Legumes boost Nyeri’s soil fertility and flower production

Over 5,500 women farmers in Nyeri farmers are correcting decades of pesticide misuse that depressed soils nutrients and left them impoverished with a new legume and flower growing venture now pointing them to international markets.

This is why Kevin Gallagher, a researcher recently found himself in a field in Nyeri, in central Kenya, surrounded by women growing flowers and specialty legumes as an alternative to subsistence farming. More than 5 500 women's groups are active in the area, and many of them have asked for technical support on pesticide issues.

This is where integrated production and pest management comes in. In community-based farmer field schools, farmers learn about improving their management of the ecosystem. They are then able to encourage natural predators of crop pests and reduce the amount of pesticides they use.

The women grow high-value export crops like snow peas, and flowers such as limonium and tuber rose, which they sell to larger growers as fillers for bouquets, as well as legumes. No significant domestic markets exist for the legumes, so the field schools also teach marketing for export.

Kevin Gallagher an FAO expert in integrated production and pest management inspired by the women’s resolve has pitched tent in the area assisting them in good pest management practices. "We're helping growers learn about safe alternatives in pest management," he explained. "They haven't been fully informed about good practices, so they misuse pesticide compounds. It's a double challenge for us all. But the women are very determined, most of them are saving to send their children to school, and they have organized very effectively," said Gallagher.

The groups in Nyeri have already set up their own revolving loan funds, and their produce competes with that of large growers they grow so much that exporters send a truck every other day to pick up more supplies.

Horticulture is the fastest-growing sector of Kenya's economy, bringing in over US$270 million in 2000, with cut flowers representing US$110 million. Although it was only established in 1972, the horticulture industry is on a par with Kenya's traditional hard currency earners tea, coffee and tourism in revenues.