The idea was first met with skepticism and frowns. Small-scale farm holders kept asking question after question. They demanded clarification and answers. Finally, they reluctantly agreed to adopt the proposal.
“It was a new idea. It is good to be cautious and we are glad we adopted it,” says Mama Grace Sau, a farmer at Kiziki village in Mwatate sub-county.
The idea came at the beginning of 2021. Mr. Harrison Tuja, an agricultural expert, approached a group of farmers in the village with what at first sounded like a whacko plan. Although each farmer had their individual farms, Tuja introduced the idea of a communal seedlings nursery to grow vegetables.
The communal nursery would help cut down on costs related to land preparations, procuring of farm implements, fertilizers and seeds. The ultimate objective was to create a village population that would attain a level of self-sufficiency in production of vegetables for domestic consumption.
Tuja says that despite the conducive environment offered by the climate, hundreds of poor homesteads were enslaved to vegetable market and ended up spending an average of Sh200 daily on vegetables.
“We have to help the farmers save money by growing their own vegetables,” he says.
Less than a year later, Kiziki and neighbouring villages have become a model on how adoption of new farming methods can empower rural populations and promote savings for artisanal farmers.
Though the farmers would eventually decide to start their own individual nurseries, the vegetable project has become such a success that production is satisfying local consumption and leaving surplus for the market.
Tuja adds that farmers who were once dependent on the market as buyers have now become suppliers and sellers of vegetables.
“We have succeeded beyond what we anticipated. Our first goal was to make sure they are growing their own vegetables to save on the money. They are now even selling the surplus,” he said.
Mama Sau is the chair of Sere-Kiziki Self Help Group; a group of farmers who benefited from the project. She says the training has transformed the village with farmers now owning their own nurseries. She adds the vegetable project is gradually rolling over to other farms.
She notes that after years of low-yield, the vegetable project has excited over 600 rural homesteads with farmers expressing their satisfaction with the results.
“We are harvesting and selling. This has never happened before and we are now interested in expanding our farms to accommodate more crops,” she says.
Ms. Jackline Wakesho, a farmer, states that the training on land preparation, type of seeds and fertilizers to use has been beneficial to the village. She adds she is saving enough money to ease her burden of paying school fees.
Ms. Wakesho adds that the farms’ productivity could be enhanced through more support of seeds and fertilizers.
“We are producing in small-scale because we need to see if the idea will work. We now need to expand but we will need support,” she said.
She adds that they have harvested four times and there was still enough crop left. According to the farmers, the collective size of the land under vegetable farming is slightly over an acre; land size which is expected to significantly go up as more farmers join the project.
One of the key supporters of the project is Mwatate MP Andrew Mwadime. The MP bought into the idea and asked farmers to adopt the ideas as part of fighting food insecurity, keep malnutrition at bay and bolster the government’s Big 4 Agenda.
Tuja states that the legislator saw the potential in the project and came on board to empower the rural population.
“He bought into the idea. He told farmers they needed to be part of this initiative by the time it is picking up,” says Tuja.
Amongst the vegetables adopted include kales, amaranthus and other indigenous species. Some farmers are also experimenting on soya while others are growing tomatoes, kales and onions.
The vegetable magic has spilled over to Wundanyi sub-county with Sughulu, Kilema and Chome villages becoming early adopters. Residents of the three villagers have started a communal nursery with 5,000 seedlings to be distributed to members for replanting in farms.
Mr. Jackson Kidemo, a farmer who donated land for the nursery, says they are committed to severing total dependency on market-supplied vegetables. He adds that households are spending a fortune in the market; a situation likely to be reversed by the project.
“We embraced this idea because it will help us save. Homesteads are spending a lot of money on buying vegetables,” he explained.
Ms. Caroline Mwanguka, a farmer from Chome village, said once the seedlings were mature and given to farmers, there should be more support in terms of fertilizers and herbicides.
Ms. Mchai Mcharo, a farmer, said the vegetable project was a timely initiative that would have aptly addressed joblessness amongst the youth. She however stated that the idea had been eagerly accepted by the elderly farmers in the region who were driving it.
She noted that the farmers were committed to ensuring sustainability through establishment of their own nurseries where they can get seedlings.
“This initiative will not cease to function even after the support we are receiving stops. We have accepted it and will introduce nurseries to produce seedlings for farmers,” she said.
By Wagema Mwangi