Quality seeds herald sorghum boom in Western Kenya

In Khaoya area of Western Kenya, the sound of women singing and cheerfully chatting from an abundant sorghum field draws attention from neighbors passing by. The women’s yips and cheers could be heard down the street. Drivers along the road stopped and leaned out their windows to take photos of the sorghum stalks, talking about how healthy the harvest looked.

The harvest belonged to 53-year-old farmer Rosemary Wanjala, who beamed proudly at the attention from her neighbors. She is a beneficiary of the One Acre Fund, a not for profit organization that works directly with smallholder farmers.

Prior to joining One Acre Fund this year, Rosemary had endured numerous struggles on her farm. “The maize and the sorghum I used to plant would grow until they were knee-high, and then they would remain stunted,” Rosemary said. “I usually cut them down and gave them to my livestock as fodder.”

Rosemary felt she was the odd one out in her village because many of her neighbors enjoyed good harvests. They would often ask her if they could cut down her stunted crops to feed their livestock as well. “It pained me when they asked to cut my crops for their livestock since I felt they were insulting me for how poor my crops looked compared to their own,” she said.

Lack of good harvests presented dual difficulties for Rosemary. Not only did she not have enough food to feed her family, but without a strong harvest, she was also unable to sell any of her crops to help pay school fees for her five grandchildren. “Life was unbearable because I had to look for odd jobs on other people’s farms just to care for my family, and this was not even enough,” she said. “It was demoralizing that I was putting all this effort in another person’s farm while I could be doing the same in my own,” she said.

Last year, Rosemary enrolled with One Acre Fund, which granted her access to quality seed and fertilizer and planting trainings. She realized her crops had been suffering before because she had planted too late in the season. “My farm is rocky so it doesn’t retain moisture for a long time compared to other people’s farms. When I plant late in the season, it stops raining before my crops are ready. The poor moisture retention of the soil in my farm dries up my crops before they produce,” Rosemary said. She also learned how to use her seed supplies more efficiently. “I’ve realized that I don’t have to plant so many seeds to get a good yield. I learned that you can plant a small quantity of seeds on a large plot of land and still enjoy a good harvest as long as they are well spaced.”

After applying these lessons, Rosemary was in shock to find that now her field was the envy of her neighbors. “I never imagined that my farm could yield so much sorghum,” she said. “All through the harvest I felt like I was in a dream, and I could not stop myself from smiling at every plant that I touched.” The sorghum she harvested is enough to fill two 90kg bags. This is enough to last her family for more than nine months.

Rosemary plans to harvest her maize soon, and her expectations are as high as her maize stalks. She predicts that from the half-acre she planted, she will harvest eight bags. “For the first time after many years, I’m going to harvest maize on my farm, which is a prospect that I had given up hope on for a long time. It’s so humbling to realize that finally I’m no longer the farmer whose crops provide fodder for other people’s livestock, but I’ve become a learning example to others.”

With her current harvest, Rosemary is assured of her family’s food security for the year. “I now look forward to the future with a lot of hope knowing that my family will not go hungry again, and I’m no longer going to work on anyone’s farm just to provide for my family,” she said. She is also certain that with her harvest she will now be able to pay her grandchildren’s school fees.

After this season’s success with her crops, Rosemary has made new plans for the future. She hopes to increase the amount of land she enrolls for planting sorghum with One Acre Fund from quarter of an acre to half an acre next season, and she intends to renovate her house with the money she will earn from selling one of her bags of sorghum. Even though Rosemary has already seen great success this season, she believes this is only the beginning for her. In the coming years, she hopes to continue improving her harvests and her quality of life.