Kenya: Woman improves her fortunes through livestock and through diversification

| March 11, 2013

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Jennipher Kilach left her job as a teacher in 2009 in order to devote herself full-time to farming. She was not earning enough as a teacher to feed her family. She says, “The salary was very little and I saw that I was wasting my time instead of doing farming.”

The mother of four started farming full-time in her village in Uasin Gishu County, in the northern part of Kenya’s Rift Valley Province. She soon discovered how to improve her income through making the most of the resources she had. Mrs. Kilach was already raising livestock, but she learned how to better manage her land.

She was introduced to diversified farming through the Smallholder Dairy Commercialization Program. The project is run by the Ministry of Livestock in association with the International Fund for Agricultural Development. It is designed to help farmers increase food production.

Philomena Sergon is the Ministry of Agriculture’s divisional livestock extension officer. She says, “Initially, they were moving their animals anywhere for grazing, but we trained them on zero grazing and pasture management, and now they have increased their milk production.”

Normally, a cow takes in most of the water it needs by eating green grass and other feeds. During the dry season, however, Mrs. Kilach feeds her animals as much dry plant materials as they will eat. She dries and stores harvested maize stalks and bean plants for this purpose. This encourages the cows to drink a lot of water, which increases milk production.

Mrs. Kilach explains, “I have learned how to prepare the feed for the cows. I have planted napier, desmodium and lucerne. I also make silage for the cows.”

She divided her land into different sections. There is one area for growing animal feeds, another for dairy cows, and one for her dairy goats. She also has a kitchen garden, a poultry area, and a small section where she grows maize, beans and bananas.

Mrs. Kilach uses cow dung to generate biogas for cooking. Biogas is a more affordable source of energy than fire wood, which costs 500 Kenyan shillings (six US dollars) per week. She uses the fermented waste from biogas processing as a fertilizer in her kitchen garden, where she grows vegetables such as kale, cabbage, onions and tomatoes for sale. She earns more than five U.S. dollars per day from her backyard garden.

Mrs. Kilach also bought a grinding mill. She explains: “During the dry season, I can sell the feed to other farmers for 16 U.S. dollars a bag. If a farmer brings his own dry matter to grind, I charge him four dollars per 50 kilo bag.” She has a billy goat which is hired out to local farmers to impregnate their female goats. She charges five dollars a time for this service.

Mrs. Kilach is proud of her success in farming. She has built a big house in the centre of her compound. A borehole provides water to her livestock and crops throughout the year. She planted fruit trees, which provide a shady, cool environment in her compound. She can afford to send her children to good schools, and has opened a shop at the gate of her compound.

Her success has motivated her neighbours to learn from her. She advises them how best to divide their small pieces of land to support their animals and fodder requirements, while leaving space to grow food for their households. Local farmers have now formed a co-operative to properly market their milk to the nearby town.

Mrs. Kilach says, “When I was still a teacher, I thought I was making money, but in reality I was wasting time. But since I started this farming, I tell you I am the happiest person.”