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Friday, 10 April 2015

Celebrating the work of Ng’arua Maarifa Centre

By Bob Aston
Ng’arua Maarifa Centre located in Ol-Moran ward of Laikipia County has been facilitating learning and skills transfer among communities embracing a culture of knowledge sharing that has enabled individuals to make informed decision on their livelihood.
Recognizing access to information as a basic human right, Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) has been innovatively using community-based ICT facilities to enable some of the most remote communities to access the internet; library services and knowledge with the aim of improving their livelihoods.
The Maarifa Centre which was started by ALIN in collaboration with local communities and other stakeholders in the year 2006 is currently hosted by Sipili Assistant County Commissioner (ACC).
Champion farmers from 6 Maarifa Centres
The Centre is equipped with computers with internet connectivity and contain information and knowledge products focused on sustainable agriculture, climate change, sustainable land management (SLM), markets and natural resources management (NRM).
The Maarifa Centre has been offering free services that include; Library services, E-government services, multimedia content, internet access, citizen journalism training, ICT training, advisory services, publications like Joto Afrika, Baobab and Laikipia Mali Asili as well as Sokopepe.

Since it was established, close to 28,000 community members have accessed various services at the Maarifa Centre. The Centre has shared more than 200 best practices on agriculture and climate change adaptation as well as increasing partnerships with government, local community based organizations and Non-governmental organizations. Additionally 41 groups have been reached with technical farming information.
Between 2011 and 2013, a total of 1,200 youths, women, farmers and government officials were trained in basic ICT skills to the level of certification equivalent to basic certifications required for the employment industry. As a result many of them were able to secure employment, job promotions while others have initiated business enterprises.
Community members accessing information at the Maarifa
The Maarifa Centre also partnered with Kenya Seed Company Ltd, MEA Limited, Laikipia Produce and Marketing Co-operative Society and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock to establish five demonstration farms in Ol-Moran and Marmanet wards. A total of 188 community members as well as CBOs and self-help groups have also been trained on citizen journalism.
The Maarifa Centre has also hosted a NRM and SLM knowledge sharing Mazingira Centre. The Maarifa Centre has been instrumental in sharing knowledge with farmers through organizing open learning days, exchange visits, video documentations and articles aimed at farmers and pastoralists.
ALIN in partnership with Act Change Transform (Act!), with financial support from Department for International Development (DFID) and Swedish International Development Cooperation (SIDA) through the Maarifa Centre is also implementing a climate smart agriculture project that aims to strengthen community resilience to impacts of climate change and stewardship of natural resources in Laikipia Country.
The project has supported Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help group to set up a drip irrigation system for horticultural production. They have already been taught about plant protection, harvesting, value addition and marketing.
With the recent government regulation on enabling access of government services on digital platforms, the Maarifa center has become vital in allowing close to 8,000 community members access e-Government services that include downloading Personal Information Numbers; pay slips, making online tax returns, online registration of exams, online job application and County development plans.
Maarifa exhibition stand during the launch of Sokopepe
With support of the Ford Foundation, ALIN established an online market information portal known as Sokopepe at the Maarifa Centre. Recently it has been spun off as a full-fledged social enterprise registered in 2014 as Sokopepe Limited and offers two services namely; Farm Records Management Information System (FARMIS) which is a farm management and diagnostic tool based on the use of farm records aimed at identifying productivity trends, profitability of different farm enterprises and producing evidence for use in decision making at the farm, County and National levels.
The other service is SOKO+ which is a digital commodity trading and information system, linking small scale farmers to end retailers/bulk purchasers of produce. SOKO+ is designed to address transactions and extension needs along the entire value chain.
The uniqueness of Maarifa centers has led to winning of various prestigious awards notable the 2011, Access to Learning Award by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Maarifa Centre through its blog Laikipia Rural Voices also won the Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition (YoBloco Awards) in 2014.
Communities have been provided with a chance to improve their farming techniques and technologies through full access of information and assistance at the Maarifa Centre, something they were not privileged to access before.
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