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Facilitating learning processes in agricultural extension: Lessons from western Kenya
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Declining soil fertility is a major problem in the highlands of western Kenya, but most farmers cannot afford to buy inputs. Any attempts to improve levels of soil fertility need to take account of the diversity and complexity of farming in western Kenya, where farmers grow a wide variety of crops on small, scattered pieces of land. As they cultivate several types of soil with a number of different qualities, soil fertility technologies for an "average" farmer or "average" field are unlikely to be of much use. A far more productive approach is to involve farmers in developing and fine-tuning the best combinations of soil fertility management practices, combining local knowledge with research-based insights to make the most effective use of locally available resources. Generally known as Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM), this approach can be achieved by stimulating joint learning and experimentation among farmers, supported by research and extension work. In western Kenya, collaborative learning has become popular as part of the Participatory Learning and Action Research approach (PLAR).