PARTRIDES workshop in Kapsabet, Kenya (June 2016)
The Participatory Trials Design Workshop (PARTRIDES) took place in Kapsabet, Nandi county, Kenya on 6-10 June 2016. The workshop was led by Dr Edmundo Barrios from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).
The workshop started with an activity designed to get to know the participants and build the knowledge-sharing space. Each participant wrote down on one side of a piece of paper a physical description of himself/herself (without indicating any names), and on the other side of the paper they explained their expectations of the workshop. The participants introduced the paper into a balloon, which was then inflated and tied up. Next, one participant chose a balloon at random, made it explode and read out loud the description noted on the paper. The rest of the participants had to guess who wrote the description. After being identified, this person read out his/her expectations of the workshop. This exercise was repeated for all participants who agreed that this was a fun way to introduce each other.
The workshop participants were carefully selected by Dr Edmundo Barrios in order to involve a group of representative stakeholders that ranged from local farmers and village chief through NGO and agricultural extension staff to government researchers, PhD students and academics. By engaging with this broad and representative group of stakeholders and experts, the participatory approach adopted by Edmundo aims at enhancing the relevance, credibility and legitimacy of the information compiled during the workshop and of the activities to undertake during the B4SS project. Dr Richard Coe from ICRAF explained the research principles of participatory experimental design, whereas Prof Johannes Lehmann from Cornell University helped participants to understand the most recent findings and gaps in biochar research.
The B4SS project in Kenya aims at introducing biochar technologies to farmers situated around three water catchment areas that have been converted from forest to cropland 12, 17 and 57 years before present. However, since the detailed pre-interevention data on water, nutrient and carbon fluxes, yield effects, and greenhouse gas emissions were collected 7 years ago, the three study catchments are presented as if they had been converted from forest to agriculture 5, 10 and 50 years ago. Biochar will be applied to one set of these three catchments, while a second set of the three catchments will be kept as a control (paired catchment approach). The B4SS project in Kenya is the world-wide first watershed study on biochar and provides a unique opportunity to examine the effects of biochar on carbon and nutrient exports on a watershed scale.
Due to the challenge of evaluating biochar application in a large and dynamic landscape such as a watershed it was necessary to work hand in hand with local farmers and stakeholders. Prior to the PARTRIDES workshop, the B4SS baseline survey was conducted with 34 farmers to understand their socioeconomic and farming characteristics, and identify the soil-crop constraints to address with biochar application. Dr David Lelei and PhD student Solomon Kamau from ICRAF conducted the B4SS baseline survey and explained the findings to the workshop participants.
The PARTRIDES workshop was based on the InPaC-S: participatory knowledge integration on indicators of soil quality – methodological guide (Barrios et al., 2012) and further expanded to incorporate principles of participatory experimental design. After explaining the basic tools of the InPaC-S methodology, the 34 participating farmers were organised in five groups to share their local knowledge on indicators of soil quality through a series of exercises. The soil-crops interactions were recognised, classified and prioritised according to local knowledge; the local indicators of soil quality were linked to soil properties; and then the information was integrated with the technical knowledge provided by scientists. One objective of this process is to minimise the trade-offs and maximise the positive synergies/interactions potentially resulting from biochar application to soils.
The B4SS project will supply the 34 farmers with biochar, which will be made from sugar cane bagasse that currently represents a problem for disposal. Farmers will contribute to the project by supplying other inputs such as animal manure, chemical fertilisers, and labour. Depending on farmer’s current practices, the biochar will be formulated with either manure or diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser and applied at a rate of around 10t/ha to land where maize and/or beans are grown. On the last day of the workshop, participants visited the watersheds to discuss with the entire team the conclusions reached and evaluated how to set up the biochar field trials. ICRAF will also conduct follow-up visits to ensure farmers’ active participation and increased knowledge on using biochar for soil improvement.
Participants also visited the demonstration site, which will be established next to a school. The strategic location of the demonstration site will allow the primary school students in the area to learn about biochar application and the B4SS project. Three soil scientists, including Prof Johannes Lehmann, walked around the demonstration site and collected soil samples to have an idea of the history of the site. At the demonstration site, the same experiments conducted by farmers will be replicated to assess the effect of two biochar formulations on the yield of their preferred crops (maize and beans) and additional experiments will also evaluate the effects of low application rates of biochar on alternative high-value crops, such as potatoes, capsicum and finger millet.
The PARTRIDES workshop was a big success thanks to the leadership and guidance provided by Dr Edmundo Barrios and Dr Richard Coe. Furthermore, the high social skills from Dr David Lelei are acknowledged since he mobilised farmers efficiently and engaged in discussions with them in a very sensible manner. In addition, all workshop participants were very committed to the participatory process. Finally, special thanks go to the local farmers who were open to share their knowledge and showed great interest in learning about the use of biochar in sustainable land management.