Daniel Magondu from Kenya – a strong advocate for farmers’ interests
If I hadn’t been a seasoned long-distance driver from a country with more potholes than roads, I wouldn’t have reached the Bt cotton farmers in Kenya that Daniel Magondu wanted me to meet.
The journey took me nearly 70 kilometers inland, which on a murram [gravel] the road looks like 200 km. I was starting to feel like a hero until Magondu mentioned that he often visits farmers in this area on a motorbike and previously used a bicycle.
Magondu graduated from the Farmer Training Course hosted by the Alliance for Science and Global Farmer Network in Rock City, Illinois in 2018. One of the goals of these trainings is to empower farmers to make hear their voice and that of other farmers. changes in the agricultural sector that they want in their country.
Although Magondu did just that when he returned to Kenya after the training, it was not the start of his advocacy work.
Agriculture was a natural choice for Magondu, whose father also grew cotton, among other crops. Magondu, 67, father of five, owns three acres of land on which he practices polyculture. In 2017, he attended a workshop hosted by ISAAA, listening to Kenyan scientists talk about their biotechnology research, some of which had stalled in labs because the government had banned genetically modified (GM) crops.
“I asked myself and other farmers present, why should we continue to share our sweat with pests and diseases, when there are crops that are resistant to them and can provide a solution? This question was the origin of the birth of SOBIFAK – Society for Biotech Agriculture of Kenya – which advocates for the integration of new agricultural tools, including GM crops, into Kenya’s agricultural system. Magondu knows that these new tools can help increase production and protect farmers’ yields from pests and diseases.
Shortly after this ISAAA workshop and SOBIFAK training, Magondu attended Alliance training in Illinois. “I learned grassroots mobilization and leadership. On my return, I proposed to make SOBIFAK grow. Following the snowflake pattern, we created nodes. Each node is led by a farmer who is responsible for 20-30 farmers. If a node gets too big, we split it and another node with a new leader is created,” he explained. Today, SOBIFAK covers 24 cotton producing counties in Kenya.
Magondu and his initial team of 20 farmers also wrote a petition protesting the ban on GM products and delivered it to Vice President William Ruto.
In the petition, “we advocated for three things: to allow our national researchers to continue the testing and commercialization of Bt corn and other GM crops; lifting the import ban on genetically modified products; and facilitate the commercialization of Bt cotton,” said Magondu.
The 20 farmers signed the petition and affixed their photo. Magondu then overcame bureaucratic hurdles to get the petition to Kenya’s agriculture minister, who delivered it to the vice president. In 2020, Kenya officially allowed the commercialization of Bt cotton and farmers like Magondu are now in their second harvest.
Magondu’s brilliant advocacy strategy is based on the snowflake model and reaches those who really need biotech solutions.
“I focus on farmers in arid lands where crops like maize and rice don’t grow well,” he said, which explains why I had to travel almost 100 km inside the land, past dry streams, sun-scorched cornfields and miserable cows to reach the farmers of Magondu. “I tell them about Bt cotton and its benefits, such as pest resistance and drought tolerance.”
Almost every cotton farmer spoken to in Kirinyaga County attributes their adoption of Bt cotton to Magondu’s relentless encouragement and dissemination of information. His long journeys along the muddy or dusty murram road, depending on the season, clearly paid off. As he said in conclusion: “You can’t direct yourself. It is the farmers in these remote areas who attest to the success of my grassroots mobilization, my commitment to improving yields and incomes and incorporating GM tools into our agricultural system.