Former civil servant turns farm into award winning food basket

Rows of towering green maize stand next to banana plants sprouting from the earth like magic beanstalks. On the other side of the farm, stems laden with cascading bunches of green bananas hang just out of reach.

The air is heavy with humidity, the muddy ground strewn with the tangled remains of fallen leaves and stalks as the well manicured rows of trees swing rhythmically to the direction of the wind. The harmony in this five acre land is the ultimate triumph of resilience in the midst of adversity for Fleciah Wambui Kinyua.

Fleciah was a civil servant at the Ministry of Health in a well paying job. But in 2000 she was among the 25,783 civil servants who were retrenched as a condition set by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to resume lending to Kenya.

The retrenchment, catching her unawares, she decided to retreat back to her home in Kirinyaga county. With a lot of time in her hand she started exploring what business ventures she could start to earn income. After months of soul searching and research, she settled on farming having identified growing market for various agricultural produce in her local market.

It would be the best decision she ever made, which has now grown into a five acre enterprise accommodating various tree species, cereals, cabbages, coffee bananas and cows. Her zeal and passion in this kind of farming would see her feted as the most overall national winner in the women category of the 2014 Elgon Kenya National Farmers Awards.

“When I got retrenched, it was the lowest point of my life. I was used to drawing a salary every end month. I had bills to pay and a family to take care of. I couldn’t imagine how life would be. But I had to think fast,” said Fleciah.

Fleciah who draws inspiration from her husband who she says has given her the freedom to experiment with anything on their farm has perfected the art of mixed farming which ensures there are no dry days for her and the family. When she is planting maize for example, bananas and cabbages are up for harvest and sale. Her cows also supplement her income with daily earnings.

Aware that Kenyan women make 80 percent of all farmers in the country yet challenges like ownership of land and access to finances means that they never get to enjoy the fruits of their labour, Fleciah set to empower fellow women farmers.

Fleciah is the chairperson of Karinga Farmers Group with 60 active members which teaches farmers agricultural best practices like low cost pest control methods, maximizing on land use and pointing the farmers to ready and well paying markets.

Banana, which enjoys huge local and across the country demand, has been the farmer group’s flagship produce and which Fleciah hails for having changed the lives of many farmers in Kirinyaga. “Training happens in my farm and it has been of benefit to many farmers here especially in spurring them to move to farming as business. Already very many have and the demand for bananas especially from Nairobi is so high that we cannot meet it,” added Fleciah.

With a resolve to get more people especially women to start making money out of agriculture Fleciah has been encouraged women to think smart especially on the challenges of accessing credit facilities. “Although women say it is hard to access loans because they have no security since the title belong to the husband, these days if you are consistent in your farming, you can use your harvest as security. Take the example of milk, if you supply milk daily to recognized milk buyers like the New KCC that is enough collateral,” she said.

Such animated approach to farming saw her crowned best woman farmer in Kenya and awarded a trophy by the president. This, she says is a noble gesture that has inspired many who have lost hope. “Seeing the president’s excitement at hearing what I do and how I survived through the retrenchment, I got more zeal to support our people to go back to farming because it is a business that will never die. People will always need food. And while population is growing, food producers are shrinking,” she said.