have acquired family drip irrigation systems to produce horticultural crops in green houses and 17 on quarter acre open fields. More than 60 treadle pumps have been provided to farmer groups which no longer rely on rain to produce agricultural crops. Sauri's MVP Team Leader, Jessica Masira, applauded the farmers for their hard work and expressed a wish that the partnership with Arava be propelled to the next level in the villages.

The training was officially closed by the Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Kenya, Mr. Maor Elbaz Starinsky, who had visited Sauri in the past. He presented the trainees with a certificate, calling on them to demonstrate that they were worthy of the responsibility they carry. Noting that Israel was mainly a dryland, he told them that their trainers had a solid experience in irrigation. He confirmed Israel's commitment to share knowledge and give guidance as Kenya has good soils and water and people have the ability to work hard.

“We are very happy,” remarked Florence a female farmer. The farmers promised to put to practice what they learnt and to share the knowledge with other community members. This will go a long way in scaling up farm produce for increased food security and improved household incomes in Sauri.

Kenneth K'Awuor is an MVP Agriculture Facilitator. He is based in Sauri, Kenya.

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