Farmers in Eastern Kenya are seeing an increase in yield from their crops and earning better incomes than before. Over 144,000 farming households have been provided with 1,000 tons of improved high-quality seeds of drought-tolerant cereals and legumes, resulting in over 60,000 ha of land being covered byimproved seeds in Eastern Kenya. More than 144,000 farmers have been trained in good agricultural practices for higher productivity, including over 50,000 farmers who received training on effective post-harvest handling techniques. All this, and more, has been achieved in Phase 1 of the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) project funded by USAID.
The project, which began in 2015, is now in its second phase, and is using the approach of ‘farming as a business’, integrating nutrition with agriculture.
Apart from training in good practices such as mechanized threshing, safe storage using hermetically sealed storage bags, the project also reached parents of over 21,000 children under the age of two with vital nutrition messages. In the process of developing the seed system, about 450 farmers were trained in community seed production and dissemination and 24 seed banks managed by farmers were established.
The introduction of improved varieties of sorghum, groundnut, green gram, finger millet, pearl millet, pigeonpea and cowpea brought a new lease of life to the farmers who are now able to get higher yields and thereby, enhanced food security and increased income for their households. Farmers were also enabled to access quality seed unlike before when they used recycled seeds or grain purchased from the market.
One of the farmers benefited by the project is Ms Betty Bondo from Mulala, Makueni County, Eastern Kenya, who started growing new green gram varieties when ICRISAT introduced the varieties to farmers in that area. “I started on one acre (about 0.4 ha) because the yields were low, and I did not know much about green gram farming. ICRISAT brought the improved varieties and trained us on how to plant on time, use proper spacing, intercropping and post-harvest handling,” remarks Betty. “The new variety and good farming techniques have improved my yields from two bags (200 kg) per acre to six bags (600 kg) per acre,” she continued. This encouraged Betty to increase her acreage from 1 to 3 and then to 20 acres.
According to Betty, more than 800 farmers in Mulala Ward took training on seed acquisition, planting on time, good agronomic practices and post-harvest management. The farmers are a happier lot after harvesting three to four times of their previous harvest that came from the local varieties.
When Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Program Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, visited the farmers in Mulala Ward, she was especially impressed by Betty’s record keeping that helps her keep track of time for different activities like harvesting, and account for her expenses versus income. Betty carries out farming as a business, checking the prevailing output market prices versus inputs. “I believe this is the direction that the farmers should be going in, to get out of subsistence farming towards agribusiness to support their entire livelihoods,” added Dr Rebbie. “In the last phase of the project, farmers like Betty will be trained as TOTs to train others on ‘farming as a business’. An ICT platform has been created where farmers can keep their records, link to the market, and access information on good agronomic practices. Also, all the beneficiaries of the project have access to electronic cards with information on their crop enterprise,” she explained.
Dr Ganga Rao, Principal Scientist, ICRISAT, AVCD coordinator, reported that ICRISAT’s Digital Agriculture theme, through its ihub start-up partners, are deploying digital solutions to enable Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), county extension staff and farmers to use digital tools related to good agricultural practices, market linkages and better record keeping.
Dr Ganga also noted that the project introduced community seedbanks where farmers form groups to produce quality seeds, save seeds by storing them safely until the next crop season, and get training on seed banking for continuous supply of the seeds, ensuring sustainability even after project completion. “We also introduced a snapping variety for finger millet, EUFM 502, which is easy to harvest and favorable to women, who form the biggest part of the labor force for finger millet. The snapping trait gives the finger millet a brittle stem allowing farmers to harvest it just by snapping the plant at the neck.”
According to Mr Gelvasio Mukono, ICRISAT’s field officer coordinating activities in Makueni, the unreliable rainfall and poor soils in the locality left farmers with little yields but through the training by AVCD project, the farmers are now able to use improved varieties and fertilizers, plant on time and get better yields. “The improved varieties not only withstand the dry weather but are also resistant to diseases and have higher nutritional value,” added Mr Mukono.
The project also trained women groups on agri-nutrition and value addition where they came up with different types of recipes such as chapatis, mandazi (Kenyan doughnut), doughnuts and cakes from pigeonpea.
In the final leg, the project is working with county governments to develop sustainable seed strategies, working with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), National Agricultural Research Extension Systems (NARES) seed units, the private seed companies and FPOs. To develop the capacity of FPOs to become business hubs for collective action, counties are profiling and mapping FPOs with the aim of forming bigger cooperatives. Also, nutrition is being mainstreamed for improving consumption of safe and diversified diets as well as complementary feeding practices at community level for better nutrition of women and children.
For more on our work in Kenya, click here.