How school saves Sh1m per term from farming

Agriculture teacher at St Kizito Nyansiongo Boys Ken Ogoro inspects the school farm. The school grows its own vegetables. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

A school's initiative to grow its own food and rear dairy cattle has turned out to be a perfect cost-saving measure and money maker. 

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, St Kizito Nyansiongo Boys High School in Nyamira county was struggling to feed its students due to the high cost of living.

The situation was worsened by Covid-19 related restrictions on movement which saw consumers pay more for fresh produce because of high demand and low supply.

Additionally, many parents were unable to pay fees for their children, because they had lost their jobs and businesses. This precarious situation forced the school administrators to think outside the box.

“The solution was within our reach. We first looked at the expansive land at the school and then put our heads together on how we can grow our own food and be self-sufficient,” says the principal Ezekiel Okeyo.

With the help of the agriculture teachers and students, they bought the vegetable seedlings, prepared the land, and planted. Slowly, they began the work of tending to the crops.

Proper agronomical practice

“Luckily, most of the vegetables that we grow are fast maturing. We also did not have problems of pests and disease attacks since our agriculture teachers were like our extension officers guiding us on proper agronomical practices like weeding,” explains Okeyo.

After months of hard work, today, the institution's five-acre farm is filled with kales and bananas which are feeding the population of about 1,200 students and a school workforce of around 200.

Mr Ken Ogoro, who teaches Agriculture in the school says every day, they harvest about six sacks of kales which are enough to feed the school population.

Irrigation system

Even though vegetable farming is solely rain-fed, when rains fail, they switch to irrigation.

“We have efficient irrigation systems and there is efficient water for that,” Mr Ogoro says.

Ogoro says now they are saving more than half of food costs.

“Before we came up with this project, we were spending up to around Sh120,000 per week on food. But that is no longer the case,” Ogoro says.

Thankfully now in a term, the school is saving up to Sh1million through its feeding programme.

“This is a lot of money which we are now directing to development projects like expanding and upgrading the infrastructure,” Okeyo says.

And according to Mr Ogoro, not only has the shift to farming on the school land increased fortunes for the school administration, but it has also led to increased enrolment in the Agriculture class.

“Our students are actively involved in the management of the farm and through that, we have seen an increase in the number of learners enrolling for the subject in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education double from 40 to 80 candidates who will be sitting for exams this year,” the teacher says.

At the school’s banana farm, about 100 bananas are already ready for harvesting.

Ogoro says the bananas are ripened and given to students as fruit servings on special weekdays.

Green bananas is a part of the breakfast menu. Green bananas are an excellent source of fibre, which play an essential role in ensuring digestive health as well as heart health.

To diversify their source of income, the institution also has 20 dairy cattle that provide milk for learners.  In a day, they get 50 litres of milk from the heifers which are consumed by teachers and learners.

Going by the market rates, the amount of milk consumed in the school costs Sh3,000 per day, amounting to Sh250,000 per term, an amount which is saved through the milk initiative.

To boost their milk yields, the Principal says they are planning to replace the current breeds with hybrid ones which will yield more milk.

“Already we have a proposal to start a zero-grazing unit and acquiring pedigree dairy cows which are high yielding,” he says.

Initiatives like these have helped many other schools survive times when non-payment of fees coupled with delayed disbursement of government funding is the order of the day.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha recently advised schools with huge tracts of land to make maximum usage of the resources by growing food crops that will cushion them from hunger.

“The President has prioritised agriculture and food security as one of the four key agenda of his government. Schools that have land which is suitable for agriculture should make use of it to be food secure,” Magoha was quoted saying.

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