Kenya: Eighty-five-year-old Mzee mmoja continues to inspire farmers

| August 4, 2014

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It is Saturday in Mawe tatu village and the local radio station, Sulwe FM, has organized a farmers’ day. More than 50 farmers have gathered at Joseph Kuya’s home near the Nzoia River in Kakamega County. Some belong to a radio listeners club, and the station has brought them here.

Many have heard Mzee mmoja on the radio and want to meet him. Mzee mmoja, Swahili for the one old man, is eighty-five-year-old James Barasa Mamati, an active farmer and role model for many.

At the meeting, the retired civil servant introduces the topics he will speak about. He says: “We shall learn about biological pest control, identify the nutritive values of different crops, then about mobile kitchen gardens and how to make one.” He adds, “If time allows, we shall also learn how to produce [a] pesticide using soap and weeds from the farm.”

His listening audience has many questions. The farmers ask about treatments for diseases, how to plant certain crops, treatments for livestock worms, and many other things.

Even at the tender age of 75, Hamed Mululu finds the Mzee’s advice invaluable. He says, “Mzee mmoja is just [an] amazing farmer. I have learned a lot from him.”

Mzee mmoja leads the farmers to Mr. Kuya’s garden, where he demonstrates how kale should be spaced and explains why Mr. Kuya’s kale plants are not as healthy as they could be. He shows farmers how to plant vegetables in a sack. Everyone is excited.

Mama Eunice says: “I [used to] hate farming because I thought it was a non-profitable activity. But after I heard Mzee mmoja on [the] radio being an active farmer at an old age, [it] gave me hope.”

Petronillah Simwenyi hosts the daily and weekly farmer programs on Sulwe FM. The show targets people below 65 years of age and reaches more than 350,000 farmers in western Kenya. The broadcaster introduced Mzee mmoja to her audience in 2010 and says he has been a real success.

Ms. Simwenyi says: “It has been a journey of no regrets since I started doing the agricultural program. Through the program, we have visited and have organized forums with farmers.” Farmers have used the daily and weekly programs, both called Kumumilo kwo omulimi (Luhya for “Farmers’ voice”), to raise concerns about farm inputs, weather conditions, and climate change.

Ms. Simwenyi says Mzee mmoja has been a great help to the program by translating Farm Radio International scripts from English to Luhya so her listeners can better understand them.

Mzee mmoja’s organic farm features intercropped vegetables, vegetables growing in sacks, compost heaps, fish ponds, poultry and much more. Many visit him for solutions to their farming challenges.

Stella Nangila says: “James Barasa is the only old man in the area who is active in farming. I visited him and saw that he practices mixed farming, [and] makes compost for sale.”

The Mzee says he plans to live to 125 years of age. He eats lots of vegetables and fruits and avoids red meat, preferring fish, chicken and rabbit.

Ms. Simwenyi says: “I am yet to identify someone who [could] take over from him − someone who can volunteer, who can translate scripts to [the] local language, and, above all, who can be a farmers’ friend and a lover of agriculture.”