From Life Skills to Technical Abilities: Empowerment Through Farmer Training

Nuru’s agriculture program mobilizes and trains thousands of farmers every year in October and November in anticipation of the long rains maize harvest season (January to July). The agriculture program issues loans of agricultural inputs (maize seeds and fertilizers) and trains farmers to use them. Nuru equips extremely poor smallholder agriculturalists with the knowledge and tools to sustainably and permanently increase crop yields for subsistence and sale.

Each of Nuru’s program models – agriculture, community economic development (CED), water and sanitation, healthcare, and education – are built on the foundations of sustainability and scalability. Agriculture leads and drives the other Nuru programs.  Farmers become Nuru members through a series of trainings and participation in agriculture loans, thereby increasing their crop yields. At the harvest date, farmers have enough food for subsistence and sale, improving their basic living standards and generating income.

The other Nuru programs follow up on and integrate with the agriculture program to bring a holistic community and household development. For example, the CED Program facilitates farmers to form savings groups so that their extra income is stored safely as cash to be used in case of an emergency or, better yet, for investment in other income generating activities. The healthcare, water and sanitation, and education programs similarly integrate with the agriculture program. The involvement of farmers in other Nuru programs starts with mobilization and agriculture training.

Farmer mobilization and training commences with a general farmer meeting – the first introduction to Nuru – followed by base education and a series of specific technical trainings.

While it would seem that farmer trainings should immediately start in on technical topic areas in agriculture, Nuru has found that farmers should first be trained on a set of principles encapsulated in what is termed “base education” training. The two-day course covers life skills and broader concepts for farmer participation in Nuru programs. Nuru Agriculture equips and trains farmers to increase maize yields; Nuru as a whole aims to empower individuals to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

Base education is far from a simple list of procedural rules, but rather through base education farmers come to understand how and why the actions that Nuru promotes will lead them out of extreme poverty. Nuru facilitates farmer empowerment, so that farmers use knowledge and tools to assume an active and responsible role in changing their lives, instead of taking a back seat to poverty alleviation.

Base education achieves its impact of mobilizing and empowering extremely poor farmers through an agenda of five topic areas.

  • Service Leadership: Teaches farmers to become advocates that serve their communities as humble stewards of their natural and human resources.  Nuru uses small farmer groups as functional work units who assign their own chairmen, the aspiring local service-minded leaders.
  • Tools & Knowledge: Informs farmers of the importance of implements and trainings to achieve goals. Specifically, farmers learn the importance of inputs (seed and fertilizer) and agriculture trainings to achieve the goal of increased crop yields.
  • Groups & Hard Work: Encourages farmers to use their neighbors and communities as an interdependent support network that can achieve goals through hard work and effort. Nuru uses groups as a culturally appropriate mechanism because Kenyan society is traditionally collectivist (tuko pamoja – we are together – is a Swahili-language adage popular in Kenya). Groups work together to learn and reinforce agriculture knowledge, labor the land together to plant and weed on time, and repay their loans together.
  • Credit & Loans: Informs farmers that agriculture loans from Nuru are not gifts, but rather are meant to be repaid. Nuru uses both positive reinforcement and analysis of consequences to encourage loan repayment – farmers understand that if they do not repay their loan there will not be funds for loan issue to their fellow community members, to their groups, or even for themselves in future years.
  • Savings: Farmers learn through role plays and group discussion that planning and saving cash for the future is an important part of their household and community livelihood.

Upon successful graduation from base education training, the participants are inscribed as Nuru members and provided access to small agriculture loans and trainings for maize production on one acre. The loan product offers improved maize seed and quality fertilizers in a timely fashion and at an accessible price. The agriculture technical trainings include everything from land preparation and planting, to weeding and fertilizing, to harvesting and grains processing – all of which are central to achieving increased crop yield.

Nuru issues small loans and imparts technical agriculture skills to thousands of farmers yearly, enabling them to excel at maize farming. Base education, and the life skills and programmatic components it teaches, empowers farmers with the knowledge and tools to sustainably lift themselves out of poverty. Together, technical agriculture skills, high quality agriculture inputs, and base education are the first steps towards the Nuru vision of holistic community development. Tuko pamoja! (We are together!)

About Matt Lineal

Chief Program Officer — Matt received his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and a MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, and began his international service career in rural Honduras, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later with The Nature Conservancy. Over several years punctuated by severe challenges for Hondurans, his experiences were eye opening as to how people navigate the complexities of rural life. Matt was drawn to Nuru International in 2011 with the resolve to take on tough challenges and has been humbled and amazed to be part of the transformational impact of local leaders. As Nuru’s Chief Program Officer, Matt continues to promote the agency of rural communities as the foundation of meaningful positive change.

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