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Small Things Make a Big Difference for Kenyan Farmers

January 16, 2017 No Comment
Small scale Kenyan farmer, Jane Manjiku, demonstrates applying mulch to help maintain soil moisture.

Small scale Kenyan farmer, Jane Manjiku, demonstrates applying mulch to help maintain soil moisture.

by Daryl Solie

We all know there are times when a seemingly small thing can make a significant difference in our lives. For example, small changes like putting wheels on suitcases or a bit of adhesive on sticky notes have improved the way we tote luggage and keep track of our to-do lists. Likewise, small gestures of kindness and compassion, given at the right time, can serve to encourage us, help us deal with a difficult situation or, at the very least, brighten our day.

On a recent Faith Leaders Study Tour to Kenya, hosted by The Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), I discovered first hand how some seemingly small changes in agricultural practice have made a significant difference in the lives of many small scale Kenyan farmers who, in some cases, farm parcels of land one acre in size or less! Though relatively small, these changes have produced significant results in terms of food security and stability.

One such change lies in the area of crop diversification. In Kenya’s Maai Mahiu region, the traditional crops grown have been maize (corn) and beans. However, factors such as the unreliability of rain and poor seed quality have resulted in many small scale farmers experiencing consecutive crop failures. With the assistance of the African Christian Church and Schools (ACC&S) and funding by the CFGB, farmers in this region have benefitted by moving away from planting the traditional crops of maize and beans and moving toward planting more drought tolerant crops such as pigeon peas, sweet potatoes and cassava, resulting in increased farm yields and household income.

A dam liner collects water for crop irrigation.

A dam liner collects water for crop irrigation.

Another seemingly small change that has made a big difference to small scale Kenyan farmers comes in the form of plastic sheets called dam liners. These are used to line the bottom of small ponds enabling farmers to have a more consistent water source by collecting and storing rain water for irrigation.

Hiram Thuo, a 42 year old father of five, has benefitted significantly from both crop diversification as well as the use of a dam liner on his small scale farm. Hiram admits that for him farming has had its share of ups and downs over the years. In most cases his farm was adversely affected by drought due to unreliable rainfall. Prior to joining the ACC&S project, Hiram hardly had adequate food to feed his family and had to seek food relief which really troubled him. After receiving training on vegetable farming, he started planting watermelon and kale on a small portion of his land which has helped increase his overall income.

Nevertheless, he continued to face the challenge of finding sufficient water for his crop, leading him to make a daily six km trip with a donkey. But, thanks to the introduction of a dam liner enabling him to harvest rain water, Hiram has seen his farm flourish so that he now grows capsicum, spinach, sweet yellow passion, and watermelon on his one acre farm. He has also become known to local traders, who travel to his farm to buy what is not commonly grown in that area. Before, Hiram struggled just to have enough to eat; now he has enough to feed his family as well as earn about $70 extra a month selling to local traders—money which he uses to pay school fees for his children. He also has a goal. “Someday”, he says, “I will be able to buy a truck!”

A further small change that has made a big difference for small scale farmers in Kenya lies in the use of plastic crop storage bags, costing a mere $2.50 each. Post-harvest losses of crop in developing countries can be extensive, and insufficient on-farm storage solutions to protect crop from spoilage and pest infestation often force farmers to sell their crop soon after harvest, receiving lower prices when the market is flooded. A company called AgResults has engaged the private sector in the sale of storage bags to allow farmers to protect and store their maize crops in order that they might be sold in a better condition and at a higher price. Farmers visited on our tour have found a significant difference with the purchase of as few as three or four bags, or, in one case, even just a single bag.

A final small change that has benefitted small scale farmers is found in the use of simple dry grass mulch spread over the soil to aid in moisture retention. For farmers like Jane Manjiku, the use of dry grass mulch, coupled with the construction of a small ditch between her house and her field to help collect water, has made a big difference in her crop yields. These small changes to her farming practice have enabled her to grow more and better quality crops, allowing her to have enough food to feed her family year round plus have a little extra to sell in order to pay for her children’s school fees and even start a small business.

“Small changes making a big difference.”  That was one of the main “take away” learnings I witnessed repeatedly on the Faith Leaders Study Tour. A change in crop planted, a plastic sheet, a simple bag, or a bit of dry grass mulch—small things that have made a significant difference in the lives of hard working Kenyan farmers.

There are also small things you can do to help make a difference. One of those is to send a simple postcard to the Canadian government as part of the CFGB’s “Good Soil” Campaign. Though traditionally a strong supporter of overseas agricultural development, the government has significantly reduced aid in this area in recent years. A simple postcard requesting that the government increase levels of aid can contribute to the overall goal of reducing hunger by continuing to provide programs that help small scale farmers like Hiram and Jane remain on the road to self-sustainability.

For more information visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca/campaigns/good-soil/. Your little, when combined with others, can go a long way in making a difference!


Rev. Daryl Solie is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. At the invitation of Canadian Lutheran World Relief, he travelled to Kenya from with a group of denominational leaders to participate in a Faith Leaders Study Tour hosted by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank from July 10-24, 2016.

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