When we visited a 45-year-old Michael Okong’o at his rural home in Gogo village, West Kanyamkago Ward, Uriri Sub-county of Migori County, the healthy green crops were all we could see.
One could hardly tell of the poor climatic condition of the area, with most lands surrounded with rock boulders.
Okong’o’s home, sits at the boundary between Uriri and Nyatike Sub County, an area perceived to be an Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL).
This explains why the surrounding environment shares the same climatic condition as Nyatike region, which hardly receive enough annual rainfall.
Nevertheless, Okong’o narrates that his determination to grow food crops made him do all that it takes, which is depicted in green farms immersed in fresh vegetables and maize.
“This area is very hot and as you can see three quarters of my farmlands is rocky. But I am doing what I always wanted,” narrates Okong’o as he takes shot strides inside his vegetable farm.
The polygamous man with several children is one of the few determined farmers who abandoned tobacco farming, to venture into full-time food crop production, after growing the plant for several years.
This was due to the low profits from the tobacco sales despite high cost of production and also health hazards that the crop exposes its farmers to.
Having given up on tobacco farming, Okong’o narrates how he contemplated on whether he should join sugarcane farming. He was fully aware of the challenges that the cane growers face when demanding for payment from the sugar millers.
“After quitting tobacco growing, I almost ventured into cane growing. But I changed my mind because I had heard lots of complaints from growers on delayed payments,” he explained.
Bordering Nyatike, a semi-arid area, growing food crops in Gogo area proved to be an uphill task as rains are unpredictable.
When ‘Ripple Effect’, a non-government organization, formerly ‘Send a Cow’ (SAC) came into Migori County to train farmers on new farming methods, Okong’o embraced the idea.
He narrates how the organisation’s idea was timely and coincidental to his desires. “When the SAC came, few people were reluctant to join. For me I wanted to know how to farm here on my land and that is what they provided,” he shared.
Since then, the organisation has been sensitizing farmers in Migori County on the importance of adapting to new farming technologies.
Apart from maximizing yields, the organisation also advocates for healthy farming free from using agro-chemicals and fertilizers.
After learning the new farming skills from them, it was all smiles for Okong’o and his family, as they could now reap big from their sweat.
“Through trainings, I decided to practice the ideas here in my home since I had no any other land,” said Okong’o.
Although it takes more than training alone, as most of the work I do myself like organising my farm and planting,” continued Okong’o as he goes round a water pond.
Okong’o’s one acre farm has 20 different crops that include fruits and vegetables besides poultry, goats and cows.
He notes that the scientific crop method such as Keyhole, Aerial, Trench and Mandala gardening, is the reason he has managed to have a lot of crops in a limited space of land
In addition, the gardening techniques also conserve crop water and moisture usage, increase crop production and utilise better plant nutrients. He has managed to dig a pond for harvesting rain water to help in watering crops.
The farmer says that he uses organic fertilizer obtained from his composite pit, liquid organic manure for top dressing and the “Plant Tea” that acts both as pesticide and insecticide.
Okong’o says that organic farming has enabled him to reduce the expenses that he previously incurred in purchasing inorganic fertilizer and pesticides from shops.
“I make liquid manure by putting fresh cow dung in a bucket with fresh water to liquefy for 14 days in order to produce the necessary nitrogen for crop top dressing,” explained Okong’o.
“I also use Plant Tea pesticide, which is made from a concoction of different plant and vegetable leafs mixed together with water for a period of 10 days,” he added.
The reason for using different plant and vegetable leaves is to ensure that all rodents and destructive insects are killed.
Being in a farmers’ group has sharpened his skills in crop and animal husbandry and economically from the services and grants that groups get from NGO partners and the County government.
From the sale of crops and vegetables, Okong’o’s family has bought goats, chicken and even saved some money for paying school fees.
His wife Rosemary Akinyi states that they nowadays enjoy peace in their home as small quarrels about family expenditures on food and other basic things are a thing in the past
“Before, we could not ‘eat tobacco’ with my family, we had to sell it first. But as of today, we eat these crops here before selling,” she narrates as she cuts down a banana tree.
They also advise those still adamant on tobacco growing to think on growing food crops, which they can as well eat before selling.
By Polycarp Ochieng and George Agimba