It’s 1545 at Pokotom Primary School, Turkana. The pupils are sitting in the assembly, and as soon as it ends, the members of the Junior Farmer Field and Livestock Schools (JFFLS) run to the school garden. The cowpeas, amaranth, pumpkin and collard greens are looking very healthy despite the intense sun.
The pupils get busy weeding. On this particular occasion, there’s no need to water the crops because Turkana has just received two days of substantial rainfall. To keep the produce from being dried out by the scorching sun, a section of the crops are grown under shade nets, while the other under the shade of the neem trees.
This is part of the training that the Junior Farmer Field School received from FAO, in partnership with The Reuben Center, and finding from the European Union. Under the patronage of Madam Sarah Terigim, JFFLS’s goal is to make agriculture attractive to young people, promote better nutrition as well as to change the attitude that it is impossible to grow food in Turkana. This was an uphill task, considering that the Turkana people are traditionally pastoralists.
“After a one week training by FAO, I sensitized the teachers and parents on the importance to start a Junior Farmer Field and Livestock School club. I then registered 66 students from class four, five and six,” said Madam Sarah.
Turkana is hot and dry, and access to water for irrigation is a huge challenge. To navigate this problem, Pokotom Primary uses run-off water from the central hand-washing area, which is piped and directed to the school garden.
Since inception in 2018, the school garden has not only imparted on the pupils Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) such as mulching, irrigation, crop rotation and crop diversification, it has also succeeded in creating a new mindset on how important if not profitable farming is.
“I started in class four, and this club has taught me so much about farming. Before joining JFFLS, I used to think that farming is a lost venture. But after seeing how much vegetable we have been able to grow, how much money we have been able to make from the sale of vegetables, I am now convinced that farming is good,” said Godfrey Lekiru, the prefect of the JFFLS club.
Each member has a plot of land in the school garden where they grow assorted vegetables. Since they started, they have cowpeas, spinach, amaranth, okra, mrenda, moringa, tomatoes, onions and pumpkins.
Part of this training included chicken rearing. FAO introduced improved local breed, and taught JFFS members how best to care for them. From the initial 140 chics, which were a mixture of hens and cocks. 30 of them were issued to the JFFLS members for the improvement of their chicken breed at home.
The eggs laid were shared among the members who took them home either for consumption or for to add onto their brooder to increase their home chicken flock. Because chicken rearing is a lot of work that starts at as early as 0600hrs, the school hired two farm hands to help the students with this work and allow them to fully participate in their academics.
The community around the school has since gotten wind of the organic produce being grown in the school, and regularly come to purchase. From the last vegetable harvest, each member made Ksh 2000 each from the sale of vegetables. Part of this income that is used to buy seeds for the next planting season.
“We used part of the proceeds from this school garden to help the needy pupils in the boarding section who may be short on school amenities like stationary, school uniform, as well as personal effects. Even I got to repair my uniform,” added the JFFLS club prefect.
However, the JFFLS are grappling with pests on their farm, with caterpillars eating their collard greens as the biggest challenge.
“Everything we grow here is organic, and we use natural methods to keep pests away like using neem leaves and planting marigold. But every so often our Sukuma wiki (Swahili for collard greens) are attacked by caterpillars, and we are yet to find an efficient organic way to deal with these pests,” adds Madam Sarah.
From the success of Pokotom Primary School garden, the teachers have also started a kitchen garden in their staff quarters – complete with a solar dryer for when there’s a vegetable surplus.
This ripple effect can also be felt in the homes of the JFFLS members, and the community at large, who are now beginning to embrace kitchen gardens and chicken rearing around their homesteads.