It is a radiant Thursday morning, my colleagues and I are here for three days to visit the farms of some of the farmers we trained last year on ecological agriculture, establish a farmers network and engage the farmers in a policy dialogue session.
John, one of the farmers trained on ecological agriculture, has a four acre piece of land where he grows maize, mangoes, pigeon peas and beans.On such a large farm, pests are inevitable. So how does he fight pests attacking his crops? “The obstinate Fall armyworm, no longer gives me sleepless nights. I use ‘muvaangi’- a shrub native to Machakos, garlic and chilli to make a biopesticide that I spray onto my crops whenever there are any signs of infestation. My household has never lacked food regardless of the season. If my maize dies, I will harvest beans or pigeon peas popularly known as Nzuu,” says a content John.
The next stop is Kivaa a three hours drive from Kivandini, Cecilia Somba’s farm. Standing conspicuously in the midst of her compound are two silos. As if she read my mind, Cecilia hurried to explain “The silos are half-empty, however they will be full in three months with harvest. Last season, water was a challenge because of the prolonged drought, but thanks to my ecological agriculture training, I do not have to worry about my plants lacking water. This rainy season, I have dug a water collection point, where all the rainwater from upstream collects. My cassava, beans and cowpeas will flourish this season and my silos will overflow with harvest.” quips an elated Cecilia.
What a delight to see that the farmers are putting into practise the training they received. Through teary eyes, I watch the sun fall over Kivaa hill, painting the sky shades of red and pink and I thank God for it has been a fruitful day.
The next morning, the farmers walk into the conference room at Tea Tot hotel earlier than expected for the establishment of Machakos’ first Greenpeace Africa inspired Farmers Network. Are they eager to hear what the farmers network is all about? Or do they just keep time? I couldn’t help but ponder.
The room is filled with 30 farmers, on their faces I can see smiles, curiosity and an eagerness to learn. From the introductions, it is evident that they love what they have been practising for the past five months and would love to do some more.
We kick off the meeting explaining the importance of joining a farmers networks, what the benefits of being part of it are, reviewing the network’s work plan and choosing the leaders to guide the network.
Perpetua, a farmer from Mavoko shares that, the network will be essential in helping them find organic markets for their produce. From the group discussions, the farmers feel ecological agriculture should be encouraged because it ensures food security, encourages agroforestry and saves money that would have been used in purchasing fertilizers and pesticides”
And with that we wrap up the second day.
What a pity to find that from a group of 30 farmers, only one farmer was aware of the Machakos County Annual Development Plan and he alone had participated in a policy dialogue process.
This is the third and final day and it is all about policy dialogue. My colleague Fred is more than elated to take the farmers through the existing agricultural policies in Kenya. For this session he breaks-out the farmers into groups of four to discuss emerging issues and key priorities that they would like the agricultural policies to address.
As we depart for Nairobi, I am hopeful that the Machakos Farmer Network under the leadership of Samuel Wathome and Stella Muathe will hold the County government accountable on funds set aside for agriculture, participate in policy dialogues and sell their produce at organic farmers market or establish an organic farmers market where they can sell their produce. Machakos it was a pleasure. “Ni muuseo”.