Beahrs ELP Blog

Addressing declining crop yields in Kenya through development of soil management technologies: Does more research mean delayed adoption?

by Anne Muriuki, Kenya, ELP 2013


For most countries in Sub Saharan Africa, Kenya included, agriculture will continue to be the bedrock for economic growth for a considerable period of time. The sector provides livelihood to the majority of the population, most of who live in rural areas.

The agriculture sector in Kenya is driven by smallholder farmers who produce 75% of the total agricultural output on small pieces of land, usually less than one hectare. However, farmers face many challenges, including unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change, declining soil fertility arising from continuous cropping of the land without adequate nutrient replenishment while massive soil loss through erosion can lead to land degradation. Rapid population growth on the other hand continues to strain the economic wellbeing of many who depend on agriculture to make a living. Nevertheless, where farmers apply manure and recommended fertilizers, control weeds, pests and diseases in good time and use improved seeds, yields are usually high; but majority do not, so yields are low on average.

In their quest to make a difference, many organizations –both public and private have over the past two decades responded to the plight of the rural poor by donating enormous resources in time, and capital (financial and human) to develop soil management technologies for smallholder farmers. Field experiments show that yields can be increased significantly when these technologies are applied appropriately, but farmers seldom adopt them. Underlying the slow adoption is the disjointed manner in which messages relating to the same enterprise are conveyed; a situation which arises from the ‘silo’ type environment in which the technologies are developed. These silo environments typically usually ignore the complex environment in which farmers work. For example, fertilizer recommendations in a mixed farm setting may not take into consideration the complementary nature of fertilizers and manure as nutrient sources for plants. As a result, the recommendations given may advocate for fertilizer use only, whereas it would be more prudent to give the recommendation based on manure requirement because that is the resource that is most readily available to farmers.

Other factors contributing to non-adoption of fertilizers and other soil management technologies include high cost, inaccessibility and inapplicability of recommendations over wide areas, the latter due to within-farm soil fertility variation. As if not enough, developers of these technologies often duplicate efforts because collaboration with players along the value chain such as between farmers, extension, credit providers, input providers, manufacturers and researchers is wanting.

To correct the situation, there is need for a stakeholder forum which acts as a clearing house for soil management technologies. The forum should comprise of key stakeholders along the value chain. Such a forum would be useful in overseeing the harmonization of existing recommendations into unified ones, the packaging of messages according to target group, for example farmers, scholars, extension, policy makers, private sector etc; and the dissemination of the information to end users in a variety of ways (mass media, blogs, brochures, fliers, policy briefs, manuals, posters, etc). This approach is envisaged to result in greater awareness and collaboration among actors and increased support to farmers. Farmers on the other hand will be exposed to less confusing and more adoptable extension messages. As more farmers adopt the harmonized soil management technologies, crop yields will increase, thereby positively impacting on the country’s economic growth.

So will more soil management research in Kenya result in delayed farmer adoption? I think so! What do you think?


What Foreigners Mean In Kibera

by Stellamaris Mutuli Mwania, Kenya, ELP 2013


Kibera is a division of the Nairobi area. It’s the biggest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest urban slums in Africa. It is one of the most densely populated and polluted places in the planet.

There is no clean running water in Kibera thus leading to outbreak of diarrhea, amoeba, cholera and other related water diseases. People purchase water from the private vendors paying two to ten times what is paid in Nairobi outside the slum.

Growing up seeing foreigners in my community has always felt good because they come with good intentions and ideas. Unlike rich people in my country who focus on developing developed places and neglecting Kibera people because they want nothing to do with slum dwellers, foreigners strive towards developing and improving living conditions in my community.

Although foreigners have good intentions, it is embarrassing to be viewed as someone who needs to be saved. It’s embarrassing to always be saved by other people. I prefer being empowered than being helped all the times.

I like foreigners because they don’t see Kibera people as victims but people with potential others refuse to see. It feels really extremely bad and discouraging to be perceived as a population needing to be saved. What we need is empowerment that will help us improve our community living conditions and environment too. The answer to our problems is not handouts or meager tips but education, social and economical empowerment. Foreigners have brought light to Kibera. They have introduced Human Needs Project, which aims to bring Clean Water supplied from our own bore-hole/well, public baths, and lavatories.

The project will provide the well with energy exclusively from Green sources attached to the well, including bio gas and modified vegetable diesel generator for back-up energy. Well water will be treated with UV technology, ensuring its safety as drinking water. Grey and Black water from the showers and lavatories will be recycled and purified, removing the need for access to sewer systems which do not exist in Kibera. Green technology is used to minimize our impact on the local environment, while generating services, know-how and technical expertise in the local population, with the intent to free up energy to generate personal growth and wealth. The Well will provide free Wi-Fi and a wing of offices for micro-loans officers, information/adult education classes, and The Well Administration. In addition, we will provide the Center with a park/playground/cafe addition, where we will add on another wing of offices for the Market Place where the Well will generate income for itself through sales/rentals of Green Technology home products. These include home solar batteries, Hippo Water rollers, portable clean/safe stoves, and home UV water purifiers. These Services are an attempt to bring real community services to Kibera with a plan to help local populations organize themselves, and enable them to provide services for themselves and a place to turn to for information and personal growth.

The Well/community pod will come with a business plan, an operations manual, training in operations and administration and the legal organization of the business into a Co-op to be community- owned and run. It is our mandate to use as much local community talent, manpower and suppliers as is at all possible. It is our intention to spread our know-how and technical expertise by training members of the community to run and maintain every part of the well and its components.

The organization has set a benchmark and a model for other organizations to replicate. I am so proud of the attempt of Human Needs Project to help Kibera by helping them to help themselves. I believe in this work because when everyone feels important in the society they will be able to express themselves better.


A new course “International Policies and Disaster Coordination” at Ryerson University

Dr. Alexander Belyakov (ELP 2001)

The course CKDM 115 “International Policies and Disaster Coordination” is offered separately or as a part of the Certificate in Disaster and Emergency Management at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada, in the fall 2013 semester. Every Wednesday evening between September, 11 and December, 11, 2013 students will meet in a classroom to learn more about the current trends and solutions.

Disaster management is becoming increasingly complex with each new event. Unfortunately, we see more catastrophes and disasters every year. Politicians stress an importance of resilience for societies. The insurance industry experts already reported a growth of the inflation-adjusted costs of natural catastrophes from about $25bn per year in the 1980’s to an average of $130bn in the last ten years. According to the Rockefeller Foundation, cost of urban disasters in 2011 alone was estimated at over $380bn. Human survival in many cases depends on quick and smooth emergency actions.

Coordination in response has always been difficult, especially in terms of intra-agency, international and civilian-military cooperation. The future leaders in international disaster and emergency management need a complex set of coordination skills that are cross-agency and international in scope. Students will acquire skills and knowledge to become solution providers in international disaster and emergency management and coordination. This course develops the students’ analytical skills required for analyzing systems and practices of managing international disasters and emergencies. It gives an understanding of the different participants´ responses, national and international policies and laws, approaches to risk related to international disasters and emergencies.

Students will learn about examples from different industries, examine case studies of their choice, master effective coordination  strategies for international disasters with accounting for needs of different audiences and cultural differences. This course develops skills for operations on the international level and improves employability with the cross-border projects of the governmental agencies and international organisations. Students will learn how to explore a career with the United Nations.

There will be a unique case study of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Even after 27 years, the public and the academic world are experiencing difficulties with obtaining full access to relevant information. Due to this, everything discovered so far becomes more valuable. A link to the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be made. This course will use a cross-disciplinary approach and is based on theoretical frameworks from international development, international public law and policy, risk management and coordination.

The course will examine a number of cross-cutting themes, including effects of disasters on society; cultural differences in perceiving and responding to disasters; the role of disasters in international policy shaping; standards for international response; issues of liability; obstacles to risk disclosure; the role of public emergency education and the media; the role of donors in international disaster management. The course will explore case studies from different sectors by analyzing the response of national governments, industries, the international community, and donor agencies.

The discussion of proposed case studies will also be focused on coordination strategies, lessons learned from examined disasters and emergencies and how they have influenced national and international policy development. The course includes in-class discussions and group projects with presentations. It will equip students with tools to analyze international response systems and cases of disaster and emergency response coordination. We apply Democratic Classroom approach where students and an instructor are the “co-learners” and share responsibility for management and leadership of the course, co-decide many of the class activities and the course content.

Emergency coordination skills development – including team work, consensus building, collaborative decision-making, emotional intelligence, cultural sensitivity, professional ethics and critical thinking – is also an important component of this course, which allows students to better prepare for future leadership roles in coordination, policy development and implementation dealing with complexities arising during disasters and emergencies. Professionals who complete this course in emergency coordination will have better opportunities for employability in this growing field, more career chances in international organisations and can even start their own consulting firms.

If you interested in learning more about this course, please go to the course web-page at: or e-mail the instructor Dr. Alexander Belyakov at: belyakov[at]

Through the Eyes of an MDP Student

by Seren Pendleton-Knoll, Canada, MDP Class of 2015


Seren_PendletonKnollI was nervous stepping into the Blum Center for Developing Economies to attend a class through the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program. Having worked in the social sector for the past six years I am confident in a wide range of social issues: California county government structure, youth development and empowerment, eating disorders in women and youth, school to prison pipeline, alternatives to incarceration – but Environmental Leadership is a whole other ball park. While personally I strongly adhere to a ‘green lifestyle’ by minimizing my carbon footprint, encouraging my employers to adopt environmental practices in the agency, and having frustrated conversations with my housemate about the importance of composting, I had yet to have any formal education on the issue. Though I was just a guest in the back of the classroom, I was concerned that this would show, loudly and clearly to others in the room – not a first impression I wanted to make at UC Berkeley before I started my Masters.

Fortunately, a room of diverse and joyous people welcomed me, including inviting me to join in on their congo line to Shakira’s “Waka Waka” (obviously my highlight of the ELP experience)*. I had the great fortune to attend three classes, two in “Impact Assessment” and one in “CSR”. The room was made up of over 40 individuals from not only different countries, but different sectors. Questions and discussions with the instructors ranged from how to implement these ideas in profit driven companies, to hands on community groups. It was a relief to know that those in the professional world were just as non-experienced as I was, and faced the same dilemmas in their workplaces.

While I was there as an observer and not a participant, I easily connected the lessons brought up in impact assessment to use in the non-profit work I do, and the same issues that for-profit companies had with CSR were also concerns for the monetarily tight organizations for which I had worked. While so often the topics of CSR and evaluation are done in silos, with each type of organization approaching it differently and without collaboration, it was refreshing to have a room full of people not only hearing another’s perspective on the issue, but assisting each other with their problems. If only the room of cultural knowledge and professional diversity could be repeated on a global scale – perhaps then we could take actual steps towards addressing climate change.

*Note: I have since added “Waka Waka” to my Spotify playlist, and it is now part of my daily listening.



It Will Take More Than Good Laws to Combat Elephant Poaching!

by Iregi Mwenja, Kenya, ELP 2013


Elephant Walk Man, Jim Nyamu recently walked over 2,000 kms to raise awareness on elephant poaching in Kenya. On his way, he managed to mobilize people from all walks of life to support his cause including none other than Kenya’s First Lady! This was happening simultaneously as President Obama signed an Executive Order on combating wildlife trafficking while still on African soil. Back in Kenya, there was more good news as Parliament had recently passed wildlife laws that gave stiffer penalties for wildlife crimes!

But even with all these measures and good intentions, a container with ivory destined for Asia was intercepted in Mombasa a few days ago (the second in just one week)! Moreover, it is estimated that Kenya loses between 2-4 elephants to poaching daily and sadly, there are no indications that the situation will change for the better in the feasible future.

It will take more than good laws and media campaigns to combat elephant poaching in Africa, just as harsh penalties and high profile awareness campaigns have never stopped the illicit drug trade. Unless the main drivers of the trade are addressed, the pace at which our effort will bear fruits will be painstakingly slow. Stopping the market forces of supply and demand will be at the heart if winning this fight. And history can offer good lessons here. Allow me to explain.

In 1979, there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants. By 1989 only 600,000 remained when CITES banned trade in Ivory, 16,000 of which were in Kenya. Twenty years later, the downturn in illegal killing following the 1989 ban was reversed; significant population increase was recorded in Kenya. Elephant population had increased to 35,000!


All sources of data show clearly that the killing of African elephants has accelerated to reach a level in 2012 nearly triple that of the preceding decade. And this is why. According to New York Times, Africa’s elephants are being slaughtered at the highest rate in two decades, largely to satisfy soaring demand among China’s growing middle class.


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Iregi Mwenja at an ivory shop in China Town in San Francisco


On the other hand, Kenya’s soaring human population is estimated to be over 43 million this year. This increasing human population results in rising levels of poverty and unemployment.

A combination of growing demand (from rising middle class in China) and rising poverty (from rising human population) in Africa offer a perfect recipe for a disaster. When there are millions of people with millions of dollars to spend on illegal ivory in China and a poor guy with a dollar to die for in Africa, these magnificent giants are doomed!

Listen to what the renowned elephant researcher Dr Cynthia Moss had to say 2 years ago when Kenya’s President burned 5 tons of ivory to send a strong message to the world that an elephant is worth more live than dead.

Until we address the demand side of the trade, there will always be someone willing to kill for money!


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