How can we bring policy makers, researchers and smallholder farmers together to discuss research and policy issues for climate-smart agriculture? Learn from a learning route organized by CCAFS and partners.

There was excitement in the air; almost comparable to school children during the first day of school. However, no school children were in sight, just a group of people conversing in low tones. These were national decision makers and researchers from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda who had converged at the Grace House Resort in Nairobi.

They were about to embark on a six day journey in Kenya’s semi-arid Counties to learn from ongoing community and local level experiences for climate change adaptation planning and action.

This was during a learning route organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) East Africa, and the Adaptation Learning Programme in Africa (ALP) implemented by CARE International, together with PROCASUR. The event was held from 2to 7 September 2013 and brought together 18 national decision makers and researchers who interacted with farmers and local communities in three Arid and Semi-Arid Counties.

 A learning route is a continuous process of in-the-field training that seeks to broaden and diversify the markets and capacities of rural practices, cultures and technical services, placing special value on the best experiences and knowledge of institutions, associations, communities and rural families.

“Each route is organized thematically around experiences, case studies and best practices on innovative rural and local development”, said PROCASUR’s Diana Puyo.

Blending traditional and modern knowledge works

The Resource Advocacy Program (RAP) in Isiolo was the first stop on the learning route. The visit exposed the learning route participants also known as “routeros” to community based natural resource management structures. RAP is being implemented by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), National Drought Management Authority, Ministry of Planning and the Isiolo County Government.  The project is testing the implementation of a fund to help communities in the north of the country adapt to climate change and other development challenges.

A field visit to the Moliti Shallow Wells exposed the routeros to traditional water resource management structures.

“For a long time we have relied on our traditions and customs to manage our natural resources and this has always worked for us,” said Daoud Tari, the coordinator of the Resource Advocacy Programme. “It is therefore essential for policy makers at local, national and international levels to recognize and acknowledge the roles played by traditional resource management systems in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) and incorporate these into their plans,” he continued.

Policy makers and researchers need to interact with local communities in order to find appropriate solutions to climate change effects. PHOTO: t. MWAURA

Learning through panel discussions

At the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Katumani Center the routeros interacted with farmers, scientists and development partners testing climate change adaptation technologies and practices at the CCAFS climate smart villages in Wote, Makueni. The panel presentation and discussion focused on:

  • Testing the design and communication of downscaled, probabilistic seasonal forecasts; and evaluating their impact on farmers’ management and livelihood outcomes at Wote, eastern Kenya by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as the lead institution.
  • Examining the use of local language radio as a tool for motivating dialogue and enhancing learning on climate change and its impacts on agriculture and food security in local community settings, the case of CCAFS site in Wote, Makueni conducted in collaboration with the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP).
  • Results of dryland cereal - legume diversification trials and policy implication in Wote, Makueni, led by ICRISAT.

The panel also comprised of two farmers (female and male) who were engaged in the cereal – legume trials. They shared their experiences and challenges based on the trials.

Read more about the cereal – legume trials and intercrop innovations

What exactly do the researchers at Kari Katumani Center do?

After the panel discussion, the routeros and their hosts visited the center to see firsthand what the researchers are engaged in.  At the KARI Seed Unit, participants learnt about the processes involved in generating and promoting seeds, information and technologies that respond to clients’ demands and opportunities.

In terms of information transmission, Regina Muthama, the coordinator of the information centre explained how the Infonet Bio vision programme works through climate information workers to deliver information about suitable crop and livestock management strategies and access to markets by farmers through farmer groups.

Learning route participants visit one of the farmer information hubs supported by BIOVISION PROGRAMME. Photo: c. mungai (CCAFS)

At the horticultural and nursery site, Miriam Mutua a researcher at KARI explained how fruit seedlings are produced and certified and demonstrated the mango tree grafting process. The last stop was at the soil and water conservation field demonstration site where Emerita Njiru, a researcher at KARI described some of the technologies being used to enhance food production such as conservation tillage, irrigation and drainage, tied ridges, zai pitting and catchment water harvesting.

Learning through exhibitions and plays

The Adaptation Learning Programme (ALP) being implemented by Care Kenya is supporting communities and local governments to access climate information through multi-stakeholder dialogue including the participation of meteorological services, as part of the community based adaptation (CBA) approach.

Through a play, the community of Balich in Garissa showed the routeros how the Participatory Scenario planning event is implemented. During the event, traditional and scientific weather forecasters share their predictions for the season.

The group comprising of religious leaders, farmers, government extension use the shared climate forecasts and knowledge to prepare advisories for each sector and livelihood group affected. The advisories are then broadcasted to the public at large through religious leaders and chiefs, the ministry of agriculture extension services and the civil society organisations information distribution systems.

The farmers from Kwa Mboo village, one of the seven villages at the CCAFS site in Wote also used a short play to share their experiences. The play showed the process the farmers underwent in order to adopt sorghum as a food and income generating crop.  The play also demonstrated improved gender relations and women empowerment as well as how local knowledge was integrated into the research process.

Read more: Can videos, songs and drama be used to promote agricultural innovations?

Practical application through Innovation Plans

 “Policy makers need to visit community level projects in order to learn first-hand what farmers are doing to cope with climate change impacts,” said Wangari Kirumba a senior environment planner with the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). She planned to use the knowledge gained to review documents aimed at developing NEMA’s County Environmental Action Plans.


Throughout the event, participants developed innovation plans which reinforced practical application of the learning acquired to their own reality and the activities of their associations or organizations. The participants from Kenya focused on improving livelihoods through appropriate grazing management and cropping systems. While the Ugandan’s focused on enhancing adaptation initiatives for climate change among farmers in Hoima and Rakai districts.

The participants from Tanzania sought to strengthen Community Based Organisations (CBOs) for adaptation learning on climate change. It is anticipated that the routeros will integrate the innovation plans into their work programs with  support from CARE Kenya and CCAFS East Africa

View Photos from the Learning Route

Additional Reading:

Summary of Baseline Household Survey Results: Makueni, Kenya

Village Baseline Study: Site Analysis Report for Makueni – Wote, Kenya (KE0202)

Catherine Mungai is a Program Specialist with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), East Africa.