After years of dependence of food aid in the semi-arid Eastern Kenya, Stephen Mwangani from Kinyatta village in Yatta district has discovered how to keep his family food secure by using just one acre piece of land despite the droughts.
The entire region also known as Ukambani is dry. But through a church-led self help group known Christian Impact Mission, farmers have discovered means of survival – combining indigenous knowledge with emerging technologies to grow high value horticultural crops for domestic and the export market.
“On my plot, I grow maize purely for domestic consumption, and horticultural crops such as soy beans, French beans, bullet pepper, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes among many others for both domestic and the export market,” said Mwangangi.
The father of three learnt the technique of high value farming in extreme conditions two years ago, when he joined a group that has since then vowed to drive hunger and food-aid out of the entire Ukambani region.
“There is a special reason why smallholder horticultural farmers like me have to work within a group, especially if the target is the export market,” he said.
“The produce from my farm alone for example is too little that it cannot support the quantity required by the export agents. But with groups, we usually grow similar crops at the same time, then harvest and combine produce from several plots in order to achieve the required quantity,” he explained.
Further more, Mwangangi reckons that working in groups encourages experience sharing, innovation and it is an encouragement especially for smallholder farmers who might have experienced losses due to given particular reasons.
Through small groupings of up to 15 farmers, which form the larger Christian Impact Mission group, Mwangangi among other farmers have learned of different methods of adaptation to climate change, through selection of appropriate crops, rain water storage, value addition and many other methods that have helped him transform his life from dependency (on food-aid) to independence.
“Many studies have shown that most of the foodstuffs eaten worldwide is produced by smallholder farmers. Yet in our group, we have realised that such smallholder farmers cannot benefit from the high value export market if they have to work as individuals,” said Dr Bishop Titus Masika, the founder of the Christian Impact Mission which brings together 3000 households from Yatta district within Ukambani region.
Instead of working on community projects, the 3000 households have discovered that they can preserve rain water for irrigation at a household level, grow maize in nurseries for easy watering before transplanting the same into zai-pits once it rains, use method of moisture preservation in zai-pits, and grow high value horticultural crops for income generation.
Such are reasons that formed the basis for the Agricultural Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to implement a project aimed at strengthening the development of farmer-based organization – as a way of promoting the green revolution agenda in Africa.
The organisation is an international non-governmental organisation dedicated to improving of farm productivity for small-scale farmers across the continent.
Launched in on May 3, 2012, AGRA’s new project dubbed Farmer Organisation Support Centre in Africa (FOSCA) aims at strengthening managerial, organisational and technical capacity of farmers organisations with an aim of transforming them to provide demand-driven and income enhancing services to their members.
“Using FOSCA, we are targeting 220,000 smallholder farmers through not less than 70 farmer organizations across Africa,” said Dr David Ameyaw, AGRA’s Director for Monitoring and Evaluation.
Through the Christian Impact Mission, Mwangangi is able to earn at least Sh40,000 ($500) per week from the export market. “We have no particular season because we do not depend on rainfall. We use irrigation instead,” said Mwangangi.
Anita Onumah is another smallholder who hails from Kitase village, Ekropong district in Eastern Ghana.
In her early 20s, Onumah is able to pay her own college fees at the University of Ghana in Accra, thanks to her small chili pepper faming project for the export market.
“I specialise mainly in chilli farming because it doesn’t need much attention. And as a student, I can always manage it from a distance,” said the agriculture student, majoring in Post Harvest Handling at the university of Ghana.
She attributes her success to the Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association of Ghana (VPEAG), which was her link to the export market.
From a two acre piece of land, Onumah harvests 500 boxes of chili, each weighing 5.5kilograms in an average season. “Each box fetches me up to five US dollars, which earns me up to $2500 every three months,” she said.
Her produce ends up in the United Kingdom, France and Italy.
The FOSCA project will therefore target existing former groups such as the VPEAG, Christian Impact Mission among others according to Dr Ameyaw.