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Stung by biting hunger, locals turn to conservation farming

By Lydia Limbe
Plants of a blooming candied zucchini grows in open ground. [Courtesy]

Deep in the heart of Kilifi County, we drive and wade through ankle-deep mud to get to Elizabeth Dama Kahindi’s farm.

The long-awaited rains are finally here, and farmers are abuzz with planting and weeding. Elizabeth is one of the 280 Trainer of Farmers (TOFs) who were trained on conservation agriculture by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2015.

The first thing that Elizabeth Kahindi did after the six-day training was to put one acre on greengrams using the new method. That was during the October-November-December rainy season. She harvested 7.5 bags, which she sold in Malindi, making Sh75,000. This was the first time she made so much money from farming bringing home the life-changing opportunity of farming as well as the possibility of diversifying into cattle and goat farming.

Elizabeth spent Sh30,000 and Sh10,000 out of the Sh75,000 to buy two Zebu cows and five Small East-African goats. She fondly named one cow FAO and the other, Kilimo Hifadhi, which is Swahili for conservation agriculture. The herd has since grown to seven cows and 17 goats.  

From this initial harvest, Elizabeth became confident in the efficacy of the farming method and went ahead to teach other farmers.

Even though the farmers have been slow in adopting conservation agriculture, Elizabeth increased her acreage to six. In 2017 when there was little rainfall, she made Sh35,000 from the little harvest, while her neighbours had a completely failed crop.

At some point in the year, she had to share her food stock with her neighbours. In 2018 though, she made Sh120,000 from one harvest of greengrams. With these increased earning, Elizabeth bought a Gala-buck goat at Sh10,000, which she is using to improve the breed of the goats she is rearing. 

“I am a single mother with four children and since I started to farm using the principles of conservation agriculture, my life is easy and enjoyable. I have money to take children to school, I am dressing very well, I have plenty of nutritious food to eat, and farming is no longer back-breaking work,” says Elizabeth.

Of her four children, only one is in secondary school and she comfortably pays her fees. Her three elder children are college-ready, and she now sees the possibility of her being able to pay their college tuition fees from the proceeds of her farm produce.

In addition to getting income from farming, she is further diversifying her income-generating activities.

From the Sh120,000 proceeds that she made in 2018, she has bought a plot and brick cutting machine and is building a shop to let, which is already at the lintel level.

Having fully owned conservation agriculture, Elizabeth went ahead to teach 4K club members of Blue Glue and Kaoyeni Primary Schools and Ramada Secondary. Ramada Secondary has 30 acres in its name, and currently has one acre on conservation agriculture trial.

The idea is to use the 30 acres for a school feeding programme, and for the children to disseminate this knowledge to their parents and encourage them to adopt this method of farming, as well as to increase the community’s food nutrition and security.

“So far, the biggest challenge is changing the community attitude towards burning grass as it is used as mulching. This also kills the small bugs that will eat weeds. But when it’s a challenge to find grass for this purpose, the option is to use cover crops like green grams, cowpeas, and pumpkin, which the community is embracing much faster,” said Elizabeth.

Farmers like Elizabeth play a key role in the catapulting of the knowledge, expertise, and adoption of conservation agriculture in rural communities, enabling them to be food secure and resilient.

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