Written by Wilson Okila (Vi Agroforestry)
“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion,” so goes an old Ethiopian proverb emphasizing the value of teamwork.
In the Nyando area of western Kenya, the increasing frequency of late onset and early ending of rainfall seasons, as well as drought and flood events, is negatively affecting farming activities. High value crops, such as tomatoes, in open fields get damaged from seasonal weather variability. To address this problem, farmer groups are shifting from open crop cultivation to closed protected spaces. This includes greenhouse farming of up to a quarter of a hectare, combined with drip irrigation with the advantage of saving water. The greenhouse is free from flooding and drought, and further offers better control of pests and diseases which tend to worsen with the changing climate. These farmer groups work closely with CCAFS partners’ to test and demonstrate agricultural innovations.
Meet the Lower Kamula village youth group; one of the most enterprising in the area. Formed in 2013, this group of 12 (with four women) is testing the smart farm concept which includes the greenhouse and drip irrigation systems. In a new initiative, the group will incorporate drought escaping climbing beans and Brachiaria fodder grass from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), as part of the crop rotation calendar.
Other smart farm technologies include water conservation and management, seed bulking of fodder for livestock and growing of drought tolerant indigenous vegetables.
Intensive horticulture production
With a single green house, the Lower Kamula group has been able to produce approximately 80 crates of quality tomatoes within 18 months. Additionally, over the same period, 120 crates of local vegetables (black night shade, spider plant and cowpea) have been harvested from the open field within the smart farm. From a mini-earth dam with a capacity of 300,000 litres, fish farming is done. The produce is sold in nearby markets earning the group income.
Some of the Lower Kamula group members sort through a tomato harvest. Photo: W. Okila (Vi Agroforestry)
Due to the intensive knowledge and skills required to operate smart farms, this group and other community groups in the area undergo specialized training coordinated by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) partners. They in turn teach other community groups through local farmer learning events and demonstrations. By linking to credit providers and agro-dealers, and working with the county government, CCAFS plans to increase the number of units, reaching nearly 10,000 young farmers. For example in October 2014, the group got the chance to exhibit their climate-smart farming activities through a learning event sponsored by Green Zone Agency (GZA), where 500 farmers learnt about the smart farming practices. The partnership subsequently resulted in GZA facilitation in construction of a second mini-earth dam with a capacity of 300,000 litres.
New partnerships and support to the group
Because of the efforts by the Lower Kamula Youth Group and the impact this is having in the community, World Vision partnered with the group in June 2015 and facilitated construction of a second greenhouse. This decision was reached following a vetting process involving four other farmer groups.
Picture shows ongoing construction of a second greenhouse (left), made possible through support of World Vision. Photo: W. Okila (Vi Agroforestry)
“I have been asked to train other farmers and offer simple agronomic advice to them. This is a new challenge for me as I will need to continuously acquire new skills,” says Jacob Owuor, the Lower Kamula Youth Group chair. “With the second greenhouse, we will double our income from horticulture.” To address problems of water scarcity, the group will construct another mini-earth dam to harvest more rainwater for use during the dry season. Additionally, the group will use its savings to buy farm equipment and inputs required for the two greenhouses.