The Governor of Tharaka Nithi, Muthomi Njuki, has ordered agricultural extension officers to get out of their offices and intensify their activities in assisting farmers.
Addressing farmers at Ntooroni chief’s camp, Njuki reminded the officers that their main role was to assist farmers make their farms more productive.
“We have spoken in one voice, we want to carry out commercial farming, which will not be possible if farmers are not armed with information that will make them produce more to cater for their domestic and commercial needs,” said Njuki.
Agriculture Executive Njue Njagi asked farmers to plant early since there was probability of low rainfall this season.
Further afield, for close to 12 years, Ben Too has been providing agricultural extension services to farmers in Kericho and Taita Taveta counties.
Today, he is one in about 30 agricultural officers employed by the government to provide training, mentorship and linkages to more than 200,000 farmers in Kericho County where he has been working for five years.
Each extension officer in the county is expected to attend to 6,000 odd farmers, a task that Too says is impossible to perform. According to Mr Too, the extension officers are not enough to attend efficiently to all the farmers.
“It is not possible for one extension officer to handle more than 6, 000 farmers. Again, the few extension officers employed by the government are forced to sit on their knowledge in offices as no one is facilitating them to disseminate it to farmers,” Too says.
Grim as it appears, the challenge facing extension officers is not isolated to farming in Kericho ever since the government froze employment of extension officers in 2009.
Research by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology indicates that the average extension officer to farmer ratio is 1:5000.
This is way above the Food and Agriculture Organisation requirement that each extension officer handles 400 farmers. So what seems to be the problem?
The deteriorating extension service system has been blamed on the officers sticking to obsolete skills in knowledge dissemination, their wanting skills and little passion at their job.
Farmers interviewed by Smart Harvest said the role of extension officers is increasingly being taken up by quacks on social media, misleading sales people from manufacturers of farm inputs and NGOs.
In Homa Bay, an NGO has started a project for offering free field extension services to 3,000 cassava farmers.
Self Help Africa has started the project to empower the farmers with knowledge on how to grow the crop.
Through a programme christened Cassava Value Chain, the organisation funded by the European Union has trained 15 extension officers referred to as plant doctors.