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How to turn semi-arid and water scarce area into a real farming hub

Judith Nzilani (left), a horticultural farmer in Kajiado County, harvests cowpea leaves (Kunde). [Eustance Maina]

Kajiado is among counties popularly known for cattle rearing, as most residents are nomadic pastoralists who migrate within the region and the outskirts in search of pastures and water.

While the larger community mostly relies on cattle produce of milk and meat for livelihood, the growing cosmopolitan nature of the county helping diversity the nomadic lifestyle to farming.

At Korrompoi village, about 14 kilometers from Kitengela town, a farmer is determined to showcase to the world that Kajiado is not only a cattle-rearing region, but its soil is favorable for farming.

Judith Nzilani grows traditional vegetables such as black nightshade popularly known as managu, Amaranths (terere) and as well as cowpea leaves (Kunde) in four acres’ pieces of land, for lease.

Judith who hails from Makueni County also grows garlic and bulb onions and coriander (dhania). Other crops that she cultivates and matures within a short period are tomatoes, capsicums, and spinach and sukuma wiki.

According to the farmer, a civil servant, she ventured into horticultural farming in 2013. “Finding indigenous vegetables in this area is a little bit hard. I decided to quench their thirst (residents’ need of traditional vegetables) by introducing them,” said Judith during the interview, adding that she coughed over Sh400, 000 from her savings to set up the project.

Though she says finding land was hectic, but with the help of a friend, she managed to acquire. An acre for lease within the region goes for Sh50,000 per year.

Most traditional vegetables mature in a month’s time, and she gradually introduced other crops so as to practice crop rotation. “Kajiado is a semi-arid area and water scarcity frequently experienced nearly slayed my ambitions. I opted to drill a borehole, 100 feet deep, which supplies me with sufficient clean water,” she explains.

A tank has been installed on top of the borehole, where water is pumped into. Judith 43 has embraced an irrigation system, a move that she says enables her to supply enough farm produce to her clients all through.

Most vegetables consumed in Nairobi and neighboring counties are alleged to be grown using sewerage water. Health and nutritional experts warn that such crops are not only detrimental to human being’s health, but also among the causes of deadly cancer disease.

Drilling a borehole, the farmer insists that she is able to supply the market with ‘clean’ produce. “Indigenous vegetables should be organically grown. Use of contaminated water changes their nature,” she explains.

Her land has been subdivided into portions, in order to accommodate the crops, she grows. According to Judith, after every four months, the farm, Kituasi Orchard, bags her in close to Sh200, 000, profit t. Local residents especially mama mbogas, restaurants and schools are her major customers.

The farmer has employed a permanent staff, who helps her when in office work. She says when the workload is overwhelming, especially during land preparation, sowing, weeding and harvesting, she contracts about five casuals.

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