Benchmarking tours: Think of the farmer, not hefty allowances

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Posted by Joseph Macharia 1 week ago

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There is this laughable story told of Members of County Assembly (MCAs) who traveled to Rwanda to learn about Dairy Farming. The Rwandese were surprised not because whatever they were implementing came from Kenya, but, that the leaders were not aware that Kenya is a dairy powerhouse in East and Central Africa. In fact, the dairy animals kept by the farmers in Rwanda were imported from farmers in Githunguri, Kiambu of Kenya. What an irony!

It was not immediately clear from which County the MCAs came from, still, the incident ignited debate on the necessity and value of the high number of foreign excursions by politicians and bureaucrats ostensibly to learn how things are done in these countries and probably borrow a leaf.

It would cost the taxpayer less were the said MCAs to visit dairy farmers in Githunguri. However, it won’t have been as exciting and financially rewarding for the joyriders. There are many examples of such trips with bloated entourages, many not related in any way to the subject matter or purpose of the tours. Their names are slotted into the travel lists because of their connections or simply a case of being at the right place at the right time. The motivating factor being the hefty allowances.

This is not to say that the tours are same across the board. Where good preparation is made, clear focus on issues to be interrogated, well done documentation and reporting, it is possible to derive value from the tours.

As a guide, seek to;

  • Understand local needs
  • Borrow from the best
  • Pick the right people, include technical persons, key decision makers, implementers and farmers.
  • Reduce the numbers of those traveling to cut costs
  • Travel only after exhausting local expertise and experiences
  • Share findings and results
  • Make a plan of implementation at policy, resource allocation and farmer levels.

 

If it doesn’t benefit the farmer, then it is not worth it.

 

What can farmers do?

Public participation is a constitutional requirement in government planning and budgeting process. Be on the look-out for dates, especially at the County level, take part and ask questions. Demand for reports and benefits from past tours. This will make those in positions of responsibility think twice the next time they plan for such visits. They will consult the beneficiaries and may even include one or two in the tours.

Farmer-to-farmer

Despite the negative connotation given to the term ‘benchmarking’ by the wasteful trips made by politicians and bureaucrats at different levels of government, benchmarking is a good approach to grow the farming enterprise by comparing with others who are doing better. And, Kenyan farmers do not have to travel to Rwanda to learn dairy farming when they have rich experiences in their backyard.

Farmers have been visiting each other to exchange experiences and use shared learnings to tackle the challenges they face in their farms. Farmers can take advantage of this established tradition to benchmark, and integrate it into existing farming processes.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), benchmarking is a process used to ‘identify, learn from and adapt better practices from other farmers to help improve farm performance.’ As tool for farm improvement, it is a thoughtful exercise and not a joyride. It is an investment of time, money, and physical and mental resources.

Benchmarking requires comparing like with like. Therefore, farm visits afford more value for those that share similar farming enterprises or engage in the same value chains. It wouldn’t make sense for an onion farmer to visit a poultry farmer unless there is a practice or factor that cuts across the two value chains.

Keep in mind that the goal of benchmarking is improvement; not only the day-to-day activities of the farm but the overall output of these activities and a future outlook that combines all these activities with the aim of making money. It is not improvement for the sake of it. It is improvement that adds to the bottom-line, improvement that brings profit and guarantees survival of the business.

Therefore, be on the lookout for best practices and how these relate to improved performance.

Preparation

Examine your farm and look for areas for improvement. To do this, take a note book and break down your farming enterprise into different components. These include; infrastructure, inputs, management (daily activities and technical aspects), marketing and linkages. Include associated costs to be compared with other farms. If another farmer is producing at a lower cost, then find out the reason for your higher costs. Undertaking this activity aids enables the farmer to understand the nitty-gritties of the farming enterprise, and with time identify the areas that need adjustments.

Which farm?

Since you are looking for best practices, identification of the farm to visit is the next important step. As a rule, select a farm that is similar in size to majority of farmers making the visit, that operates in similar agro-ecological environment, and performing better. This makes borrowing and adaptation of practices much easier, and the adjustments that farmers have to make are gradual – small and incremental. To reduce on transport and time costs, look for the nearest-best farm. If you look carefully, you will find a not-well-known farm, most likely within your county or in the neighbouring county, that suit the needs of your group.

What data?

Data provides insights on problems of production, management practices and other factors that affect productivity, cost of production and profitability. These insights and discoveries can be used to improve farm performance. During the visit, observe, ask questions and take notes, especially on technical procedures. Ask what was the case before and now, about what works and doesn’t work and how to do specific things. You will be surprised at the lessons the host farmer has gathered over time. Remember, the basis of the data gathered is to compare the performance of the two farms and to pick out the reasons for differences.

Implementation plan

Without a clear plan, the improvements you seek for your farm will remain as plain wishes with no tangible effort to implement them. Take time and develop a plan to introduce changes to your farm based on what was learnt.

Before, during and after the visit, take note of the areas of your farm that need improvement and the specific actionable adjustments to be made. List them as activities, then categorize them into short term, medium term and long term. Start with the easy ones that do not need much financial input. Do them, and watch the result. This will encourage you to take on the bigger adjustments.

Keep at it, note the changes and you will have a story to tell.