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I now harvest four times as much sorghum with less labour: Tharaka Nithi farmers thrive in conservation agriculture

Conservation agriculture practice- Kenya

Before he learned about Conservation Agriculture, he could hardly get 10 bags of sorghum from his six acres. He adopted the new farming technique called Conservation agriculture”

Farmers in Tharaka Nithi county are multiplying their yields and doubling their profits thanks to a low-cost farming technique called conservation agriculture and collective bargaining called contract farming.

Farmer Stephen Njagi uses a ripper in his sorghum farm in Nkarini village in Tharaka Nithi County.Stephen Njagi, a father of three, has been a farmer for many years in Nkarini village, Tharaka Nithi county. Before he learned about conservation agriculture, he could hardly get 10 bags of sorghum from his six acres. He adopted the new farming technique a year ago, and now he harvests at least 40 bags of sorghum. His proceeds have enabled him to buy a Sh50,000 threshing machine. Previously he could not afford school fees for his children, but now, his firstborn son is in college, training in medicine, while the other son is in secondary school.

“This season, I am expecting to double my harvest and get at least 80 bags of sorghum,” Njagi says. “With a kilogramme going for Sh34, I am expecting to get some good money”.

Food Agricultural Organization county Programme officer, Ambrose Ngetich says conservation agriculture has helped farmers increase their harvest. Some farmers would get two bags in an acre but now harvest seven to fifteen bags per acre, he says.

How it works

Ngetich explains that conservation agriculture involves three principles: minimal tillage or minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotation.

Njagi is a member of the Tunyai-Nkarini Farmers Association, and together, the farmers sell their product collectively to the Kenya Promotion Market.

“I hope to get into contract farming with the East Africa Breweries Limited, where I can get better market for my sorghum. I started growing sorghum in 2009 with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO). I was selling a kilo at Sh20 but now things have improved for the better,” he says.

Last year, 54 farmers groups got into contract farming, where the farmers come together in groups of 30 to 40 members. They were only able to produce 25 metric tonnes from the required 500 metric tonnes.

Martha Mwenda, the chairlady of Muchore Muteithia Farmers’s Group. which has 38 members, says she started conservation agriculture in 2015 with sorghum, green grams and pigeons peas.

She says with conservation agriculture, farming has become easier and they no longer use the pangas and hoes but instead use tools like hand jab planters, rippers, weeders, furrow openers and shielded sprayers that make farming easier.

In conventional agriculture, I would take at least one week to prepare land in an acre, but with conservation agriculture, you can finish the same land in a day. It also reduces the cost of labour and production in the long run,” Mwenda says.

She says farmers can now get market and better prices for their produce as a group.

Contract farming

Mwenda grows sorghum in a one and half acre. She could barely harvest two bags but after she was trained on conservation agriculture, she now gets six to seven bags of sorghum.The 38 farmers have an average of two acres each and they entered into contract farming with Tegemeo Enterprises Limited.

“We started with 7.6 metric tonnes in 2015 and we earned Sh212,800, with a kilogramme selling at Sh28 per kilo,” Mwenda says. “In the second harvest in October 2016, we harvested 14 metric tonnes and earned Sh420,000 at Sh30 per kilo”.

Each of the members saves Sh200 and is deducted one per cent from the sale of sorghum for the day-to-day running of the group.

She says the contractor supplies farmers with seeds and pesticides which farmers pay once they have harvested and this has motivated the farmers who could barely harvest enough food for their families.

“Our families are healthy and we do not have many crop diseases. Before we got into contract farming, we used to sell our products in Nkubu or Embu towns, about 80km away, but now we just store our products in stores and wait for the contractor to come buy,” Mwenda says.

She says; “I was a frustrated farmer before and I had even decided to become a broker because I thought that is where I would make money. Thanks to conservation agriculture I do not have to, and now I enjoy farming since I make money”.

For now, the group is hiring the storage facility for their sorghum at Sh1,000 for a week or two, but in future, they plan to buy land and establish their own storage facility. Margaret Gaceke, a mother of two from Kimate village in Imenti Central subcounty, Meru county, has been a farmer for 10 years, growing maize, beans and cow peas in her four acres. Gaceke, a member of the Kaguma Farmers’ Group consisting of 50 members, says:

“I was used to ploughing with a tractor, which was expensive for me as it cost Sh1,800 to plough one acre of land. Since I embraced conservation agriculture three years ago, things have changed and my yields have increased. I was trained on mulching, crop rotation and minimum tillage and today I do not burn maize stalks once I harvest but instead use them for mulching.”

In conventional farming, Gaceke would harvest about 13 bags of maize from her four acres, but with conservation agriculture, she was able to harvest about 20 bags in the last season, despite the drought ravaging parts of the country.

Growing popularity

Ngetich says over 8,600 farmers in Tharaka Nithi county have taken up conservation agriculture and are now doing contract farming on sorghum. He adds that they are working with County governments in Kitui, Kilifi, Kwale, Laikipia, Machakos, Makueni, Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties. The main crops being promoted are sorghum, millet, green grams, cowpeas and pigeon peas. He says they provide resources and train farmers on the concept throughout the season, in addition to mobilizing farmers and helping them market their produce to attain the highest price for their crops. Last year, farmers in Tharaka Nithi were able to sell green grams to a tune of Sh20 million from export and Sh11 million in sorghum from the East African Breweries Limited. EABL last year contacted more than 2,000 farmers from 54 farmers groups in the area.

Ngetich says there are many advantages of conservation agriculture over conventional farming, particularly the cost of production.

The cost of production in growing purses is about Sh9,800 per acre for the conventional farming, while in CA, it costs a farmer about Sh5,400 per acre. This is about Sh20 in conventional and Sh10-Sh12 in conservation agriculture,” he says.

The four-year project is funded by the EU and implemented by FAO through the county governments. Bessie Mukiama, Imenti Central sub county Food Crops officer, says adoption of conservation agriculture in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties has been fast, as farmers have seem the benefits.

In Imenti Central, we have been able to train about 60 per cent of the farmers’ groups. Notable is the multiplier effect, where a farmer copies from another farmer who has adopted the technology,” she says.

Mukiama attributed the high adoption of the technology to the economics of conservation agriculture, adding that; “It is cheaper in the long-run, increases production and is time saving.”

Article by Agatha Ngotho @agathangotho

Cross-posted from http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2017/05/09/i-now-harvest-four-times-as-much-sorghum-with-less-labour-tharaka_c1548254