Written by Gloriana Ndibalema and Jonathan Odhong’
‘I didn’t know how important measurements and data collection are in farming. But now, I do. And I now have a better idea of how much of my farmland I need to use for forage cultivation so I can get more feed for my livestock,’ remarks Gabriel Sikay, a 53-year-old farmer from Sabilo village in Tanzania, at the end of an on-field training for farmers and extension officers on data collection and soil water management.
Seventeen other farmers like Sikay and five extension agents took part in the training, held on 20 April 2015, by Africa RISING scientists from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Tanzania’s Babati District, as part of activities to integrate improved forages into smallholder crop-livestock systems through capacity building for farmers and extension officers.
For Sikay and his fellow farmers, this training provided the best opportunity they have ever had to understand why researchers collect data from their farms, how they do it and most importantly; how the data collected is used to analyse yields as well as costs and benefits of new farming technologies before they are offered to farmers.
‘We wanted to help farmers understand what we, as scientists, do in the demonstration plots, and how it helps us get information that will help the farmers make better decisions about the farming methods they use.’ said Gregory Sikumba, one of the scientists who organized the training.
More often than not, and to their own detriment, agricultural research projects work with farmers and extension officers as passive participants in the research process. They are mostly only involved in certain parts of research like planting (for farmers) – an approach which has been proven to give poor results. Changing tack has therefore become a necessity, taking the road taken by a few.
‘We set up the training on field because we are changing the theory of knowledge transfer used within the Africa RISING projects towards a more practical approach which ensures trainees understand and remember more,’ adds Sikumba.
For extension officers who took part in the training, a sense of stronger partnership between them, the researchers and the farmers has been forged thank to this ‘unique’ training approach.
‘The farmers that received the training now see they have a big part to play in the process of collecting data from their plots and it is not just the work of extension officers and researchers to do this,’ said Benard Sambali, an extension officer who attended the training. ‘Many of them believed that no one else could do what scientists do but trainings like this one are changing their views and also enhancing the skills of extension officers who seldom get chances for short courses or trainings.’
Farmers and extension staff who took part in the training were from six Africa RISING project sites in Babati District including Seloto, Sabilo, Long, Shauri Moyo, Hallu and Matufa villages.
Photos from the on farm training can be viewed here