Project lifts Central Kenya farmers through mixed farming

 An ambitious ten year program that was set up in early 2000 at a tune of US$18.1m  to enable the over  42,000 households in arid and semi arid areas of Central Kenya cross the poverty line has surpassed the set target and benefitted more than 44,000 households.

Dubbed Central Kenya Dry Areas Small Holder and Community Services Development Project (CKDAP) with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD, Belgium Survival Fund BSF, Government of Kenya and the target community allowed for consultations with the farmers while introducing ways in which the farmers would sustain the project once the donors pulled out.

The project funded areas in agriculture that farmers were comfortable with including poultry farming, dairy goats, fodder conservation, tissue culture bananas among others in the target areas which include Nyandarua, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Maragwa and Thika Districts. The project has been predominantly community development driven, based on designs that address poverty as a multi-dimensional phenomenon. Self-Help Groups and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) constituted the main interface between projects beneficiaries or stakeholders and the line ministries that form part of the service-delivery set-up.

The huge success of the program has attracted other players like the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Nairobi which is working on a book to be published soon, for the farmers to share their experiences learnt in the programme in addressing food security.

According to the IDS Researcher, Dr. Joseph Onjala, a write-shop was recently held at Thika’s Kenya Agricultural Research Institute offices where stakeholders and farmers brainstormed, and edited the material for publication. Mukurweni in the larger Nyeri District has been among the target area that has returned impressive results especially in the livestock, milk production, fodder conservation, pineapple farming and tissue culture farming where farmers expressed their interest in.

For example, a poultry project that sought to replace the over 800 indigenous birds which were susceptible to castle and fowl pox diseases with 732 hybrid birds of Kenbto, Sasso, and Brown eggers type has reduced the bird’s morality rate by 70 percent.

Every year the vaccination is carried out twice at the onset of the rains with the help of farmers who have been trained under the programme in all the target areas with an average of 8000 birds vaccinated per year since 2002. “I have even learnt to vaccine my birds in time, and they rarely get sick. I have always wanted to rear livestock and it was one failed attempt after another. If its not fowl pox killing my birds, its lack of feed for them. When the project was introduced and they came asking for what we wanted, I shouted rearing livestock. I still cannot believe I can have two consecutive years where I have never had any of my chicken dying, unless I slaughter them,” says Humphrey Mutiga a 25 year old beneficiary of the project.

According to programme coordinators, the vaccine programme had made a complete turn around in the productivity of the livestock. Before the vaccination programme was introduced, about 1 million birds used to die. The egg losses from the lost birds calculated at 20% of the total birds in laying stages is Kshs 170000per year.

Mukurweini is a banana growing zone but the area is constantly under always food shortage. The bananas traditionally grown in the area have returned poor output due to poor banana quality. In 2004 a group of farmers received samples of high yielding and early maturing bananas, the demand for more of these bananas from other farmers who joined the program led the program organizers to establish a hardening nursery for these tissue culture bananas. Farmers have also been linked to the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) for training and supply of the plantlets.
                                                                                                                                                             The value of bananas has risen from between 80-100kshs/bunch to 200-300kshs/bunch. This has prompted 200 adaptors with each having a plantation of 20 plants. With the hardening nursery in place the farmers bought 300 plantlets for 70kshs a plantlet and sold each plantlet for Ksh 100 after a month creating a revolving fund to buy more plantlets in future. In 2009 200 farmers adopted 20 plants each harvesting about 4000 bunches with an average value of Ksh250 per bunch translating into Ksh 1million kshs yearly. The tissue bananas project has also created food security in the community since they take shorter time to mature and have bigger bunches compared to the traditional ones.

Other hybrid crops that have introduced and have doubled farmer’s income include grafted mango that are encouraged for commercial markets. The group has been trained on value addition such as jam, juice making and mango flakes which will help in making more income, lowering the bulk to ease transport and preserving the fruits to be used for a longer period.
                                                                                                                                                             As the farmers gradually moved from production of food for subsistence use to commercial ventures, the project started targeting the resident’s umbrella bodies like self help groups and women groups by training them on financial management, auditing, collateral/security, credit management, and business planning of Income Generating Activities which was then followed by some follow-up visits on the ground including committee members and other members.                   

 For sustainability when donors pulled out, farmers have been trained by research institutions and linked to organizations who would supply them with plants and animal feeds at subsidized rates. For marketing they are linked to Africa Harvest, a leading not for profit organization credited with linking farmers with a ready market and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute for advice on modern farming.