‘Janam dhoge rach, ok cham alot’. This is a common dholuo term loosely translated to mean ‘People from the lake have no appetite for vegetables’. This is because they have easy access to fish, a tastier delicacy. However, Joseph Odhiambo, a farmer at Usenge Beach in Siaya County has gone against the grain and is running a thriving vegetable farm right at the shores of Lake Victoria.
The 45-year-old father of five began farming at his Alego Gangu home in 1991, but due to low returns from the trade, he moved to Usenge where he ventured into fishing. But with the dwindling fish stocks in the lake, Odhiambo took a break from the fishing trade five years ago to try his hand in vegetable farming. And the results are evident. Today, Odhiambo is leading a comfortable life from the proceeds of his half-acre plot at Usenge Beach, which has been leased to him by Usenge Beach Management Unit office.
“Everybody around the lake is looking into fishing, and I thought I needed to give people an option after I discovered many were buying their vegetables from as far as Bondo town, 10km away,” says Odhiambo.
He developed interest in farming years ago when he worked in a white man’s farm in Kitengela.
“I was amazed at how the man did wonders with little water. I reckoned we could do more with these volumes of fresh water. From the mzungu, I learnt skills like proper spacing, identification of pests and diseases and maximising on yields using minimal resources,” he says. He has put these skills to test in Usenge and the results are green healthy vegetables. For his hardwork and resilience, the farmer has won the hearts of local authorities. Usenge Beach Management Unit (BMU) Chairman Leonard Ooko says Odhiambo was given the land in exchange for his services in taking care of the beach fingerlings. “Odhiambo is hard working and has had interest in farming, and he has also supported the BMU fish project since he understands the craft,” says Ooko.
Odhiambo says his day begins at 5am when he visits the farm to check on the condition of his crops. “I check for any early signs of pest and disease attacks. I also check for any predators. When I discover any disease or pests, I do treatment,” he says. His other daily chores include watering the crops, weed management and repairs around the farm. And with his farm being right at the shores of the lake, access to water is unlimited. Odhiambo gets his seeds from the local agrovets and uses services of private agricultural experts to sharpen his craft.
His magic ingredient Silt that lies by the shores, he says. During rains, soil erosion occurs with the top soil washed by water deposited at the shores of the lake. Strong waves from inside the lake also deposits material from the lake at the shores. These include dead small water animals and plants. When they decay, these material form fertile deposits. He decided to scoop the silt and put in his vegetable farm, which boosted his yields. From then on, he started using the silt as fertiliser. No chemicals on the farm “I do not buy fertilizer these days. I just scoop the silt and put in my farm just before planting season, and mix well with the farm soil,” he says.
According to Prof Mathews Dida, the Dean of School of Agriculture at Tom Mboya University College in Homa Bay County, the soil deposits at the shores of the lake are fertile due to the presence of organic matter washed to the shores. “When it rains, the top soil which has decomposed material is washed downstream. Some contents are also washed downstream through rivers and small streams. Such contents are rich in nitrogen and other vital nutrients for the crops,” he says.
The professor says the use of such deposits have no side effects on the crops. Odhiambo however says earthworms from the silt are the main pest that attacks his crops. He uses wood ash to kill the worms. Other than that, his farm maintenance expenses are minimal. “I only spend money on buying certified seeds, and once in a while buy chemicals when my crops are attacked by ‘hardcore’ pests. I barely spend beyond Sh1,000 a month to maintain my farm,” he says. To get longer harvest periods, Odhiambo plucks a leaf from each plant daily from his 2,500 mature kale plants. He is able to harvest for as long as six months before cutting down the plants to give room for fresh planting. He sells a leaf between Sh1 and Sh3 depending on the size. During the drought season few months ago, he was lucky he had a harvest and capitalized on the demand and scarcity of greens. Beyond that, he has a guaranteed market.
“Everybody coming to the beach to buy fish passes by my farm to pick mboga. This is in addition to business people from Usenge and Bondo who come for large quantities for sale. That is why I am always on the farm, it is my office,” he says. With proceeds from his farm, Odhiambo pays fees for his children and has built houses for his two wives.
Source: Standard Media