BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
For many years Jonathan Mwabili, a peasant farmer in Tausa village, Voi sub-county, Taita-Taveta County, has had to contend with poor yields of maize and green grams.
At the worst, Mwabili recorded a failed crop, with the maize stalks only being turned into fodder for feeding his livestock.
This was largely due to the harsh climatic conditions characteristic of the semi-arid lowlands of the county where rainfall patterns are so erratic and farmers have to contend with poor harvests year in year out.
However, in the recent past Mwabili has become a happy farmer after embracing climate smart agricultural techniques and diversified his range of crops.
“Nowadays I no longer rely on maize which has been failing virtually through all seasons. I am now making good returns from water melons, cassava and ground nuts,” says Mwabili beaming with joy.
The farmer says water melons have proved very lucrative as they mature quickly and fetch good prices in the local market.
“I sell a kilo of water melons at Sh 50. With a well-tended fruit weighing up to eight kilos I am talking about making up to Sh 400 per fruit,” says the farmer.
The farmers’ success is owed largely to a local organization called MAZIDO, an acronym for Management of Arid Zones Initiatives and Development Options, which has been operating in the county for the last twenty years.
“Our organization has basically being empowering farmers with modern farming techniques especially those relevant in arid and semi arid areas,” said John Mlamba, the organizations’ executive officer during a farmers field day in Tausa.
According to Mlamba one of the key applications of climate smart technology introduced by the organization is plasticulture.
“ This is a technology that incorporates the use of plastic material and soil matter in crop production. The plastic material is used to cover the soil so as to minimize moisture loss, traps ultraviolet energy in the soil thereby serving as a temperature regulator” he said. This also sterilizes the soil from soil based pathogens.
The technology combines a soil and water conservation technique otherwise known as sunken bed which filled with dry vegetation or crop matter mixed with green vegetation and then covered with top soil. The area is then wetted and covered with the polythene sheet. This entire process is meant to facilitate decomposition of the plant matter while at the same time retaining water for a longer period.
“Mazido has successfully used this technology in the production of water melons in some of the driest parts of Taita- Taveta County. One plot is capable of raising 32 watermelon plants at a spacing of 1 meter apart. 1 plant on average produces 4 fruits weighing on average 5 kilos. Therefore the plot can produce on average 640 kilos of water melon in 6 weeks. With a farm price of Shs 40 per kilo, this translates to Sh 25,600 per harvest per plot”, says Mlamba .
climate smart technology
Another climate smart technology introduced by the organization is the barrel and drip kit This is a technology intended to spur and promote kitchen gardening in rural arid and semi-arid areas. This is meant to improve food and nutritional security. It involves the use of a small water barrel equivalent to 200litres and a horse pipe. The barrel can be filled using 10 20-litre jerrycans by a farmer and can irrigate an eighth of an acre of a vegetable garden. .
At the neighbouring Ikanga village Rozena Mareko is an equally elated farmer. While the area is perennially hot and dry, dotted with thorny acacia trees and baobab trees, the farmer is proud of producing impressive yields of cassava, groundnuts and maize.
Another farmer, Felix Mwangemi from Ndome village, who grows ground nuts remarked ,“Groundnuts have changed my attitude towards farming. Now I believe I can generate income and easily provide for my family.”
“ The fact that rain is scarce does not mean that local farmers should lament about food insecurity and poverty . I have now learnt that farmers in arid areas can get impressive crop yields by adopting modern farming techniques”, remarked another farmer Chrispin Mkungusi during the Ikanga Farmers Field Day.
Mlamba pointed out that most farmers in the arid areas of Taita-Taveta county had been using uncertified seeds and fertilizers which led to poor yields or failed crops.
“The Taita community has a strong attachment to the maize crop and despite out efforts to educate them on adopting drought tolerant crops such as cassava, millet and sorghum, most farmers have been adamant and still crow the crop. As an organization, instead of encouraging the local farmers to ditch the crop, we have been educating farmers on the right seed varieties and fertilizers to use in order to get good harvests,” says Mlamba.
The officer pointed out that the farmers in the area had now been convinced to plant the certified Coast Composite maize variety which Mazido in conjunction with the county department of agriculture have recommended.
“The organization has also assisted local farmers in setting up15 model farms which serve as community learning centres for the uptake of climate smart technologies,” says Mlamba.
According to Mr. Dickson Okoth, an agricultural extension officer in Tausa who has been instrumental in training farmers, locals should stop lamenting about low rainfall and instead embrace smart technologies; certified seeds, drought tolerant and fast maturing high value crops.
“For instance, I noted with dismay that most farmers were experiencing failed maize crop largely because they were planting food grains they bought from the market instead of purchasing certified maize seeds from licenced agrovets,” said Okoth.
Another key achievement of Mazido has been the establishment of a farmers’ dialogue platform dubbed “Sauti ya Mkulima”.
Through this platform, farmers have been able to engage policy and decision makers on various issues pertaining to innovative agricultural practices as well as bringing together farmers to exchange experiences, successes and challenges.
Agricultural extension is the function of providing “need and demand”-based knowledge in agronomic techniques and skills to rural communities in a participatory and systematic manner, with the objective of improving their production, income, and in essence, the quality of life.
Extension services can also double as “farmers’ field days”.
As a matter of fact, the key role of extension services cannot be gainsaid whether in Kenya or in other countries.
In Kenya agricultural extension services came a cropper during the 80’s and early 90’s largely due to the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that drastically reduced budgetary allocations for the agricultural sector.
Countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and Denmark, which have very advanced agricultural sectors, have always banked on strong extension services.
In India, the “Training & Visit System” played an important role in the Green Revolution.
This can be replicated in Kenya where agriculture is a major economic pillar.
Under the county governments now in place, with agriculture being a key development agenda in most of them, extension services should take a central place if rural communities are to enjoy self-sufficiency in food production .
This will entail increasing budgetary allocations for agriculture in county budgets which, in the case of Taita-Taveta is less than 2 per cent and sourly inadequate for a county with considerable potential for agriculture and agro-based development initiatives.
“We have been fighting for a budgetary allocation of at least 10 per cent of the total county budget, which is in accordance with the Maputo Protocal,” says Taita-Taveta CEC in charge of agriculture and livestock Harrison Mghana.