Sustainable agriculture for food security; building resilience against climate change in Kerio valley

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Paw-paw Photo Courtesy

 

By Lorna Kigen

 

It’s Christmas Eve of 2022 in Cheptebo location, Keiyo South in Elgeyo Marakwet County, a little known village called Kapkibii 4km off the Iten Kabarnet road. The scorching sun heat is quite unforgiving at this time and we can’t help but look for a shade under a mango tree. Here, we meet 38 year old Philemon Rotich, a family man at his 4 acre farm. It is evidently green and beautiful compared to just a few meters away outside his farm. Philemon informs us that he is an agribusiness farmer.

 

 

“I began farming after I lost my job in the government way back in 2017. I started by fencing my land, cultivated it and looked for seeds to plant,” he began narrating his journey.

 

 

Rotich started by planting tomatoes, pilipili hoho, Kales (sukuma wiki), and then later on watermelon. He says Watermelon didn’t fetch good market prices then which prompted him to venture into cabbage farming early 2018. Out of curiosity he had planted a few banana trees and realized they were doing well. Rotich took his chances and planted 200 more banana trees and returns were lucrative.  The challenge came however when almost 30 trees bore bananas at the same time and since they are perishable, he incurred significant loss.

PAWPAW FARMING

 

Philemon Rotich at his paw -paw farm in Keiyo South, Kerio Valley/Photo Lorna Kigen

 

At one point Philemon noticed one pawpaw tree that had sprouted from where they used to eat, then he realized that pawpaw could actually do well in that area, he was motivated to look for seeds and started planting pawpaw which were expensive but a friend got him the seeds at a friendly price, 800 seedlings at ksh 3,000.It is then that he started planting in 2018.Pawpaws actually did well and boosted him a great deal as he indicated that it only took him 6months for him to harvest.

 

 

It is then that he started expanding since he had started with 3 quarters of an acre which took nearly 800 pieces of pawpaw to now up to 2000 pieces in the 4 acre farm .In 2020 he started planting 6000 pieces which did very well because he had a ready market in Nairobi. His customer travels directly to the shamba thereby reducing post harvest losses. He used to harvest twice a week, on Monday and Friday. He sells the pawpaw at 20 bob per kilo and on good days 30 bob per kilo. He plants two types of papaya calina and malkia. Calina is much more favorable because it’s heavy compared to malkia.

 

 

“Pawpaw are at times affected by sunburn but it isn’t a big deal. It doesn’t require to be sprayed but just needs water and fertilizer and so it’s not expensive maintaining, “Philemon added

 

 

At the moment due to high production of pawpaw in counties like in Meru County, the prices have dropped to kshs 24 per kilo. On good days he gets up to 1000 kilos especially on Mondays and on Fridays nearly 800 kilos which translates to kshs 42,000 per week.

 

 

PIXIE FRUIT FARMING

 

Photo Courtesy -Pixie Oranges

He however recently went for bench-marking at a friend’s farm, who introduced him to pixie farming which does very well in the hanging valley. The farmer taught him how to grow pixies and so he looked for seedlings from a farmer in Ukambani (North Eastern Kenya) which he ordered and he personally delivered to his farm. One pixie seedling costs kshs 250 to 300 which he indicates is quite expensive but says it’s worth it in the long run as one kilogram of pixie goes for kshs 120 and a one acre land can produce up to 200 pixie trees. He indicates that he believes that he will get returns in the long run and that everything is worth investing, especially in farming. He has a number of pixie trees at his farm at the moment with prospects of a bumper harvest.

 

 

CAPITAL AND LOSSES

 

He pumps water from Kerio River, a seasonal river where he uses nearly 700 pipes with a generator that pumps to his tanks, where he uses horse pipes to water the trees. He however indicated that he uses a lot of fuel which is quite expensive.

 

Some of the losses include lack of market or when the person who buys from you isn’t reliable. Philemon indicated that if the buyer fails to show up, let’s say on Monday, he has to wait till Friday which means the pawpaws will spoil. He says that sometimes it is frustrating especially when one tonne gets spoiled just because of lack of market. Philemon also indicated that that kind of farming required lots of water.

 

 

“Traveling from home to the farm is a challenge but right now I got a bodaboda because of the rough terrain. I chose a farm away from home because at home I didn’t have enough water to sustain this farming water from Kerio river is free of charge and farmers should utilize it.”Philemon put in.

 

 

He indicated that he started with a capital of about 70,000 but it’s possible to start small with up to 10,000 and expand from with gradual growth from the harvest a farmer makes.

 

“It is something that anyone can do as a primary source of income. I am able to manage myself unlike formal employment and throughout the month I am at my farm. “he added.

 

Philemon advises that farmers should practice crop diversification as some of the crops he used to plant before, he could only harvest once per year but right now he can harvest multiple times in a year.

 

 

Philemon is also a cattle farmer and practices zero grazing where he gets milk and sells ,he indicates that he  normally cuts the grass at his farm ,dries it and then  grinds  it for the cows which saves money. He also uses the leaves falling off from the trees as animal feed. He also indicates that at some point he used to plant beans in between the fruits which took up to 2 months to harvest and plant again after the 2 months.

 

 

On climate change, he acknowledged that indeed it’s much sunnier than it used to be before in the Kerio area with little rain. He encourages farmers to use water from the river and not wait upon the rain which laments have become unpredictable. He also has up to 300 mango trees back at home where he lives 4km away from the farm which are also doing well and gives him money.

 

 

When we asked him which other form of agribusiness that he intends to venture in, he said that he intends to do pixie farming at the moment and see how it goes, he plans to plant nearly 800 pixie trees, then after that he can decide what to do next.

 

“Perhaps i could now go into the market world and focus on looking for a reliable, steady and ready market and employ people at my farm,” he put in.

 

He advises youth and people who are unemployed to venture into farming but cautions that it requires utmost sacrifice, hard work and consistency. He indicated that farming is even much better than waiting for salary for a whole month because he gets money daily from customers who buy from the farm in small quantity for home consumption.

 

 

He advises farmers from highlands to come and try farming in Cheptebo and see the results. Philemon however laments that government officers are scarce. Agricultural officers from the county would be of much help if they would be readily available.

 

“I am happy and ready to guide anyone on farming; anyone serious in agribusiness can come do bench-marking at my farm. I have already guided a few people in farming, which have already started farming and got the results,” Philemon added.

 

When we asked Philemon for his partying shot he said that “Agribusiness is the future.”

 

CONSERVATION, MARKET AND PARTNERS.

 

According to CECM Department of Water, Environment and Climate Change Jason Lagat, in Elgeyo Marakwet County, the county through His Excellency Governor Wisley Rotich has been sourcing for partners to support farmers for various cash crops such as sorghum where the county has partnered with EABL, KENTEGRA is another partner who will be supporting pyrethrum farming and others with cotton farming. The county government has also signed an MOU with KVDA to support mango farming and other cash crops beginning March 2023.The county government will also be distributing seedlings from different zoned out areas in Elgeyo Marakwet County through other partners like Kenya Red Cross Society.

 

Currently, all farmers are also being registered in a bid to have a complete database to be able to be able to know how many farmers are there, which area, what farming activity are they engaging in, yield and the acreage that they do command even as the county seeks to source for more partners. This will assist the county to be able to monitor and be in a position to map the entire county for better support to our farmers by the extension officers who are in every ward to assist in creating awareness on matters agribusiness and also how best to take care of various cash crops. The county also will be in a position to looking for ready market for the people of Elgeyo Marakwet County and as the Governor is really pushing for cooperative societies to be revived on totality, this will be a game changer in the county to be able to negotiate for better pricing from the market. Our partners in return will also help in educating the farmers on the best practices as well the, CECM added.

 

Jason Lagat CEC Water Environment and Climate Change Elgeiyo Marakwet

 

“On conservation,Elgeyo Marakwet has three ecological zones i.e. the highlands, the hanging valley and the lower valley. We are having some challenges in the hanging valley where there is a lot of degradation, the county has planned and targeted specific cash crop plants that can be grown around that area such as mangoes, coffee, citrus and macadamia which will help in curbing the degradation of the environment as well as assist with the economic empowerment of our people. This will limit and stop the felling down of trees in the county since a farmer would not cut down a tree that is beneficial to them i.e. mango, macadamia, citrus or coffee. Additionally, these cash crops are now fetching good market prices and it will change the economic situation of our lower valley all the way from Keiyo South to Marakwet East.”

 

He argued that however much the farmers and our people will continue to plant other tree species, we are determined to see to it that there is a major decline in the forest destruction within the entire county. We have several laws in place and we look forward to ensuring that they are all operationalized like the Elgeyo Marakwet Sustainable Forest Management and Tree Growing Policy, 2020 and other acts in place.

The county government is trying hard to address the environmental matter and at the same time empowering the people, waziri added.

CHARCOAL BURNING MENACE

 

With regards with the charcoal menace in the county, waziri indicated that the county had partnered with various stakeholders and formed a multi-agency committee including the Provisional administration, the police, KFS, KWS and the county department of environment and climate change and has  come together to see how they can arrest the issue of charcoal burning once and for all because it is not only painting the county in bad light but at the same time continues to make worse the degradation in our county.

Every single day when one is traveling along Biretwo-Iten-Eldoret Road you see motorcycles carrying charcoal and no security/enforcement agencies has been taking the front seat in ensuring that the perpetrators are dealt with as per the law. Waziri reiterated that as a county they have decided to look for a permanent solution and going forward they will be working with all the stakeholders since environment is a matter for all of us and we ought to conserve our environment by all means and at all costs. I am happy to note that the entire multi agency team are all reading from the same script, and we have agreed unanimously that we must fight this vice as a team and we must win, Hon. Jason said.

 

He indicated that they do have a charcoal burning act which is in place and is approved by the county assembly which they intended to implement to the latter.

 

“The best solution to arrest the charcoal menace is to ensure that we first sought out the source, anyone burning charcoal should be stopped immediately by the help of the provisional administration starting by the chiefs and assistant chiefs beginning January to ensure that no one within their jurisdictions engage in the vice. If the provincial administration sights any individual engaging in charcoal burning,then they will immediately take action against the individual. “Waziri put in.

 

“With this in place, then there will be no need for a roadblock at Kessup, Tambach,Biretwo or even Iten areas because we will have arrested the vice at source. Elgeyo Marakwet has lost nationally in terms of tree cover from 37% , to the current 29% and its actually through these people who are not passionate about protecting the environment but with the goodwill that we now command from our people, we foresee great support from our communities and this will go a long way in restoring the lost glory and reclaiming back where where we belong as Elgeyo Marakwet. Residents of the lower valley will be answerable to the chiefs and assistants and in return they will be giving updates on whatever is happening at their location and sub location to the ACCs, DCCs and the CC.

 

 

As a county we are very passionate and serious about this matter and beginning January we will start acting upon the law breakers. Meetings have already been held by the stakeholders i.e. the police, the County Commissioner, DCC, County Commander, KWS, KFSand the county department of environment as well as the county enforcement team to ensure the matter ends beginning January with regards to charcoal burning.” Waziri noted.

 

Residents of the hanging valley and Elgeyo Marakwet County at large are urged and encouraged to embrace alternative sources of income and take up positively the great initiatives the county is putting in place for sustainability and stop cutting down trees and invest in Agribusiness. H.E Governor Wisley Rotich is pushing so hard to have as many partners as possible to support our farmers in one way or the other.

 

Edited By Timothy Simwa.

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