Green grams sprout in arid Makueni

A drought tolerant crops project in the vastly dry Mtito Andei area is assisting farmers sow and reap from the desert with farmers earning upto Sh100,00 from sale of crops that would ordinarily not even sprout in the area.

Mary Kyalo one such farmer has been planting pigeon peas, maize and beans, but often times she has experienced low yields or crop failure due to poor rainfall distribution. But that is now a thing of the past. Kyalo, a mother of six is now able to harvest tones of green grams on her three acre piece of land thanks to a food security project spearheaded by Word Vision which has trained 720 farmers in the area on modern farming methods, and cultivation of Drought Tolerant Crops (DTCs) to enhance food security.

In addition to green grams and sorghum, farmers are also growing other crops like millet, cowpeas and cassava-all DTCs. Kyalo is elated at her yields compared to what she would get when she grew maize some two years ago. “I am so happy with the new technology. Despite the poor rains, I have managed to get 17 bags (90 kilogrammes per bag) of green grams. When I sell a kilo at Sh70, I expect a total of Sh94,500 from 15 bags, then keep two for my family,” she says proudly as she breaks open the pods.

Initially, the erratic weather patterns would see her reap half a bag of maize or sometimes nothing from the same piece of land. This was barely enough for her family to eat leave alone sell. Her daughter, Nduku Kyalo, cannot hide her joy at how things have turned around. “We could eat just a meal a day, my siblings and I would be chased from school for failure to pay fees. We could not afford text books and our school uniform was torn. But now the future is bright,” said the 13 year-old girl.

“We will be able to have enough food to eat. My mother will buy us school books and new uniform. We will live a better life,” adds Nduku as she helps her mother in the farm. A distance away is Miangeni village, whose farmers are also reaping massive profits. Their secret is the zai pit technology. Since World Vision trained them on this method a year ago, the area, which has for long been characterised by dry shrubs, is now green with maize and cowpeas. They are even growing watermelons.

Zai pits are small pits of 20-30 cm in diameter and a depth of 10-20 cm, which are dug into degraded soils mostly during the dry season. The excavated earth is then ridged around the pit to enhance water retention. Composited organic matter is added into the pit, mixed with water then covered with a thin layer of soil. Seeds are planted in the pits soon after the ground is made wet. 

Zai pits conserve water, control soil erosion, and capture rain and surface run-off water. They also protect seeds and organic matter against being washed away, in addition to conserving nutrients. Even though they are labour intensive, experts say they increase yields by up to 500 percent if properly executed.

Rebecca Mutuku, a farmer in Miangeni is full of praise for Zai pits. She has planted maize and intercropped with water melons, and the results are eye catching. The crops are healthy. “Look at my farm, I am so happy and I thank World Vision for introducing us to this technology,” she says, admiring her plantation. Mutuku, a grandmother, has been harvesting 15 bags of maize and a significant tonnage of watermelons from her three acre-piece of land.

“Once I sell these I am able to look after my nine grandchildren; take them to school, buy them food and other basic needs. When I first started digging the pits, my neighbours mocked me. But now they celebrate with me. They have also started digging zai pits,” she says, her face beaming.

Before this technology, the community would employ the traditional method of farming, which involves slashing the grass before ploughing. This is followed by planting of one crop mostly, which analysts say leads to soil depletion and declining crop yields.

World Vision has not only empowered communities with profitable agricultural methods, but has also provided them with farming implements including hoes, wheelbarrows, rakes, spades, fertilizers, watering cans, and seeds. Farmers’ groups here have also received greenhouses and irrigation pumps.

With 32 members, Mutuku’s group has become successful in tomato farming following greenhouse management training by World Vision last year. They are now reaping and selling tomatoes in an area that previously lacked tomatoes, thanks to an irrigation pump that is making all this possible.

Water from a nearby pond is pressurized through a hosepipe and the pump enables sprinklers or hand-spraying methods to deliver sufficient amounts of water to tomatoes in the greenhouse. “I used to walk to the centre, some 10 kilometres (about 6 miles) away, to get tomatoes. Now I am happy that I can get tomatoes just a stone throw away within my community,” notes Francis Malonza, the group’s secretary. The group has already harvested about 120 kilos of tomatoes, earning Sh7,200. Harvesting is on-going every week, and it will be done for the next eight months. The members hope to sell the produce to hotels in and out of Mtito Andei.

Proceeds from the sale are banked, and partly shared among group members who now boast of being able to generate more food and a better income for their families. “We want to save money, and in future buy dairy cows for member so that they can be able go get milk for sale and for consumption. Our lives are not going to be the same,” argues Malonza.

The Mtito Andei food security project is currently benefiting 4,320 persons. The number of beneficiaries is expected to rise to 14,200 by the time the project ends in 2014, according to Jackson Muraguri, World Vision staff in charge.