Nakuru farmers ‘think outside the box’ pays dividends
Nakuru County is one of the high food production zones in Kenya with 80 percent of its 1.6 million population engaged in growing staple and cash crops.
Apart from producing more than 60 percent of the total Irish potatoes consumed locally, Nakuru is equally popular for milk production, supply of hides and skins as well as fish from Lake Naivasha and the numerous private farm ponds.
Other main crops grown and exported from the County, which is strategically located in central Rift Valley region, include maize, beans, wheat, sorghum, sweet potato, cassava, carrots, coffee and tea.
Official records from the Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries shows a decline in maize yields from 160,681 tonnes in 2014 to 159,049 tonnes in 2015. This is as result of low level of rainfall during planting and flowering seasons.
However, the Nakuru County government has been involved in activities aimed at encouraging farmers to diversify their food production and avoid over-reliance on maize farming.
“We have been telling farmers to reduce acreage under maize production and grow alternative crops to avoid total crop loss and end up in hunger,” says Dr Stanley Chepkwony, the department’s executive member.
This campaign has significantly yielded fruit as county’s data shows an improvement in production of alternative crops such as cassava, cocoyams, sweet potatoes and finger millet.
About 1,626 tonnes of cassava was harvested in 2015 compared to 827 tonnes in the previous year, while cocoyams received a boost to 144 tonnes from 128 tonnes.
Meanwhile 2,966 tonnes of sweet potatoes were produced in 2015 against 1,786 tonnes in 2014. Production of finger millet increased to 546 tonnes in 2015 from 456 tonnes in the previous year.
Additionally, the county government has continued to partner with other agricultural institutions in training farmers on adding value to raw produce and encouraging them to form associations to market their produce and boost their income.
“In each ward (there are 55 wards in Nakuru county), we have an extension officer advising farmers appropriately,” says Chepkwony.
In 2014, the Department of Agriculture initiated a programme of distributing a 50 kilogrammes of either NPK, SSP or DAP fertilizer and a 10 kilogramme bag of maize seeds to some 11,000 farmers spread across the 11 sub-counties.
The 1,000 farmers selected from each sub-county are identified by the local chiefs and the area Member of County Assembly and considered too poor to afford certified farm inputs.
Says Chepkwony: “We expect that with suitable fertilizer and seeds, each farmer can harvest 30 bags of maize from each acre. This is a surplus production. It will be enough for home consumption and sale.”
This farm input distribution programme costs KSh66 million, a portion of the KSh735 million budgeted for the docket in the current financial year and KSh570 million in 2014-2015.
Data from the county indicates that the maize production dropped from 160,681 tonnes in 2014 to 159,049 tonnes in the following year.
That decline in yields is attributed to dry spell in the month of June affecting crops in the lower areas of Rongai, Subukia, Bahati, Gilgil, Nakuru East and Naivasha.
According to Moses Njogu, coordinator of the Youth in Modern Agriculture in Nakuru County, they have been educating small-scale farmers, mainly the youth, on the importance of mixed farming, agro-forestry and water conservation in collaboration with the Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP) under the Ministry of Agriculture.
At Lake Naivasha, which supports more than 500,000 households directly and indirectly with fresh water, the County is making efforts to establish a sustainable framework of harvesting, restocking and managing the fish resources.
“We have improved surveillance at the lake in efforts to eliminate overharvesting. If the fishermen harvest everything then we will not have any more commercial fishing activities taking place there (Lake Naivasha),” explains Chepkwony.
In 2015, some 335 metric tonnes of fish was harvested from the Lake Naivasha in contrast to 692 metric tonnes in the previous year.
Since 2013, Nakuru County government has signed Memorandum of Understanding with various Chinese investors interested in investing in crop and fish production.
The terms of partnership also offer extension to stimulation of agricultural development through processing the raw produce, expanding market opportunities for the farmers and exchanging information on the agri-technologies.
Through Governor Kinuthia Mbugua, Nakuru County has entered into partnership with Henan Province, Beijin Xidan Company and Ningxia Hui County, sealing multi-billion shilling agreements for enhanced agricultural activities.
Henan Province and Beijin Xidan Company have interests in processing Irish potatoes and fish.
In addition to that, Ningxia Hui County has extended its scope to include advancing agro-technology in farming rice in the dry lands in the county with the aim of boosting food security and reducing poverty levels.
Official records show that the County currently stands at 45 percent with the Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries aiming to reduce it by ensuring a surplus production.
“Proper farming and marketing is the key to assured food security in the households. In the long-term this could result to a big drop in poverty levels,” says Chepkwony.
“By engaging investors in processing the raw produce, the farmers stand a better chance of benefiting from gaining technological skills in diversified farming but access a profitable market for the products,” argues Chepkwony.
Comprehensive enactment of the Nakuru County’s Agricultural Development Act (2014) is also expected to boost food production in the region as the law provides for access to credit facilities to investors in the agricultural sector.