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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Makueni farmers abandon maize for drought-resistant crops

Mary Mathuri, a farmer from Makueini county, who has been growing drought-resistant crops. /AGATHA NGOTHO
Mary Mathuri, a farmer from Makueini county, who has been growing drought-resistant crops. /AGATHA NGOTHO

As the drought continues to ravage parts of the country, farmers in Makueni have nothing to worry about since they have millet, sorghum and green grams to eat and sell.

Samuel Mutune, a father of seven, says he grew maize for many years but that the harvests were poor due to lack of rain.

Mutune says he hardly had enough to eat and that his family lived from hand to mouth. But things have changed thanks to a training by the Anglican Development Services-Eastern in partnership with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Mutune has moved from maize farming to planting drought-tolerant crops such as green grams, cow peas, sorghum, pigeon peas and pearl millet.

“Even with the dry spell, I get good yields. The crops get ready for harvest after about 45 days,” he says.

The farmer adds that they formed a group through which they market their produce for better pay.

Last year, Mutune sold five bags of green grams at Sh94 a kilo and got about Sh10,000 per bag.

“The little rain that we experienced was enough to sustain the green grams, unlike maize which completely failed,” he says.

He used proceeds from the 2015 and 2016 harvests to buy two dairy cows and land at Sh350,000.

“I started by leasing land at Sh7,000 per year but I now own property," he says.

He adds that farmers in the area no longer depend on relief food during drought as they have enough food to eat and surplus to sell.

They also get support from extension officers who talk to them about the weather and when to plant, and give insights on rain-harvesting technologies.

Farmers in Makueni county get tips on growing drought-tolerant crops and best soil fertility management practices from agriculture officers during a field day. /AGATHA NGOTHO

Mary Mathuri from Soweto village in Kigumiini ward, Makueni county, grows green grams, sorghum, millet and pigeon peas, and also rears chicken.

Mathuri used to plant maize and beans on her three-acre piece of land but each one only yielded a bag of maize.

“I hardly got food to eat or even sell but after I was trained on the use of fertilisers and manure to improve soil fertility, I harvest, get food for my family and sell the rest,” she says.

Last season, Mathuri harvested 10 bags of green grams, seven bags of sorghum and six bags of cow peas. She sold and bought maize to feed her family, paid school fees for her children, renovated her house and expanded her chicken house.

She says a bag of sorghum can be sold for as much as Sh3,000 and that she makes Sh60,000 in a good month after selling millet and green grams as well.

“One can harvest 10 bags of sorghum from one acre while but hardly two bags of maize from the same portion,” she says.

Mathuri applied for a loan and bought a motorcycle which her husband uses to transport chicken to the local market. This way she does not incur transport costs and maximises profits from her chicken venture.

She used to do casual jobs to buy food for her family and says they could only afford one meal a day but that this has increased to three meals every day for her family of four.

Mathuri saves some money at a bank and has registered with the NHIF which she gives Sh500 monthly.

“I urge farmers to diversify and stop planting maize season after season due to the poor yields,” she says.

Mathuri wants to maximise on value addition and be able to supply sorghum products to local super markets.

John Mutua, the deputy director and head of programmes for Anglican Development Services-Eastern, says they have been working with financial institutions and other organisations to facilitate farmers to take up technologies that can help them adapt to climate change challenges.

Mutua said farmers in these areas depend on rain-fed agriculture yet the rainwater has been insufficient.

“We are dealing with technologies which will help farmers increase the fertility of the soil and manage moisture from the little amount of rainfall," he says.

“We are encouraging farmers to use adaption measures of soil and water conservation by terracing and rain water harvesting through structures such as sand dams and earth dams. This water can then be used to do supplementary irrigation for instance drip irrigation.”

Some of the projects the agency is working on in Machakos, Makueni, Kitui and Garissa Counties include the integrated food security programme and the integrated soil fertility management programmewhich is targeting 20,000 farmers.

Joseph Mutuko from the Universal Leader Sacco said so far they have offered loans to more than 1,000 farmers for fertiliser and seeds.



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