Peer Learning, the Future of Extension Services

Peer-learning can help farmers improve their farms and livelihoods.

By Dennis Odera, Africa Business Manager.

Anthony is a 24-year old trained teacher from Nyakach, Kenya. From a young age, Anthony dreamt of becoming a teacher. After completing his university studies, Anthony, like most graduates, expected to immediately secure employment and kick start his teaching career. Despite his most valiant efforts to secure employment, days and months trickled by but Anthony’s dream remained just that… a dream. To bide his time while waiting for an opportunity to present itself, Anthony decided to help out on the family farm.

Anthony took to the farm like a duck does to water and within a few months felt that he and his siblings were not utilizing their available resources to the best of their ability. He began to apply the research skills he attained at university and began exploring various ways of improving the family farm. Backed by sufficient information, he began implementing the diversification from cow and chicken farming to also rearing ducks, Egyptian geese, goats, guinea fowls, pigs, rabbits and wild doves. The changes Anthony brought about helped the family farm transition from subsistence agriculture to an agribusiness.

While doing his research, Anthony experienced first hand a problem that most farmers frequently face… poor access to information. He found it extremely difficult to find useful information that he could use on his farm. Anthony pondered over this problem and wondered how he could apply his teaching background to try overcome this challenge. One day, out of necessity, Anthony had a eureka moment.

That season, the family farm had more chickens than they could accommodate in their existing structures. Most family members were of the opinion that they should sell the extra chicken as a bigger structure was being constructed. Anthony, however, felt that there was a better way the chicken could be put to use. He thought about all his friends who were yet to secure jobs and an idea came to his mind.

While most of the extra chicken were sold, according to the family’s wishes, Anthony decided to retain 10 of them and gave them out to 10 of his friends for free on condition that they each returned 10 chicks to him when they were in a position to do so. Anthony also offered to train his friends on chicken rearing for free. Anthony believed that by doing this, he would help his friends gain invaluable knowledge and skills that they could monetize on. He also knew that by the time they each returned 10 chicks, the new structure would be ready.

Most people did not believe in Anthony’s idea and they did not expect him to get any chicks back from his friends. Within 6 months though, eight of Anthony’s ten friends had each returned 10 chicks (80 chicks in total). His eight friends had also begun successful chicken enterprises that were self sustaining and generating income. The remaining 2 friends, despite encountering some problems, are still rearing chickens and are hopeful that their exploits will become profitable and sustainable.

Anthony was amazed at the effect ease of access to information and a change in attitude by his peers could lead to such positive results. He decided to try it again to see whether the results were a fluke or the real deal. Anthony, who at the time was also rearing rabbits chose 8 of his friends and gave each of them 2 does and 1 buck. Anthony once again volunteered to train them on rabbit farming and promised to help them look for market on condition that he took a percentage of their sales. Just like it happened in the first instance, Anthony’s experiment was successful. His friends established rabbit farms that are now self-sustaining. A few of his friends have even started selling rabbit urine for farmers to use as natural fertilizer, something even he had not envisioned. Anthony had stumbled onto a smart way of combining his calling (teaching) with what he had at his disposal (agriculture).

While Anthony thought of ways to replicate and scale up what he was trying to do, he came across WeFarm, a peer-to-peer learning platform that allows farmers to easily access agricultural information via SMS. Farmers on WeFarm are able to ask any agricultural questions and receive responses to those questions via SMS within a couple of minutes. Anthony was impressed at how he could now easily access relevant agricultural information. He was also very impressed that he could learn from more experienced peers who offered him valuable and localized insights.

A combination of technology and peer learning, Anthony believes, is the future of extension services. With peer learning, farmers are able to utilize the experience and expertise of other knowledgeable farmers to benefit themselves. With technology, valuable agricultural information from one peer can be disseminated to as many farmers (and would be farmers) as possible in a short period of time. Anthony now does not have to spend countless hours searching for agricultural information. All he has to do is send an SMS and get a response within a couple of minutes.

WeFarm, which launched in February 2015, now has over 91,400 farmers using their services. These farmers have interacted over 13.5 million times with each other sharing vital information that has equipped them to improve their farming activities.

Posted 10 October 2016 | Tagged with: , , , , ,