My Intro to Kuria: Utilizing Local Knowledge to Create Poverty Alleviation Solutions

When I first accepted the Agriculture Fellow position with Nuru, I was a bit nervous to take over the reigns of such a large and impactful program. I grew more and more confident during transition as I began acquiring knowledge from the outgoing program manager, Matt Lineal, yet I could tell that I would have my plate full as the new program manager of the Nuru agriculture program. From loan issue and repayment to farmer training to scaling operations, the multitude of detail involved at every step of Nuru Ag can be overwhelming. Luckily, I quickly realized that along with my own education and experience, I had a wealth of resources at my fingertips in the form of local staff and their vast knowledge.

I first became aware of the importance of incorporating local knowledge into poverty alleviation efforts through my graduate research. For my thesis, I spent three months in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya studying the interaction between drought coping mechanisms, poverty dynamics and adaptive capacity to climate change. While conducting the fieldwork, it emerged repeatedly that farmers’ coping abilities were both aided and constrained by conditions and processes that an outsider might easily overlook. My thesis was largely shaped by this experience, as one of the major arguments was that to be successful, poverty alleviation efforts must consider local knowledge, priorities and value systems.

So far, my experience with Nuru has strongly reinforced this theory. In just six weeks, the Nuru agriculture staff has taught me a myriad of lessons that are paramount to the agriculture program’s success. For example, there exists the simple fact that to be able to effectively and efficiently run a program that is spread among thousands of farmers and hundreds of kilometers one must be well acquainted with the geography of an area. This is important not only to locate farmers and plan meetings; but also to distribute literally tons of fertilizer and seed while overcoming numerous accessibility challenges that change with the season. The Nuru agriculture staff has played a crucial role by aiding my study of Kuria West’s divisions, sub-locations, villages, roads and everything in between. In addition to geography, the staff has a nuanced understanding of community dynamics, hierarchies and interpersonal relationships among farmers. They understand the underlying reasons for any social or community problems that might affect the agriculture program’s work and know the proper channels to follow for resolving them. Yet, the staff’s understanding of the community goes even deeper as the Nuru Agriculture staff are great at thinking up innovative ways to communicate with farmers, have helpful insight on how farmers will feel about any programmatic changes we might make and come up with countless ideas about how we might better serve our farmers. Last but not least, our people in the field, from field officers up to field directors, contain a wealth of technical knowledge about invasive weeds, soil composition, weather patterns and seed varieties, just to name a few. The list could go on and on, but to summarize, I have been truly impressed by the staff I am working alongside and their incredible insight into all things Nuru agriculture. One final lesson from the last six weeks is that the staff are well equipped to do their jobs because they are Kenyan farmers.

Nuru empowers Kurians by involving them along every step of the development process, but their emphasis on the importance of local knowledge doesn’t end there. When I was looking for a job, part of what attracted me to Nuru was their conception of poverty alleviation as an increase in meaningful choices people may make to improve their lives. That is, people living in poverty need to become decision-makers in their own lives and need fewer constraints on the choices they can make. They do not to be told to follow some ready-made poverty solution that was developed without their input. The Nuru agriculture program increases Kurian farmer’s choices by helping them increase what is often their primary source of livelihood – their maize yield. Farmers can then choose how to best use this increase in household food supply and income.

After witnessing the vast wealth of knowledge and expertise that exists among the Nuru agriculture staff, I feel confident that my team and I will have a successful year ahead (albeit one filled with a lot more learning on my part!). Furthermore, I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to continue co-creating poverty alleviation measures that will help increase the freedoms Kurian farmers are able to enjoy.

 Amy Sherwood is pleased to join the Nuru Kenya team as the new Agriculture Fellow/Program Manager. Originally from Nebraska, Amy has spent much of the last few years researching and working in East Africa. She holds a BS in biology from Doane College and an MA in International Studies and Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Wyoming. Prior to joining Nuru, Amy worked for the Jane Goodall Institute – Tanzania as a project and volunteer coordinator for their Roots & Shoots program in Dar es Salaam. She values locally appropriate, holistic approaches to poverty alleviation and is honored to have the opportunity to support the work of an organization that shares her vision.