Embu County farmers expand their crop and animal variety

Mary Kavata harvests cucumber from her kitchen garden in Embu County. [Photo:Robert Nyagah]
Mary Kavata harvests cucumber from her kitchen garden in Embu County. [Photo:Robert Nyagah]

In a homestead in Muthatari area in Embu County a mother mobilizes her two teenage daughters to harvest green maize, beans, caw pees and various indigenous green vegetables for the day’s meal preparation.

For years, the family has practiced mixed farming mainly concentrating on stable food crops such as Maize and beans and also livestock including chicken, pigs, rabbits, dairy cattle and goats.

In the recent seasons however, farming has expanded to various highly nutritious cereals, tubers and indigenous vegetables-generally classified as orphan crops and high yielding livestock.

And thanks to prevailing climatic conditions because last years’ El Niño rains have aided the flourishing of exotic and traditional food crops.

This is bringing a smile to many subsistence farmers just like the foregoing family which invested widely on both cash and food crops even though at a small scale.

Since the beginning of November 2015 when crops start to mature as the long rains subside families in Embu County have been enjoying abundant supplies of food from their farms.

“There has been adequate supply of various foodstuffs from our farms. We have green maize, beans, and caw peas, indigenous traditional green vegetables apart from horticultural plans such as cucumbers,  brinjals  and pumpkins among others”, says Christian Wandiri.

She says that most of the foodstuffs are available at farm and kitchen gardens and that had reduced visits to the shops and markets.

Wandiri says that prices of foodstuffs such as green vegetables have also gone down due to huge supplies at market level driven by good harvests of the El Niño rain fed crops.

Majority of families with between half and one acre of land practicing mixed maize and beans farming confess that their bean’s crop harvests which are ongoing were good and ranged between three to four bags.

“I harvested four bags of beans from my one acre piece of land where I had planted maize and beans” explains Rose Muraguri adding that the El Niño rains were adequate and spurred the crop to produce abundantly.

Continued good harvests for the continuing season are however widely due to intensified campaigns by agricultural extension officers from the government and the private sector in educating livestock and crop farmers in the County in skills to improve production and make farming profitable.

From the private sector, the African Christian and Schools (ACC&S) Church agricultural experts have been offering extension advise to more than 300 farmers in Itabua region alone for the last three years.

The extension work where farmers are provided with farm inputs such as hybrid seeds, fertilizers and pesticides on revolving loan basis has seen production at farm level expand at very attractive rates.

The experts from the church according to the beneficiaries of the project visit the farmer’s right from the land preparation stage providing guidance to ensure all technical requirements are followed.

The key factor towards better yields the farmers say lies in ensuring that soils are maintained in a healthy way and not left exposed to the sun to lose nutrients and moisture.

“For the last three seasons we have been discouraged from digging or using ploughs to mix or disturb the soils after harvesting our crops and have been using the leaves from Maize and beans harvested to cover the soils to retain moisture” says Mrs. Muraguri.

The farmer appreciates that munching one of the most marketed areas by the ACC&S experts was in fact the main reason where the present crop is flouring because it continued even after weeding which only involved plucking the weeds.

Catherine Wawira, another farmer who benefitted from field days organized by the Church and the national government experts is happy with her potatoes’ and sweet potatoes portions and is anticipating some of the best yields based on the physical health of the crops.

“I expect good harvests from my sweet potatoes crop plot which is doing very well, I appreciate that I followed the advice of the experts and ensured that the land was never exposed to the direct sun after my last harvest” says Wawira as she pulls out an already fattening yellow sweet potato root at least three weeks before maturity.

Past crop failure were attributed to poor choice of seeds, pest sprays and farming methods made worse by general low rainfall whose retention in the soils was low especially where farmers ignored munching advice.

A survey by the REJECT in  the livestock sector small scale farmers rearing chicken, dairy cattle and goats in lower parts of the county reveals that farmers  have been recording good returns since the rains started with grass and other fonder being in plenty from various farms, along main and access roads and furrow land.

Milk production from dairy cattle and goats, the farmers says has grown and incomes improved because prices for a little of milk is selling at between Sh. 45 to Sh. 50.

Phyllis Ndwigah, who owns two dairy caws which in the past produced four litres of milk today yield at least eight litres after she started following expert advice gained through various field days.

When the main filed days were launched three years ago the livestock and food production experts from the government and the private sector said they were keen “to educate farmers on how to make their undertakings more commercially profitable”

Huge amounts of funds benefiting farmers through technical guidance, seeds, sprays and fertilizer have through the three years channeled towards agricultural based projects at the grassroots level where professional management of agricultural undertakings lacked and where today flourishing crops are being seen in the farms.

Alice Kanyottu, Embu Livestock production officer who coordinated the field days further ensured that assistance reached all targeted groups and that is what farmers are proud off today as they anticipate improved harvests after utilizing professional guidance provided by the experts.

Fruits of the educational programs are also being witnessed in many  some parts of the County  where the Agricultural Sector Development Support Program (ASDSP) is partly spending part of Sh. 2 million availed  to various registered farmer  groups   whose project  proposals were successful.

Mrs. Kanyottu had actually explained during one of several successful field days held at the farm of one of the farmers in Karurina village of Itabua area Mr. Dominic Mungai that only strong partnerships would be funded under the (USDSP).

Farmers are also reaping  from a chunk of more than US Dollars 86 million (Sh. 5.4 billion) under various projects launched under the Upper Tana Natural Resource Project whose survey work involved farmers coming together in field days.

Agricultural experts in deciding to work with small scales farmers leading to present success in agriculture were aware of the fact that the government had realized  that small holders remained the pillar of the sector’s expansion and success.

Hence  majority of farmers who own between half and three acres land on average across the county have been managing their plots professionally and growing different highly nutritional beneficial crops in small portions under very professional standards resulting in present success where they are expecting maximum yields and finally homestead and family food security.

Through the last three seasons livestock production officers also  heightened campaigns to reach more farmers through field days and benefiting farmers showed great enthusiasm in internalizing knowledge by frequently seeking clarification of some issues on better management of livestock during the field days.

Central Division Livestock Production officers Jane Kinyua and Christopher Kinyua in one of the field days took dairy  farmers through the process of silage making and today majority of the farmers have adopted small  silage making unity which have been successful.

In another field day the Embu County livestock production experts divided themselves in five sections which covered dairy, poultry, veterinary, rabbit and fisheries and successfully educated more than 100 farmers.

While taking the farmers through the rabbit rearing section Mr. Justin Mwangi cautioned those interested in investing in rabbits to select the correct and the most suitable breeds for the Embu County. The California type of rabbit, he said was the best and could breed faster and gain better weights for commercial returns.

In a cross section of homesteads today   rearing of breed of rabbits such as the California   is not the specialty or hobby for school boys as before but is an area being professionally managed by parents who have been reaping benefits from the sectors by selling rabbits for meat to Hotels and Restaurants.

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