Kenya: Women plant sunflowers to divert hungry birds

| October 13, 2014

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It was not an uncommon sight in one part of western Kenya ― women standing in their fields, throwing stones at birds. The women were members of the Namulo smallholder farmers’ group. And the birds were feeding on their sorghum.

The women had experimented with many methods of stopping the birds, but every one had proved labour-intensive, expensive and time-consuming. Hiring people to scare off the birds cost $85 U.S. per season.

But last year the women found a cheap and convenient solution – sunflowers!

Regina Khayundi is a founding member of the Namulo women’s group, based in the Nzola area of Bungoma County in western Kenya. She says they formed the group to save money and fight hunger, adding that land is scarce and that it is easier to rent land as a collective.

The women grow the gadam variety of sorghum because it matures early and yields well. This variety is particularly prized by Kenyan brewers for its sweetness. Unfortunately, its flavour also makes it very popular with birds.

When the women noticed that the birds liked sunflowers, they decided to take action. They planted sunflowers between the rows of sorghum in their half-hectare plot. When the two crops matured, the birds feasted on the big yellow sunflower heads and ignored the sorghum.

Lydia Barasa is another member of the women’s group. She says the sunflowers are a great distraction for the birds, and help the women protect their investment in sorghum. She adds: “We only spent 1,200 Kenyan shillings [$15 U.S.] to buy four kilograms of sunflower seeds to plant on this [plot], and the profit is overwhelming because our sorghum is not eaten at all by birds.”

Mrs. Barasa adds that sorghum is very productive and has a ready market, fetching more than maize in local markets. She says, “One 90-kilogram bag of maize is sold at 1,800 shillings [$20 U.S.], while a bag of sorghum sells for 4,000 [$44].”

The women’s group harvested 45 bags of sorghum from their half-hectare. Not only was their yield greater, they did not need to spend money on scaring birds away. The women will have enough food to eat, and more income than if they had grown maize.

Priscilla Onyango is another member of the Namulo group. She says, “[This] sorghum has chased hunger from my family. I encourage other farmers to use sunflowers and embrace gadam sorghum.”