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New Tools for African Farmers

Innovating Rural Smallholder Farming

New Tools for African Farmers

Addressing the agricultural Labor Burden in an Era of Feminization and Aging of Rural Communities in East Africa:
A Human-Centered Design Approach to solve Old Problems

Human-Centered Design

A pilot research project looking at human-centred design approaches in addressing the labor burden of ageing smallholder farmers in Kenya by improving the design of farming tools. This process prioritizes farmers’ voices in the design process, recognizing that they are the experts and having local (jua kaliartisans) metal workers manufacture them. The project engaged farmers in gender-segregated focus groups to create sketches of ideal weeding tools.

Research & Prototypes

The researchers sourced for existing tools that resembled the ones drawn by the farmers, and these were given to local jua kali artisans to reverse-engineer, taking into account farmers’ preferences. This resulted in about 20 different prototypes of seed planters, small forked hoes “double jembe”, long-handled weeders, and wheel hoes with various attachments. These tools are particularly useful in the intensive production of vegetables, potatoes, legumes, millets, and maize. The next step was to have farmer groups test the prototypes and evaluate their usability and design over several weeks.

Engaging End-Users

Over 300 farmers and 10 jua kali artisans were involved in the project. ROA administered questionnaires to collect feedback and suggestions for improvements. We have also hosted interactive feedback sessions between metal workers and farmers- which they appreciate as a new way of interacting with their clients. The outcome has been tremendous excitement and buy-in by farmers and metal workers.

Labor, Health and Economic Effects

Moving forward we will measure the labor, health and economic effects of the tools, and collaborate with health experts to enhance their ergonomics and labor-efficiency. The most promising technologies are being selected for manufacturing and commercialization by local metal workers and medium-scale manufacturers. There remains a critical need, however, for improved tools to assist small-scale farmers with other tasks such as land preparation, post-harvest processing and transport, and we plan to address this with a similar user-centric approach.

Long-term Impacts

Potential long-term impacts are reduced labor demands on women farmers, improved efficiency in agricultural production, tools that meet farmers’ technical, social and economic preferences, and are profitably manufactured.

More Projects

Innovating Rural Smallholder Farming

Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA)

Rural Outreach Africa (ROA) partnered with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) to promote Drought TEGO™ maize hybrids, a water efficient maize variety in the four counties of western Kenya: Kakamega, Vihiga, Busia and Bungoma.

Innovating Rural Smallholder Farming

Sustainable Land Management

ROA is a partner in the implementation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)-funded Sustainable Land Management (SLM) project, in Kakamega, Vihiga and Nandi counties of Western Kenya.

Innovating Rural Smallholder Farming

Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM)

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)-funded soil health project dubbed Integrated Soil Fertility (ISFM) was implemented from 2011 to 2014 for phase one, and 2015 to 2018 for phase two.

Nutrition and Food Security

Butere Division Project

The Food Security and Nutrition Improvement intervention in Western Kenya came at a time when the country was reportedly 400,000 MT in deficit on the main staple crop. This resulted from the fact that 4 million people were in dire need of food aid after the country was hit by its worst drought in 37 years and was expected to worsen.

Nutrition & Food Security

African Leafy Vegetables (ALVs) Project

The project mainly concentrated on Corchorus olitorus (Jews-mallow) Crotaloria brevidens (Sun hemp), Gynadropsis gyanandra (black nightshade), Amaranths ssp (amaranths) and Vigna ungiculata (Cowpeas). An impact assessment in the last year of the project revealed that 70% of the project beneficiaries were women, and 12% youth farmers.

Water, Sanitation & Health

Sustainable Water Harvesting & Wetland Utilization in Butere Sub-County

The project was initiated in 1998 with the generous support from the Headley Trust, UK ( one of the Lord Sainsbury’s Trusts) and it envisaged to ensure that: community members from Butere/ Mumias district access clean potable water, better health and sanitation, clean environment, and better protected and utilized riverbeds.

Water, Sanitation & Health

Shikunga HIV/ AIDS Resource Center

ROA in collaboration with Gatsby Foundation-UK set up the Shikunga HIV/AIDS Resource Center in 2003 in Butere sub-county. This was a community-initiated project derived from the need by the local community project management committee to respond to challenges posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Water, Sanitation & Health

Distribution of Sanitary Pads to School Girls Project

In October 2018, ROA distributed sanitary pads to girls in a few schools in Kakamega County as a menstrual hygiene intervention to reduce school absenteeism. ROA staffs Doris, Makeba and Andala presented 99 packets of pads to classes 7 and 8 girls in Emukangu primary school.


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