Building Knowledge Networks for Locally Led Climate Adaptation: Insights from Adaptation Pioneer Field Days in Bomet and Nandi Counties, Kenya

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‘We started to plant two varieties of sorghum to feed ourselves and our cattle. Sorghum makes silage and provides us with a healthy base for uji,’ said Emily Yebei  while presenting her diverse kitchen garden plants to female farmers at the family’s farmer field day event held in November 2023. Emily, her husband Tomas and their two adult sons run a farm in Bomet County, Kenya. Like many farmers in the region, they raise livestock and grow crops to meet their family’s nutritional and financial needs. What sets their farm apart is the array of innovations they have adopted to ensure its resilience in the face of the impacts of climate change. Alongside planting sorghum and other diverse fodder and crop varieties, the family has a biogas digester to convert manure into energy, silage to ensure cattle have access to feed throughout the year and a rainwater storage system to mitigate the effects of drought.  

The family showcased these innovations at a farmer field day event held on their farm, in partnership with the CGIAR Research on Livestock and Climate’s Pioneer-Positive Deviance (P-PD) team. The P-PD team collaborates with farmers to understand why some are more successful than others in their adaptation efforts and supports farmer-to-farmer scaling together with local partners. 

‘What makes pioneers stand out is that they are already adapting to climate change, by their own initiative, and implementing what works best for them. While they have the same circumstances as their neighbors, they still manage this better- they are not the richest farmers, but still manage to support their families better than most others through learning and adopting their own innovations. Adaptation pioneers are the practical peer reviewers that agricultural research for development needs to better support farmers in adapting to climate change,’ – Birgit Habermann, project lead for the P-PD for Climate Change Technologies in Practice, Livestock and Climate Initiative.  

Additionally, the P-PD team supported five other adaptation pioneers located in Bomet and Nandi Counties, Kenya to host farmer field day events from September to November 2023. Among them, five pioneer households hosted the third iteration of farmer field days since the research’s inception. These events offered neighboring farmers a comprehensive tour of adaptation pioneers’ farms, highlighting innovative practices. Initiated in 2020 under the Programme for Climate Smart Livestock (PCSL), the farmer field days are proving to be powerful tools for knowledge-sharing and learning.  

The central purpose of the field days is to share the knowledge of adaptation pioneers with other farmers who are facing similar climate-related challenges. During the farmer field days, adaptation pioneer households invite participants from their networks and guide them around their farm, briefing them on practices, including how to grow diverse crops in a garden, adaptive animal breeding, animal feed diversification and feed conservation methods and general dairy management skills. Following the tour, participants interacted with various partners including banks and extension officers and they participated in an evaluation exercise to gauge their satisfaction with the event.

Tomas Yebei explains the value of locally adapted cattle breeds. Photo by M.Spinelli/ ILRI.
Tomas Yebei explains the value of locally adapted cattle breeds. Photo by M.Spinelli/ ILRI.
Adaptation pioneers exemplify innovation in climate-resilient farming  

On their farm in rural Nandi County, Kenya, Pius Leley and Elzeba Lelei exemplify innovative strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change, particularly the prolonged, harsher droughts prevalent in the county. The field day was co-hosted with the adaptation pioneer household of Cornelius and Monica Kosgei who demonstrated how the household uses biogas for fuel and prioritizes indigenous plant breeds, known for greater resistance to drought compared to exotic and imported plant species.

Philip Kibet and his wife Ruth Simatwo, an adaptation pioneer household, who also hosted a farmer field day during this time, has adapted to climate change by producing silage from Napier grass with added molasses. During droughts, he feeds the silage to his cows, ensuring their health and weight even in water-scarce times. To avoid ants from ruining the silage, Philip demonstrated how adding salt is an easy preventative strategy.

 ‘The dairy feeding innovations have helped adaptation pioneers to increase productivity, economic efficiency and effectiveness of dairy farming,’ – Leah Gichuki, P-PD team Research Officer. 

Pius Leley collects Napier grass samples for teaching during the field day. Photo by F.Tramsen/ ILRI.
Pius Leley collects Napier grass samples for teaching during the field day. Photo by F.Tramsen/ ILRI.

Fostering Socially Inclusive Scaling 

Adaptation pioneers are not just men, they are households of men and women, married or not, as well as youth household members. All hold important roles in the daily activities of running the farm, and the farmer field days are no exception. The whole adaptation pioneer household is involved in planning and implementing of field days. The wives and adult children in the adaptation pioneer households take the lead in facilitating activities like kitchen garden management, chicken rearing, food diversification and feeding of dairy cows, and they present to both female and male groups. 

‘Gender dynamics within households shape and are shaped by innovation. In Kenya, men typically own cows, but women handle daily tasks like feeding and milking. Cultural norms limit women’s participation in learning new practices. Yet, household-centered approaches, such as women inviting their own networks to farmer field days, can broaden participation for more inclusive scaling of innovative dairy practices.’ – Tanaya DuttaGupta, Social Differentiation and Climate Change Post-Doctoral Fellow   

During the event day, women led activities. Most notably they were leading the group of women participants through the farm tours. To encourage an open and comfortable environment, male and female participants were separated into different groups to allow female participants to ask questions and interact with presenters.  By learning from a fellow woman in all-female groups, the women participants can ask gender-specific questions that may have been uncomfortable to discuss in mixed-gender groups. For example, women were able to ask questions about sensitive topics, such as the impact of menstruation on farming, which is sometimes incorrectly understood as being harmful to livestock production. Additionally, at the joint field day between Pius Leley and Cornelius Kosgei, there was a notable increase in women asking questions, compared to when they were in mixed-gender groups.  

Women learning about the benefits of growing diverse vegetables in their kitchen gardens from pioneer farmer Elzeba Lelei. Photo by F.Tramsen/ ILRI.
Women learning about the benefits of growing diverse vegetables in their kitchen gardens from pioneer farmer Elzeba Lelei. Photo by F.Tramsen/ ILRI.

Nurturing Community Resilience 

The farmer field day had a dual purpose: to empower farmers with knowledge of innovative agricultural practices, and to create a space for community members to collaborate and engage. Beyond the farm tour and formal conversations, participants interacted with each other during lunch and informally throughout the day. There were also tangible outcomes from the field days, such as seed-sharing and cutting of drought-tolerant forages. Participants took plant cuttings home to grow.

In addition to the adaptation pioneer households and the P-PD team, other stakeholders in the community participated to showcase the resources available to farmers. Representatives from a local biogas company (Biosistema), the county governments of Nandi and Bomet, and the Equity Bank Foundation were present to offer guidance on setting up biogas systems, provide information on government resources and access to bank services and trainings.  

Transforming farms into learning spaces during farmer field days allows adaptation pioneers and partners to share what works for them. Participants left with a wealth of knowledge, having witnessed successful implementations of adaptation practices by adaptation pioneers – and within their own community. The success of the farmer field days lies in their ability to bridge gaps and create knowledge networks, bringing together men, women and youth. These events contribute to building a stronger and more interconnected community and foster a sense of learning and growth among farmers.  

Dennis Yebei’s son leads field day activity on optimal feeds and forages for livestock productivity. Photo by M.Spinelli/ ILRI.
Dennis Yebei’s son leads field day activity on optimal feeds and forages for livestock productivity. Photo by M.Spinelli/ ILRI.

‘Farmer-led field days provide an avenue for farmers to learn what works in their communities from their peers (the adaptation pioneers) and see practical and effective local adaptation solutions.’ – Emmaculate Kiptoo, P-PD Team Research Associate.    

Looking ahead, the team plans to conduct more field days, have on-demand farmer training led by the adaptation pioneer community and produce a set of adaptation practices to distribute to farmers. These initiatives aim to further enable farmers to effectively adapt to climate challenges while strengthening community bonds and knowledge exchange.  

Header image: Emily Yebei leads field day activity on growing a diversified range of crops using raised beds. Photo by M.Spinelli/ ILRI. 

Story by Madison Spinelli and Fenja Tramsen. 

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