The willingness to risk has paid off in the case of Julius Machanje and his wife Florence Muronji. His success in tomato farming has not only given him the much needed profit, but it has won him admiration, consequently being crowned the village head.
It all started when the father of five allowed Dan Okongo, the District Field Director with One Acre Fund in Kakamega district, to use his farm as a demonstration plot. Dan, through the local administration’s meetings had asked villagers to volunteer their farms to be used as demonstration plots. A majority declined.
“Most of them said that it was a ploy to steal their land while others predicted the failure of the program and did not want to be associated with it. Others did not want to quit their traditional mode of sugarcane farming,” says Dan, who sighed with relief when Julius went against the odds.
“I love listening to new ideas and taking risk,” says Julius who doubles up as a mason and operates a bicycle transport dubbed ‘Boda Boda’ when he has spare time.
“Look at my neighbor,” the Shihingo village head continues. “For several years, he has planted sugarcane in his one acre farm. He has to wait for one and a half years to harvest the crop. All this time, he has to buy food. Perchance the company does not harvest his cane in good time, say for two years, he is forced to sell it at a loss to a local jaggery.”
This, according to Dan Okongo is one of the problems contributing to food insecurity in Western province. Covering an area of 8195 square kilometers, it endowed with reliable rainfall and fertile soils. In spite of this, it is plagued with food deficits and imports its eggs from the neighboring Nyanza Province, milk, maize and vegetables from the Rift valley. It also imports cucumbers from far away Uganda!
“It is unfortunate that the Province has not been sufficient. This therefore calls for more efforts to be put in strategies geared towards food self sufficiency,” says Hassan Noor Hassan, the Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner.
The prevailing food shortages in the region after the post election violence have however enhanced Dan’s advocacy for food sufficiency.
“When almost all the supply routes were cut by rampaging gangs, the ensuing food shortage caused communities to rethink why they were dependent on external supplies when they had an ample environment to produce the same,” he says.
Farming is not just a matter of growing crops and food sufficiency. It is about change of mindsets. It is about how much profit one gets. According to Dan, one need not have many acres of land to be a tycoon. How one utilizes the little he has matters.
After selling the idea to Julius, the duo embarked on planting tomatoes in March 2007. With an input of Kshs 56 000 to put up a green house, purchase seeds, construct a water reservoir and meet the initial cost of workers, he got his money back five months later with a Kshs 20 000 profit. He is still harvesting his tomatoes though, and has been taught how to prune them with a view of getting increasing their lifespan to get maximum yield and profit.
Putting in practice the business mentality challenge posed to him by Dan, Julius, apart from growing tomatoes, no longer plants the maize seed variety that takes seven to eight months to mature. He has adopted the short term variety that sees him harvesting two to three times in a year. He is now a stockist of the three and half year maize variety that ensures farmers have harvests amidst short rains.
Dan Okongo, a risk taker himself is proud of his student who has become a major supplier of tomatoes in the local Lubao market, much to the surprise of members of the community who knew him as a Boda Boda cyclist. Having excelled in the field of Electrical Engineering at Musingu High School, he dropped his ambition of being an electrical engineer and pursued a Degree course in horticulture.
“I pursued farming to enable my people in Western Kenya to free themselves from the shackles of poverty that hang on their necks like an albatross. It is time farmers stopped going to the farm as a routine. They have to farm with a view of attaining food sufficiency, profit and more resources for investment,” says Dan.
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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