Field trip to Nanyuki, Laikipia, Kenya, August 2009
Laikipia, is situated on the semi-arid western slopes of Mt Kenya. Being in the rain shadow, annual rainfall is low and often fails, as it did this year. This combined with limited resources makes farming in this area particularly difficult.
Many of the local farmers have adopted a range of progressive practices and are using their ingenuity to make the most of the difficult conditions. They have embraced the techniques of Conservation Agriculture, a system of farming which improves soil and water use and is based on three key principles
- permanent soil cover,
- minimal soil disturbance and
- crop rotations and associations.
The Centre for Training and Integrated Research in Arid and Semi-arid Land (CETRAD) holds farmer training sessions, where about 40 farmers from all over the region had come to learn more about Conservation Agriculture and safe use of pesticides from Kenyan experts, and also share their experiences and help each other.
Joseph Maina (Maina to his friends) is one of the local farmers who has been practicing Conservation Agriculture for a number of years. Maina had vigorous crops of corn, cabbage and peas growing when I visited as well as several seedling nurseries of new crops.
Maina is an avid adopter of any new ideas that he hears about, making the most of the resources he has available. He enthusiastically puts into practice all that he has learnt at past farmer training days.
A shining example is his pesticide storage shed. Maina built this himself from local materials. It contains separate cupboards for pesticides (locked) and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and has spill recovery equipment, an eye wash and drainage sump and meets in a basic fashion all the requirements recommended by FAO.
Currently the lockable store is empty, which demonstrates that Maina takes care to only buy enough products for his short-term spraying requirements.
Below left: Maina points out his spill recovery kit – a bucket containing sandy soil, plus a cut-off plastic container as a scoop. In his hand is the sealable bucket that he uses to carry the pesticide containers to the field for mixing and use.
Maina also puts up flags on the edge of his fields to indicate spraying activity:
- red for “warning, field is being sprayed, keep out”;
- yellow for “warning, field has recently been sprayed, keep out”; and
- green for “field can be re-entered”.
Below right: Maina demonstrating his ingenious eye wash. Rain water from the roof of the shed is channelled into the storage drum with a tap on it so it can be easily and quickly turned on to flush the eyes if splashes occur. It can also be used for washing hands and face.
Maina has also taken the progressive step of building a dam for on-farm water storage. Dams are not common on Kenyan small-holder farms but are essential for safe-guarding the water supply in dry years. Maina just dug his dam earlier this year and there have been no rains to fill it yet, but the rains will come. Maina dug the dam with the help of an ox.
Another very enthusiastic farmer is Henry Mwiti. Henry designed and built his own Conservation Agriculture ripping and planting tool. It can be pulled by an ox or donkey, and has a triple function – it rips the soil to open it for planting, drops in the seeds and applies fertiliser. Not content with using the tool on his own farm, Henry hires himself and his planter out to his neighbours, charging a competitive fee, to enable them to get started in Conservation Agriculture. He also gives them follow up advice as part of his service.
Henry has two dams on his farm, both of them still containing water despite the dry year. He also dug them with an ox. He said it took two weeks to dig one dam.
In the background are grevillea trees which he plants for shade, as fodder for cattle in drought and mulch for the CA fields.
Henry grows a range of crops from seed and diligently practices crop rotation. He also has livestock (cattle and poultry). His wife is an integral part of the farm management, particularly for getting the best price for the produce at market!
Maina and Henry are part of a local consortium of farmers who all practice Conservation Agriculture. They support each other with resources, advice and equipment and pool their funds for the purchase of communal equipment. To join the consortium a farmer must demonstrate that they are successfully practicing Conservation Agriculture. Currently there are 16 members. The consortium has a bank account and is able as a group to obtain credit.
Above are members of the local Conservation Agriculture consortium behind their communal seedling nursery, as well as three local advisors (squatting and second from right). Third from the right in the white shirt is the Chairman, Francis Kalobid, and the woman to his left is the treasurer, Rebecca Njogu.