Local farmer innovation an entry point for farmer-led joint research

by Vincent Mariadho – Prolinnova Kenya Coordinator

56-year-old smallholder farmer Rebecca Auma Dero is the brains behind the innovative sack-garden irrigation kit.

Identified during the now concluded Proli-FaNS (Promoting local innovation in Food and Nutrition Security) project run in Kenya by Prolinnova Kenya, Rebecca’s innovation has been documented and used as a starting point for farmer- led joint experimentation.

Rebecca’s Innovation

Primarily for domestic consumption, Rebecca grew indigenous vegetables typical of this area of Kenya such as black nightshade, spider plant, kales and tomatoes.

Minimal space and inadequate, unreliable rainfall led Rebecca to begin seeking alternative solutions when she came up with an innovation – a modification of an introduced technology – and dubbed it the “sack-garden irrigation kit.”

Initially, her sack garden had a central column made of stone and pebbles and, once water was poured into this column, it was supposed to spread out through the sack. However, this did not work well. She modified the technology by inserting a perforated polythene tube connected to a 20-litre water container, which served as the water reservoir. The perforations then made it possible to provide drip irrigation to each plant in the sack garden and the newly modified sack garden irrigation kit was formed.

Rebecca Dero (left) explaining her sack-garden-irrigation innovation to visitors to her farm (Photo: Chesha Wettasinha)

With this innovation, Rebecca has managed to improve her vegetable production and can sometimes even sell the surplus produce to earn some cash income.

Further, she has taught women in several households how to use this improved sack garden as a way to grow more vegetables and prevent malnutrition in her community and the neighborhood. She shows how to apply the principles of agroecology under the extremely confined conditions of very small-scale farmers in highly populated areas in the tropics.

“My family and I have had good experience with my innovation”, Rebecca said. “I spend very little time to manage and weed the garden; at times, I need only to take out some weeds by hand.” She also said that the innovation saves her time, which she can then spend on other household chores.

Moreover, she points out that her innovation is drought tolerant, environmentally friendly and cost effective. “I would like it if many people could use this innovation in their daily lives,” says Rebecca. “My family and I get fresh vegetables throughout the year, which boost our nutrition by giving us the necessary minerals and vitamins.” She encourages people to consider her innovation and to try it out for themselves.

Initiatives to promote local innovation in food and nutrition security

Rebecca’s innovation was identified by the now concluded Proli-FaNS project, which ran from 2016 to 2019. The project has now been followed by the Scaling Up Local Capacity to Innovate for Food and Nutrition Security (SULCI-FaNS) project and has benefitted more than 500 farmers directly in Kenya. SULCI-FaNS also operates in three other African countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Ghana.

SULCI-FaNS is leveraging on the gains made by Proli-FaNS to institutionalize the Local Innovation/Participatory Innovation Development (LI/PID) approach within Agricultural Research and Development (ARD) institutions by the

  • Identification of local innovations, with special attention to women innovators, which address challenges associated with food and nutrition insecurity, promoting resource use efficiency, climate adaptation and enhancing community livelihoods. 
  • Undertaking farmer-led joint research or PID on selected local innovations. Such research is based on the farmers’ own desires, aspirations and questions, designed together with farmers, and conducted by farmers with ARD stakeholders in a supportive role.  
  • Documenting all identified local innovations and PID cases, describing the process and their outcomes in the form of posters, banners, innovation catalogues, case studies, video clips etc. 
  • Organizing and holding farmer innovation days/fairs to give recognition to local innovators, to facilitate the dissemination of information about the approach and to lobby for the adoption of the LI/PID approach among ARD stakeholders. These events also create a platform for peer-learning among innovators and community members and for sharing their experiences with a wider public.  
  • Disseminating the information on the local innovations and the innovators, benefits of the innovations and outcomes of the PID cases – and on farmer innovativeness in general. This is done through participating in shows and fairs, sharing through social media and radio etc. 
  • Building the capacity of farmers and ARD stakeholders in the LI/PID approach through training and mentoring. Strengthening the innovative capacity of smallholder farmers, especially women to enable them to continue with their local innovation process. Process in the sense that innovations themselves do not necessarily need to be sustained, as a specific innovation may no longer be appropriate after some years. What needs to be sustained is the innovativeness of farmers, ideally in collaboration with other knowledge holders. 

“Local Innovation/Participatory Innovation Development, an approach that uses farmers’ ingenuity and creativity as an entry point for farmer-led joint research, is gaining momentum within our national and county ARD landscape. As Prolinnova Kenya, we are very happy about this trend. This is an approach that empowers and recognizes farmers as co-creators of knowledge but not as mere recipients. We would never tire from imploring upon actors in the food and nutrition security sector to adopt and promote this approach.” Vincent Mariadho (Prolinnova Kenya Coordinator).

For more information on this work, please visit www.prolinnova.net/kenya


This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for Febuary is ‘Innovations in Agriculture’.

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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