One of the biggest problems facing Kenyan farmers in fertile productive agricultural areas is land fragmentation. With smaller land parcels, experts call for a rethink on how to use the land. Some locals are already changing their agricultural practices.
On an eighth of an acre, Zacheaus Kubasu is earning more than his peers and has even managed to build an enviable house in the village – a house befitting tycoon of sorts. On the piece of land he has a variety of indigenous vegetable species like cowpeas, amaranth, African Nightshade (managu), jute mallow (mrenda) and pumpkins.
“I plant all these for the market as well as for domestic consumption,” says Kubasu who lives in Kanjala Area in Butula, Busia County. The name Kanjala in itself is a term used to mean hunger or famine in the local dialect. Kubasu says that it is a name that was coined when crops failed and there was a widespread famine in the past. Currently, the size of land does not allow locals to harvest as much maize as they would like to. Most end up buying foodstuff like vegetables even as the land remains idle after the harvesting of maize waiting for the next rainy season before locals can plant again. Kubasu confesses that engaging in vegetable farming saves him about Ksh 3,000 each month since the essential vegetables that he needs he can get from his own farm. Each month, Kubasu makes an average of Ksh70,000. He decided to go into farming in 2011. He says that he decided to go into planting of indigenous vegetables because of their nutritious value, going against the grain of common practice in the area where most people plant maize and wait for nature to takes its course.
“I have planted maize in the past and it has not earned me much because the land size is small which forced me to look for an alternative form of agriculture,” he reveals. When maize failed to satisfy his needs, Kubasu decided to try sukuma wiki which also failed due to attacks by pests. It was then that he realized that he could put the parcel of land into better use in any case he was spending about Sh100 per day on vegetables each day to feed his family which includes his wife and two children. Right now his clients include hotels in his home county and neighbours who come to him for the vegetables. He has also opened a shop from the income. One of the areas which Kubasu has invested in is water supply which he says is key in the production of vegetables.
“I sank a borehole which enables me to have water throughout the year,” says Kubasu. And Kubasu says he is not stopping at vegetables but also investing in fruit farming to tap into the fruit factories that have come up in neighbouring counties like Siaya.
“I am now planning to go into fruit farming by planting passion fruits, avocadoes, pawpaw and bananas on the same piece of land,” he says. Research has shown that there is strong link between agriculture and nutrition. Where agriculture thrives, proper nutrition is not a challenge. This is coupled with the fact that a high percentage of the Kenyan population consumes food that has been produced at a personal level. To get better produce, Kubasu gets approved quality seeds which he plants for increased harvest. But to ensure that his small garden is safe, he fenced it to keep off livestock and people who might steal from the farm. Some of the challenges that he has encountered includes pests and diseases that attack the vegetables especially amaranth but he says he uses traditional methods like sprinkling ashes to keep them at bay. Only minimally resorting to pesticides in extreme cases which he says are not very common. Because he does not just produce for his own consumption, Kubasu says he has received a lot of training on how to handle and store produce but he mainly gets it fresh for the consumers straight from the farm.
“Most of the hotels that we supply are in Busia which is just about 15km away which eliminates need for a lot of storage space,” he says. Violet Wandera, a nutrition specialist with KAVES says that the programme was meant to ensure that proper nutrition was among issues farmers factored into in their practices. Wandera says, “We encouraged farmers to plant a variety of nutritious crops in their parcels of land other than just maize or any other crop because this helps in maximisation of space for income.” Whatever they plant is not only for income generation but also for their own consumption as a way of improving nutritional values. She says that in the area, 17 farmers went through training by USAID KAVES, among them ten ladies and seven men. These farmers are acting as model farmers for other locals. Wandera points out that some of the challenges include the difficulty in convincing people to change their mindset from the traditional crops that have been planted perennially like maize. ALSO READ: Agriculture best bet for Kisumu County A horticulturist, Irene Musumba says that the shift from maize is a welcome because of the ever diminishing returns from the small farms despite the fact that it is not easy. Musumba says, “Small farms pose a challenge because most farmers can only harvest about five bags of maize from an acre.” She further says that despite reliable rain that the area receives, it is notable that lack of enough food is common because of poor returns from the fragmented farms which call for a mind-set shift.