For many years, farmers in Makueni county have stuck to growing maize, but this has not yielded much, leaving them to rely on relief food when the crop failed and during droughts like the current one.
But now an initiative from the Anglican Development Services-Eastern and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is encouraging farmers to diversify to drought-tolerant crops such as millet, sorghum and green grams.
Samuel Mutune, a father of seven, used to grow maize for many years, but he says he would harvest nothing due to poor rains.
He says he could hardly have enough food to eat and they lived from hand to mouth, but things changed after he attended a training organised by the development partners.
“I have stopped growing maize for green grams, cow peas, sorghum, pigeon peas and pearl millet, which are more yielding, even with little rain. Even with the dry spell, I have got food to eat and sell,” he says.
Last year, Mutune sold five bags of green grams at Sh94 per kilo and he got about Sh10,000 per bag.
“The little rain we experienced was enough to sustain the green grams, unlike maize, which completely failed,” he says.
With the proceeds from his farm, he has bought two dairy cows and land, which he bought at Sh350,000.
“I started with leasing land at Sh7,000 per year, but now I own land, which I bought at Sh350,000 with proceeds from the 2015 and 2016 harvest,” Mutune 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, when to plant and rain-harvesting technologies.
Mary Mathilu from Soweto village in Kigumiini ward grows green grams, sorghum, millet and pigeon peas and also rears chicken.
Before shifting to the drought-tolerant crops, Mathuli used to plant maize and beans in her three-acre land and could only harvest about half a bag of maize from an acre.
“I could hardly get food to eat or even sell, but after I was trained on the use of fertiliser and manure to improve soil fertility, I can now harvest, get food for my family and sell the rest,” she says.
In 2012, Mathilu attended a meeting organised by ADS, Agra and the Agriculture ministry. That year, she harvested enough food to feed her family and also to sell.
Last season, she 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.
“One can harvest 10 bags of sorghum in one acre, while you can hardly harvest two bags of maize from the same acre. Farming is my only source of income and so far, things have been going well for me. With the drought-tolerant crops, a farmer is still able to harvest,” she says.
Mathuli also got trained on value addition and record keeping. Through these proceeds, she can buy feed for her chicken.
She also has direct market thanks to ADS, with a kilo of sorghum going for Sh26 to Sh30.
She applied for a loan and bought a motorcycle, which her husband uses to transport chicken to the local market. That way she does not incur transport costs and hence maximises on profits from her chicken venture.
“I urge farmers to diversify and stop planting maize season after season due to the poor yields.”
She used to do casual jobs, which were not easy to come by, but since she took up alternative farming, she is her own boss. Life then was hard for her and her family, as they would only eat one meal a day, but things have changed and she can now afford three meals a day for her family of four.
For sorghum, she harvest 10 bags and every bag gives her Sh3,000, totalling to Sh30,000. In addition to millet and green grams, in a good month, Mathuli can get about Sh60,000.
They save up their earnings from the harvest and the sale of chicken after their home expenses. This has enabled her to register for NHIF, which she pays Sh500 monthly.
In future, she wants to maximise on value addition, where she can be cooking foods from sorghum, such as cakes, pilau and chapatis, and selling them to shopkeepers until she is able to supply to supermarkets.
ACCESS TO LOANS
John Mutua, the deputy director and head of programmes for ADS-Eastern, says they have been working with financial institutions and other organisations to facilitate farmers to take up technologies that can make them adapt to climate change.
Mutua said farmers in these areas depend on rain-fed agriculture, which is no longer reliable.
“We are dealing with technologies that will help farmers increase soil fertility and manage the moisture from the little rainfall we get,” Mutua says.
“We are encouraging farmers to use adaptation measures of soil and water conservation by terracing and rainwater-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 Anglican Church of Kenya development agency is working on in lower Eastern of Machakos, Makueni, Kitui and Garissa counties include integrated food security programme and the integrated soil fertility management programme, which is targeting 20,000 farmers.
Universal Leader Sacco credit facilitator Joseph Mutuku said they offer loans to farmers who deal with green grams, sorghum and mangoes.
About 1,000 farmers have benefited from the loans offered to buy fertiliser and seeds.
They work with development partners such as ADS, FAO and the Agriculture ministry.
“We give farmers three months before they start paying the loan. This is to allow them to plant the crops, harvest and start selling. We add them another two months for them to sell their produce and start paying the loan,” Mutuku said.