?There are farmers and there is Charles Osawa. Though he uses a wheelchair, Osawa is proving that with determination, hard work and resilience, all things are possible.
At the heart of Kware village in Kisumu County, lies his mixed farm. He grows vegetables and also keeps dairy goats. His impressive farming activities against many odds earned him the 2017 Farmer of the Year Award. He beat more than 84,000 farmers registered under the African Farmers Club (AFC).
“He was awarded for his exceptional farming despite the many odds he faces. He has proved that it is not the physical ability nor the size of land which matters, but the impact your actions have on other people,” says Noah Nasiali, AFC’s founder.
AFC has a presence in more than 84 countries, with 66,000 members being Kenyans. Though living with disability, Osawa has combined modern and digital farming methods to establish a neat rural farm.
When Smart Harvest team caught up with him at his farm, he was tilling the land in readiness for the next planting season. The way he snakes his way through the kales with his wheel chair, is amazing.
“I do most things by myself from digging to weeding and watering, but at times my wife helps me. Given that farming requires one to be hands-on, I learnt from an early age to be self-reliant,” the father of four says.
Osawa, 52, suffered a polio attack when he was five months old. Accepting his fate from an early age, he vowed not to rely on handouts.
After high school, he tried his hand at numerous jobs, but finally settled on farming in Muhoroni.
“Like all young people, I tried my hand in various businesses. I tried being a cobbler and performed other odd jobs but they did not work, so I quit,” says the Nyabondo Boys High School old boy.
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At the beginning of his farming journey, his father bought him 100 tomato seedlings and gave him a sizeable share of the farm. Given his disability, starting off was bumpy.
“When I was tilling the land, I would fall on the crops and damage them, or even accidentally cut the seedlings while weeding. But I soldiered on,” he says.
For the first season, Osawa harvested four crates of tomatoes which were bought by the neighbours. He sold a crate for Sh120, and left enough tomatoes for domestic use.
Step by step, he improved his craft. One day, as extension officers were doing the rounds in the village, they caught up with him at the farm. That marked the beginning of his journey into modern farming.
“They called me for seminars in Kisumu town, Kitale and other parts of the country, where I learnt a lot and was able to interact with my other farmers,” he says.
Today, Osawa’s farm not only produces tomatoes, but is a model farm where people from beyond Kisumu County visit to gain knowledge.
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“I normally post photos of my farm on Facebook and when people see what goes on, they marvel at the fact that it is managed by a person living with disability.
“My farm is always neat and clean with no sign of weeds. Young farmers come from all over to see how I run my farm,” he says.
But how does he do it all despite the odds against him?
Osawa’s day at the farm begins at 5am.
With his farm situated within his compound, he can easily access it.
He then moves around the farm, checking the condition of his crops.
“As a crop farmer, you need to be hawk-eyed to spot problems before they escalate. If you are keen, you will notice, the first sign of trouble in tomatoes for example rotting or yellowing of the leaves,” he says.
There are certain practices that are non-negotiable for a healthy crop, he says, and cites pruning, weeding and watering, which he does every morning, depending on the season.
“For now, I am preparing the land for planting, so I am busy tilling the land most of my mornings. I do this until 9am,” he says.
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When it gets too hot at mid-day, he retreats to the homestead, and milks his dairy goats which offers another source of income.
During seasons of feed scarcity, a farmer needs to embrace smart use of resources like feeds, he points out.
“Better still, one needs to supplement the feed to reduce costs.”
The farmer also has avocado trees from which he makes Sh20,000 in a single harvest, with two harvests in a year.
Osawa produces a hybrid tomato variety known as Rio Grande, which takes three months to mature. He staggers the planting which sees him harvest continuously for six months.With about 200 seedlings every season, he pockets more than Sh80,000 in per season and he does two seasons every year.
“The most common disease here is tomato blight, and every time my crops are attacked, I take photos and share them on AFC Facebook page and get adequate advice on how to deal with them.
Controlling tomato blight
“I have never been disappointed with my crops, except once five years ago when hailstones damaged my crops,” he says.
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Jackton Magwanga, an agronomist based in Kisumu says tomato blight is basically a series of recurring fungal infections that can be curtailed with good gardening practice and simple fungicide treatments.
Tomatoes are attacked by early and late blight, though the latter is the least common blight on tomatoes, but it is, by far, the most destructive.
To keep the disease at bay, Osawa says he employs some simple strategies he learnt from extension officers and fellow farmers at AFC.
After identification, tomato blight treatment begins with fungicide treatments, although the best remedy is prevention.
Farmers are also advised to use fungicides before the fungus appears and this should be done throughout the season.
Given that fungus spores are spread by splashing water, avoid watering in late afternoon or evening so that water can evaporate from the leaves and, if possible, water the ground and not the foliage.
Another remedy for blight, he says crop rotation.
Many youth shun farming saying it does not pay, but Osawa is living proof that farming pays.
“This is my sole source of income and I have managed to do a lot. I have educated all my children with funds from farming.
“My first child is undertaking a nursing course at Kenya Medical Training College. My second born is a student at Kenya Nazarene University, while the remaining two are secondary school students,” he says.
“I plan to expand this farm once I get sufficient funds. Once I do that, I will recruit farmers living with disability and I will train them on all things farming.”