“People should not assume farming is meant for the poor people. People do not farm because they lack an alternative. To be a successful farmer one must embrace it as a career and seek knowledge and skills,” says Carol Kivuva a farmer from Makueni-Eastern Kenya and a member of Kalawaani Mwanzo Mpya Self Help group. Makueni district was one of the regions faced with famine late last year. Many villagers in this region had no food on their table leading to a campaign from organizations and churches to try save the situation by donating food to the villagers.
Kalawaani Mwanzo Mpya Self Help group in Makueni district, is one of the six farmers’ networks in Eastern Kenya that was launched by Inter Region Economic Network late last year. Out of their own initiative, the farmers planted kales using the “push and pull” method. Kivuva says they made a bowl shaped depression in the ground, removed the soil, placed a polythene paper on its base, refilled it with the soil and planted the crop. The polythene bag holds water preventing it from sinking down into the ground. To sustain the crops, they watered the farm every Friday. The kales flourished and today they are making profit from their produce.
Due to unpredictable rainfall patterns farmers in this area were caught unprepared when it started raining in March this year. “Maize has not done well this season. When the rains came most farmers were not prepared leading to late planting.” Despite this, vegetables and pigeon peas are doing well since they do not require as much water as maize. Kivuva notes that most farmers are usually reluctant to plant maize in this season as they consider it as the short rain season and from past experience the maize yields have not been as good as during the long rain season that begins in August.
The main challenges facing these farmers are frost and pests. Kivuva says that most of them sprinkle wood ash on the vegetables and pigeon peas while a few spray Diazinon which kills pests. “For maize,” she notes, “I do not apply any pesticide, if need be I sprinkle some ash at the tip of the plant. If there is too much rain, I am not worried as I know the rains will destroy the pests.” To increase her yields Kivuva sprinkles fertilizer or uses manure in her farm.
According to Agricultural Investment in Eastern Kenya by James Shikwati and Stella Amuhaya, one of the reasons leading to poor harvests is lack of farming skills and poor technology. Most farmers in the region do not know what is expected of them, “lack of exposure is the main problem affecting farmers. They do not know what best suits their farms, how to plant it, which pesticides to use and even how to store their crops,” Kivuva adds.
Some farmers do not use any pesticides at all and this has led to loss of yields. Once the crops are harvested, there is need to use chemicals that will ensure that the harvest is safe from weevils. “I mix the maize with actelic super and store them in 90Kg sacks.” However, some farmers mix their yield with pepper and store them either in sacks or gourds. “If the yield is mixed with pepper, it cannot be consumed instead it is saved for the next season,” she notes. Other farmers dry their product by placing it on their roof tops in the kitchen, believing that no weevil will attack their produce.
As much as farmers are making profit from their produce and invest in other areas, they face the challenge of marketing their products. “Unfortunately, I have not sold any pigeon peas so far. If I sell it now I shall sell them at a loss. I bought a Kilogram of pigeon peas at Ksh.100 for planting and today, a kilogram is going at Ksh.20 because almost everyone in the region had planted the crop,” Kivuva laments. This has forced her to store the pigeon peas as she searches for a better market.
If the sales are good, Kivuva who is not only a farmer but also a skin care specialist says, “If there is drought I rely on my business that gives me some extra coins to buy food and other necessities. On the other hand, if I make profit from the yields I introduce a new service in my skin care centre.” From the sale of her extra yields she is also able to pay her daughter’s and siblings' school fees and feed them.
Kalawaani Mwanzo Mpya Self Help Group has been a source of inspiration to most farmers, as they are able to purchase fertilizers and pesticides in bulk at a cheaper price and learn from each other. The group intends to visit KARI Makueni late this month, where they will discuss their major challenges with the institute. “We want to visit the research institute and discuss with them how we can increase our yields. May be with the right farming methods we can produce tonnes and tonnes of maize and beans,” Kivuva adds.
By Purity Njeru
Ms. Njeru is an African Executive staff writer
Comment on this article!