Once shunned crops change Makueni farmers' fortunes



Once referred to as orphaned crops, millet and sorghum are making a comeback, not just as a means for income, but also as the preferred choice to ensure food security.

Catherine Mbili is among farmers who have embraced the crops and is now making better earnings than when she cultivated maize.

Catherine Mbili, plants sorghum, millet, and green grammes on her two-acre farm in Makueni.

Ms Mbili who is also a trainer of farmers on these crops said in one acre of sorghum plantation she is able to harvest between 15 and 20 bags with a bag selling at Sh3,000. On average, she spends Sh6,000 to cultivate the same size of land.

This means from one acre alone she earns up to Sh60,000, more than twice her earnings when she had previously put the land under maize with brokers buying the grain for as low as Sh1,200.

“Most farmers in this area used to rely on government relief food, but as time went by and they got the knowledge and training on planting drought-tolerant crops for both food and as a source of income. Now they no longer seat and wait for aid,” said Ms Mbili.

Dicey affair

She is among the beneficiaries of a $3.6 million programme by the government and development agencies that seeks to encourage farmers to adopt drought resistance crops. By going back to such crops as sorghum and millet, the agencies hope to make farmers more resilient amid devastating climate change.

Unpredictable weather has made the cultivation of crops that require steady rainfall a dicey affair. But the abandoned crops give the farmers to earn a steady income while guaranteeing them food supply.

The projects is funded by USAID/ ASFD to a tune of $2.2 million for a three year period and World Bank- AICRRA chipping in $1.56 million to leverage on existing government initiatives, public-private partnerships, capitalise on agri-science innovations and use digital technologies for value chain linkages and market intelligence.

Ms Mbili said they have incorporated the use of technology in the training of farmers where they teach them the use of digital media to apply in their farming enterprises.

For the elderly, Ms Mbili said they have included the young people in the trainings so that they can assist their aging parents who are the owners of lands in accessing information on farming and marketing.

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid (ICRISAT) Value chain manager and principal investigator on Accelerated Institutional and Food Systems Development on Drought Tolerant Crop, Ganga Rao said they are promoting drought-tolerant crops in Kitui, Makueni and Taita Taveta.

Mr Rao said the project is aimed at strengthening the seed system, leveraging of digital platforms to reach as many farmers as possible through extension advisories, enhancing the market and improving nutrition.

“We are working with the farmer producer organisations and the SMEs to ensure that they have a linkage to the market by use of technology,” said Mr Rao.

Mr Nzioki King'ola, County Executive Committee (CEC) Member for Agriculture in Makueni said the drought-tolerant crops had been abandoned by farmers but now they have started a big campaign targeting all growers to go back to these crops as the effects of climate change take a toll on food production.

“Lack of knowledge, skills and lack of information has been a big impediment but I am personally leading the campaign by mobilising farmers to embrace planting of the drought-tolerant crops,” said Mr King’ola.

The CEC said the county has already bought smartphones and are being programmed and will be used by extension officers to collect data as they register farmers.

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