Report on a visit by Bill Rettie to AIC Cheptebo RDC from January to March 2013
My last visit was at the end of 2011 and there has been significant progress in many sectors since that time. Both Rosemary and I are grateful to the Board, Centre Management and entire staff for their welcome and willing cooperation during our entire visit.
1. General Observations
There has been significant development in many sectors and encouraging initiatives to extend the work of the centre into the wider community. Staff moral appears to be very high with many staff members displaying an enthusiastic commitment to their work and ministries at CRDC. It is heartening to note that the spiritual emphasis of the centres work has largely been maintained.
The severe flooding and landslides of December 2012 has been a severe challenge to the whole community, including CRDC. The centre has played an important role in providing clean drinking water from the recently installed borehole to the whole community as well as providing other practical and spiritual help. We are grateful to Christian Engineers in Development and financial donors for the timely reconstruction of the Centre’s water intake but it is noted that much work remains to be done to secure the pipeline along its entire length as well as rebuilding other community water supplies.
Cheptebo Rural Development Centre is now well known and respected by the Church, at all levels of Government, and by NGOs and individuals from across Kenya and beyond. The Centre’s commitment to excellence is evidenced by the popularity of the Conference Centre, the number of people visiting the farm, consistent success at agricultural shows, good management and willing participation by all members of staff. It has become a significant asset in AIC Kenya’s ongoing programme of training, outreach and support to pastors and other church workers. The centre is now a major employer in the area, with some 100 people recently working at the centre or employed on a casual basis on the various development projects which are currently ongoing. There are of course still many challenges and areas where further work and improvement is urgently needed. We should not become complacent as this is still essentially a spiritual ministry dependent on the Lord’s favour for any lasting success and effectiveness in the work of the Gospel.
2. New Developments at CRDC
i. Cottages The three cottages recently built or under construction will provide much needed high quality bed capacity at the Centre.
ii. Kitchen The expansion of kitchen facilities will provide a better working environment for kitchen staff and should permit an improvement in food hygiene which is an urgent requirement.
iii. Conference Centre Complex This is a courageous venture, being the first two storey, high cost building in the southern Kerio Valley. It will provide much needed additional facilities for the Centre. It is particularly encouraging to note that the cost of this building is being met entirely from funds generated internally at CRDC. This is an impressive demonstration of sustainable development and speaks highly of the high standards and integrity of both Centre management and staff.
iv. AIC Cheptebo Farmer Training Institute It was a privilege to be involved in the initial planning exercise for this new initiative. It is something which has been talked about for a very long time and it is good to have a definite proposal now for the development of this facility. CRDC has built up an impressive level of expertise and experience in many aspects of semi arid agricultural production which is already evident on the Centre farm and recognised by Government Departments, training institutions including universities, NGOs and the farming community over a wide area. While much agricultural training in Kenya concentrates on the higher rainfall, high input, mechanised farming systems there is an obvious need to provide training in agricultural systems specifically for semi arid area which, of course, covers vast areas of the country.
I believe the Institute will, and should have three important, defining characteristics;
I think this venture could well attract external funding for the initial development phase but we would expect that, like all other sectors of CRDC, it will become self financing within a reasonable period of time.
The initial proposal states that the year 2013 will be used for further planning, 2014 for building and acquiring the required facilities and for recruiting staff and students in anticipation for a formal opening in early 2015. This seems like a realistic and achievable plan.
I would however make one additional suggestion at this stage. It would be helpful to all concerned if a pilot training course could be conducted in 2014 for the following reasons;
We have looked at a possible one week course (details available) and propose that it be held in the early part of 2014. Existing conference facilities could be booked in advance for this week.
I would be willing to devote further time to assist in the planning of CFTI. I appreciate that you may want to recruit someone with more specific agricultural training experience but if I can assist in any way I am happy to do so.
v. Remoi Demonstration Farm
It was encouraging to see that initial development has now taken place with the Pastor’s house completed and a 2 acre area of land available for agricultural demonstration. Given the pressure of work at CRDC it is probably unrealistic to attempt to establish the farm during this year. However there are a number of initial requirements which need to be done as soon as possible;
If these things can be completed during 2013 then the development of the farm can be done in 2014. A provisional farm plan has been produced to guide this process.
I think CRDC management needs to be very clear on the details of this new proposal. Some issues may already have been addressed but I have not seen any evidence of this so far;
vi. Chegilet I understand that about 5 acres is now available and the local leaders are now awaiting a response from CRDC following our visit and discussions in 2011. I think that the simultaneous development of a second extension farm will place an unacceptable burden on CRDC resources and staff. However this is a long standing commitment and important outreach opportunity so I would urge CRDC management to include this project in your planning at the earliest possible time. This outreach may well attract some external funding and possible mission personnel, should that be something you wish to consider.
vii. Farming God’s Way The training experience in Lesotho was clearly appreciated to Walter and Thomas who have learned a lot from the experience and have been motivated to implement what they have learned back at Cheptebo. It is encouraging to see that two demonstration sections for FGW have already been established on the farm. In order to gain the best returns from this visit I would recommend that a brief report is written and then some detailed proposals of how this training is to be implemented, be produced while the experience is still fresh in their minds.
3. Observations on the Ongoing Activities of Sections within CRDC
i. Conference Centre The Conference Centre continues to be popular with guests and there is continuing pressure to expand residential and other facilities. Existing facilities are clearly inadequate to meet potential demand. However there should be a limit to this expansion as eventually the centre will become too large to be managed and maintained to a high standard. It would be advisable to consider what size of Conference Centre is appropriate and when this is achieved, to concentrate on maintaining standards and developing other areas of ministry.
Energy Usage The cost of electricity in particular is becoming a major recurrent expenditure. I would question the desirability of fitting electric showers to all cottages. Solar water heaters are very effective except when there is heavy cloud and rain but for most of the year give very adequate hot water supplies. Consideration should be given to installing solar water heating (possibly one unit serving several cottages). Although the initial capital costs will be higher the longer term saving in energy will be significant.
ii. Dairy The new dairy building is a great improvement both in type and location and will accommodate the planned expansion in livestock numbers. The walls of the small milk handling room at the dairy should be built up and mosquito netting fixed in place to improve hygiene in milk handling.
With the number of animals at present levels and with planned increases it is no longer realistic to depend on the farm for all fodder. It would save on time, transportation and cost if good quality fodder (hay) could be sourced and purchased in bulk for storage at the Centre.
Dairy Goats have been demonstrated to have significant potential for the area. However the extension service to local farmers seems to have stalled and I understand some farmers are becoming discouraged. I hope the Training and Extension Officer, with his responsibilities now clearly defined, will regularly visit local dairy goat keepers to offer advice and training and to maintain breeding records for marketing purposes.
Bio Gas It is good to see that the unit is functioning effectively. I am advised that it would be possible to extend the supply to the Conference kitchen. It may be appropriate to delay this until the new Conference Complex is ready and have the supply brought to the new kitchen there.
iii. Tree Nursery This is probably the most impressive section in the centre. Staff are enthusiastic and professional with a good stock of seedlings available and clear development plans in place. New developments will include the receiving and raising of tissue culture banana plants which will require a high level of management and expertise. There is also an opportunity to expand the area under Vitiver grass for which there is a high demand. An area of about 0.5ha has been identified for this purpose with a potential earning potential in excess of KSh400,000.
iv. Farm The area under fruit trees is producing impressive results, as are the two greenhouses. Apart from that the standards on the farm are somewhat disappointing, given the expertise and commitment of farm staff. I suspect that the recent visit to Lesotho and a concentration on mango production has resulted in other activities being somewhat neglected. At present the farm is not really ready to support the proposed Farmer Training Institute as an effective training tool and I have discussed areas in need of attention with farm management staff.
v. Extension and Training The recent discussions on defining Job Descriptions should make a positive contribution to the management of the Centre and the effectiveness of individual staff members. The Extension and Training Officer has a particular responsibility in taking the experience of the Centre out into the wider community and he should be encouraged to abide by his job description and not allow himself to be sidetracked by other important activities which are not in his area of responsibility. With regard to job descriptions for all staff members I would encourage the introduction of periodic job evaluations as proposed as a way of encouraging good performance and identifying constraints in the work situation. This is somewhat time consuming but well worth the effort in terms of effective management and staff motivation.
vi. Maintenance There is an ever growing demand for maintenance both in the Conference Centre and on the farm. I think serious consideration needs to be given to the level of staffing here. Maintenance workers routinely respond to emergency situations, and do so willingly and usually effectively. However this is at the expense of routine maintenance which is clearly being neglected and can only get more serious as time goes on. Poor or neglected maintenance is probably the greatest source of guest dissatisfaction and if the reputation of CRDC is to be maintained, this issue needs to be addressed. Rather than simply responding to emergencies, maintenance workers should be working to a programme of maintenance which should prevent many of the emergencies arising in the first place. There does not seem to be any established way for staff or guests to report a maintenance problem and be assured that it will be attended to. At present the system seems to be to contact the maintenance workers or someone in authority and try and get your problem attended to somehow. What is required is a simple system whereby problems are recorded and passed to one person who will decide on priorities and arrange for the work to be done.
vii. Spiritual Ministries It has been encouraging to see the growth in AIC Kapsang and indeed in the other churches. I commend Pr Walter for his commitment to maintaining and developing the Christian focus of the Centre in a variety of ways.
I note that Kapsang Sunday School is very short of committed teachers despite a large number of children attending. With a large and active youth group in the church I am surprised that there is so little interest in this vital ministry.
There are many youth in the area who as yet have little contact with the centre or the church. Sport is proving to be very popular, particularly volleyball, and given the facilities that now exist at the centre it should be possible to utilise this for evangelistic purposes. A weekend competition could be arranged for local teams with a cup awarded to the winners. This would provide excellent opportunities for reaching out to youth who would not normally attend a Christian meeting. This does require an enthusiastic individual to organise and coordinate such an event.
Overall I have been extremely encouraged by what I have seen and experienced during my visit. I thank the Lord for what is being done at Cheptebo and in the southern Kerio Valley to assist the people ‘by word and deed’. I look forward to hearing about, and perhaps seeing, further progress in the days ahead as the Lord continues to build His church and bless this community through the work and witness of CRDC.
15th March 2013