Kenya: Farmers learn from each other and get better harvests (By Sawa Pius in Kenya)

| September 16, 2013

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Twenty-seven-year-old Boniface Meka Kasyoka is a happy young farmer. But that wasn’t always the case.

When Mr. Meka Kasyoka’s father gave him a one-hectare plot of land to farm, he grew only maize and beans. He did not know how to conserve water or soil, and his harvests were poor. Unable to grow enough even to feed himself, Mr. Meka Kasyoka had no further interest in farming.

But that all changed a year ago when Mr. Meka Kasyoka visited Josephat Mbete’s farm. He was impressed that Mr. Mbete’s crops were doing well despite the lack of rain. He says: “I realized that Mr. Mbete was using a new variety of seeds and he had divided his land into different sections, each with its own crop.”

The farmers are just two of the more than 1700 who are growing new varieties of legumes in Kamba, a semi-arid part of eastern Kenya. Despite poor rainfall, farmers can get good legume harvests by planting drought-resistant, quick-maturing seeds and building ridges to keep water in the soil.

Mr. Mbete farms four and a half hectares of land. He devotes part of it to a demonstration plot for the new varieties of legumes he received from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, also known as KARI. He grows legumes such as green grams, cowpeas, pigeon peas, and Dolicos lablab, along with his sorghum, cassava, and sweet potatoes.

Mr. Mbete dug three-foot-long ridges between crop rows on his small plots to retain water. Every three feet, a small heap of soil closes the ridge. He learned this technique – called tied ridges – by working with KARI.

In turn, Mr. Mbete teaches young farmers like Mr. Meka Kasyoka what he learns. He encouraged the young farmer to get seeds of green grams from KARI because demand for the crop is high in urban centres. He also helped Mr. Meka Kasyoka prepare his land and make tied ridges.

Mr. Meka Kasyoka grows beans, pigeon peas and maize. But he got his best results from green grams, which yielded ten bags. He says, “I was so happy because I did not expect to get much.” He was so pleased that he dedicated half his land to green grams.

He sold part of his green grams harvest for a good price through the Mengukya Self-Help Group. He used some of his earnings to build a storage area.

The storage area is vital because Mr. Meka Kasyoka must store his crops until all farmers in the group have completed their harvest. By marketing as a group, the farmers increase their bargaining power and find the right buyer, which earns them higher prices and better profits.

Now, Mr. Meka Kasyoka is dreaming big. He plans to use the earnings from his next green grams harvest to buy a space in a nearby market and open a retail shop.