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      Supporting the capacities and knowledge of small-holder farmers in Kenya for sustainable agricultural futures: A Citizen Science pilot project

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            Revision notes

            Authors’ response to Min J Cho:

            Insight into monitoring smallholder farmers' ecological and socioeconomic change is often met with challenges due to difficulty in collecting data. This aspect, as authors assert, lead to difficulties in local and regional policy making in emergency situations and in long term decision making. Hence, this case study, using citizen science and mobile technology to gather information about local agricultural production proves to be a valuable and much needed approach in collecting and monitoring 'real time' data of crop yield, disease outbreaks, pest control, and area production accounting for differing environmental contexts. As with most mobile data collection approach, the access to mobile data and airtime would be critical to make citizen science approach successful. Despite such barriers, scaling up this approach has the potential to give agency to the farmers to make better informed decisions and share knowledge of best practices.

            The paper could be strengthened by discussing the importance of co-designed tool especially on the value of local knowledge-practice and innovation and experimentation. This key aspect could be elaborated and discussed further. For instance, by exploring the specific practices involved in knowledge co-production, the process of conducting transdisciplinary and co-production of knowledge research projects, stakeholder needs, and research team capacities.

            Authors’ response: We have extended the discussion of the importance of co-designed tools at the top of pg. 4, in the section on Engagement and Participatory Design. Here we emphasise the benefits of understanding stakeholder needs, both to the ultimate goals of the project and the design process itself. We also emphasise how this generates a more equitable partnership and sense of local ownership.

            The practical implications could also be discussed, for instance, lessons learned during the process of assessing user needs, which is an essential element of co-producing knowledge.

            Authors’ response: We have extended the discussion of user feedback at the top of pg. 12 and have highlighted lessons learned concerning knowledge sharing, data provision and data synchronisation.


            Authors’ response to Annie Trevenen-Jones:

            As the authors assert, there is a lack of knowledge and valuation of smallholder farmers agricultural production practices including their choices, innovation and experimentation. In Africa smallholder farmers are a key part of local food systems and need to be included in efforts to enhance resilience to climate change re: yields of diverse, nutritious foods. This case study, using citizen science and mobile technology to gather information about local agricultural production illustrates the agency of smallholder farmers - albeit with a small 'proof of concept' sample -  and offers interesting insights into the 'real time' reporting of a diversity of crops grown and challenges, like pests and diseases, as per production that is spread out over a sizeable area with differing environmental contexts. The authors argue that notwithstanding some barriers like airtime, scaling up this concept has the potential to more widely share knowledge between farmers, for farmers to receive timely technical inputs as well as provide data to better inform decisions, in 'real time', such as, disease break-outs, timings and duration as well as tracking climate linked emergencies.

            This article could be enhanced by addressing a few gaps in the logic and flow of discussion - examples: it may be more relevant to speak of 'food insecurity' and 'malnutrition in all its forms' vs 'nutritional deficiencies' as linking it to the food system challenge of increasing urbanisation, growing population and climate change;

            Authors’ response: The wording has been clarified, particularly in the first paragraph, second sentence.

            more could also be made of the value of citizen science in this case e.g. ownership of ''data gathering'' and ''solutions'' and agency of smallholder farmers;

            Authors’ response: We have extended this discussion to emphasise ‘opportunities for empowering farmers to collect, share, own and act on their own data’, see pg 1, second para.

            a more definitive argument about diversity of crop production re: types of crops, timings of production and resilience to malnutrition in all its forms and food insecurity (insufficient access to preferred and sufficient food, at all times) - especially those most vulnerable as this illustrates the value of smallholder farmers in Africa and enhances the climate resilience value.

            Authors’ response: We have strengthened the argument here to emphasise the value of Citizen science in extending the case for farmer-led resilience. See pg 2, third para, last sentence.

            The reported data illustrates what farmers practiced and brings together a picture of actual, local production and by inference a reflection of choices made by smallholder farmers - across time and space. However, the paper also argues that this approach and the co-designed tool illustrates the value of local knowledge-practice and innovation and experimentation. This key aspect could be more richly discussed.

            Author’s response: while innovation and experimentation is mentioned in the paper we do not here focus centrally on these aspects since the pilot study offers proof of concept only. We do argue tentatively that the diversity of crop combinations grown may be considered an index of innovation and experimentation but more spatial and longitudinal data would be required to demonstrate this. Such data does exist and we have published such elsewhere (Davies 2015; Davies et al. 2016) but these data do not come from the Citizen Science pilot project but from longer term ethnographic, historical and archaeological data. We briefly discuss this on pg. 2, para 3 but are hesitate to offer a more extended discussion here since the pilot data collected is currently limited on these points.

            A final point to consider is reporting on a selection of socio-economic demographics of the initial and final pilot test sample (n=12; then n = 6) e.g. gender and age (and income, education if available). 

            Author’s response: the demographics have been updated in text.

            It is further suggested that the authors review the frequent use of ''often'' through-out the paper.

            Author’s response: wording has been modified in several places.



            Sub-Saharan Africa is often presented as the continent most vulnerable to climatic change with major repercussions for food systems. Coupled with high rates of population growth and existing nutritional deficiencies, the need to enhance food production across the continent is thus seen as a major global imperative. We argue here, however, that current models of agricultural development in Eastern Africa often marginalise critical small-holder knowledge from the process of future agricultural design due to a lack of a methodological tools for engagement. This paper addresses this by outlining a potential means to capture and share locally produced agronomic information on a large scale. We report on a ‘Citizen Science’ pilot study that worked with smallholder farmers in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, western Kenya, to co-design a mobile application using the well-developed Sapelli platform that easily allows farmers to identify, record and geolocate cropping patterns and challenges at multiple stages in the agricultural calendar using their own understandings. The pilot project demonstrated the technical and epistemological benefits of co-design, the abilities of smallholder farmers to co-design and use smartphone applications, and the potential for such technology to produce and share valuable agricultural and ecological knowledge in real time. Proof-of-concept data illustrates opportunities to spatially and temporally track and respond to challenges related to climate, crop disease and pests. Such work expounds how smallholder farmers are a source of largely untapped ecological and agronomic expert knowledge that can, and should, be harnessed to address issues of future agricultural resilience and food system sustainability.


            Author and article information

            UCL Open: Environment Preprint
            UCL Press
            31 July 2023
            [1 ] McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge and Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London;
            [2 ] Department of Geography, University College London;
            [3 ] Prosperity Co-Lab Kenya and British Institute in Eastern Africa;
            [4 ] Department of Anthropology, London School of Economics;
            [5 ] Department of Anthropology, University College London;
            [6 ] McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge;
            [7 ] Institute for Global Prosperity, University College London;
            [8 ] Prosperity Co-Lab Kenya;
            [9 ] School of Natural Resource Management, Department of Forestry and Wood Science, University of Eldoret;
            Author notes
            Author information

            This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

            : 21 June 2022
            : 18 September 2023
            Funded by: funder-id , AHRC and ERC;
            Award ID: AH/T00424X/1 and 694767

            The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
            Agricultural ecology,Geosciences,Anthropology
            Agriculture and the environment,farmer,smartphone,Africa,agriculture,Sapelli,Kenya,sustainability,People and their environment,co-design,Sustainability,Citizen Science,trans-disciplinary,Technology and environment (e.g. geo-engineering)


            Date: 18 September 2023

            Handling Editor: Dan Osborn

            Accept. This article has been accepted following peer review and it is suitable for publication in UCL Open: Environment.

            2023-09-18 10:43 UTC

            Date: 03 August 2023

            Handling Editor: Dan Osborn

            The article has been revised, this article remains a preprint article and peer-review has not been completed. It is under consideration following submission to UCL Open: Environment for open peer review.

            2023-08-03 14:42 UTC

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