Although the Nuru Kenya Agriculture Program is busy wrapping up with the 2012 maize harvest & collecting loan payments from current Nuru farmers, the past few weeks have also been filled with anticipation of the year to come. This September, Nuru Kenya Agriculture is beginning to sign-up farmers in seven new sublocations (the geographical unit Nuru Kenya uses for scaling) through an event called base education. Each week as Nuru Kenya staff arrives to a new sublocation, they are greeted by the faces of new farmers & take in the unfamiliar surroundings. This causes the excitement they feel about the upcoming season to grow just a little more each week.

Base education is an important milestone in the beginning of a new farming season because it is the new farmers’ introduction to all things Nuru. The staff running the events goes into each event with excitement (and apprehension!) about how many farmers in a new area will want to join Nuru. Agriculture staff usually shows up early and counts farmers as they trickle in from all directions while doing final rehearsals of the upcoming trainings. Some farmers know very little of Nuru. Some have attended earlier, shorter informational meetings. Others have seen Nuru working with their neighbors & friends in different areas and have been waiting for the day when they too can become a Nuru farmer.

The two-day training event consists of four different training topics. The trainings were revamped this year to be more understandable, concise and engaging. The topics include Intro to Nuru, Intro to Inputs, Loans & Credit, and Group Work, Hard Work & Servant Leadership. While there are many important points that farmers need to take away from the trainings, just as critical are activities that keep the event fun, engaging and thought provoking.

For example, after introducing all of Nuru’s programs, the Intro to Nuru training challenges farmers to envision and describe a better life for themselves. Some of those visions are shared with the group and then farmers and staff discuss how they can achieve these visions working together.

The Intro to Inputs training is important because while many of Nuru’s new farmers have been growing maize for years, some have never been taught how to properly use inputs such as fertilizer (or have never had access to such inputs!). The Intro to Inputs training teaches farmers about inputs & their proper use.  Nuru Kenya staff use examples of high quality and poor quality maize to demonstrate how much of a difference the proper use of high quality inputs can mean to maize yields and quality.

The Loans & Credit training teaches farmers that a loan is not a gift, but must be paid back. To drive home the concepts of loans, credit and guarantors, Nuru Kenya staff uses interactive role-plays that show the consequences of not paying back a loan. Using drama to make a point ensures that the farmers stay engaged and gives them examples of how to apply the new concepts to real life. Nuru Kenya staff also love getting creative, having fun and acting out the different scenarios!

Conveying information through the interactive trainings comprises a lot of the event. After they conclude, farmers form their groups and sign-up for a loan using new member and group forms. Signing up doesn’t seem like a very exciting part of the event, but with hundreds of farmers rushing to form groups and fill forms in churches, schools and empty fields, it can be quite an interesting (and sometimes chaotic!) part of the event. After the forms have been completed, Nuru Kenya staff take a deep breath, congratulate each other on a job well done and head back to the office to prepare to do it all again the next day.

Base education is definitely one of the most challenging and exciting events that the Nuru Agriculture program holds for farmers. Making the event a success requires hard work and dedication from the Nuru Kenya Agriculture team. Yet, as we get to know our new farmers and begin to see the increase in people we will be able to help over the coming year, the Nuru Kenya team and I know that all the planning and hard work will pay off over the next year. We can see that Nuru Kenya’s impact is starting to reach far beyond just individuals or households; with each successfully completed base education event, Nuru Kenya comes just a little closer to improving the community of Kuria West as a whole.