Stories tagged: Kenya

Hudson Shiraku: Farming in the Wake of Water Scarcity in Kenya


This World Water Week, young Kenyan Environmental Scientist Hudson Shiraku tells Farming First how farmers in Kenya are overcoming water scarcity in a variety of ways. This article is part of our ongoing partnership with Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD)

My hometown Kakamega, is endowed with predictable rains and ever-flowing rivers supplying water all year round. Many people have therefore taken this availability of water for granted and are shocked when they hear of other people suffering for lack of it in other places. One such place is Machakos in Eastern Kenya.

Machakos is one of the areas susceptible to frequent and prolonged droughts. Lack of irrigation facilities, inadequate policies and abject poverty have all subjected residents of some areas in the region to a complete dependency on food assistance. This problem has been further exacerbated by climate variability and climate change, causing more or less precipitation in different regions and more extreme weather events. Cognizant of this challenge, the Biovision Farmer Communication Programme (FCP) has been training farmers on sustainable and effective use of water resources to make farming possible in the face of water scarcity. It promotes different technologies to make this happen. Through the field-based workers, FCP conducts farmer training and demonstrations on how to use certain technologies such as;

Mulching: Mulching uses plant remains such as leaves or grass to cover the soil between rows of cultivated crops. Mulching compliments irrigation by reducing the impact of water on the soil – reducing soil erosion and allowing longer retention of moisture. Mulch improves the condition of the soil since this mulch slowly decomposes, becoming part of the soil organic matter. Mrs. Mutisya, one of the farmers practicing mulching, says that since she started mulching, she now uses a mere quarter of the water she previously used on her kale plantation.



Drip irrigation: Another technology being promoted in the region is a watering system that delivers a slow moving supply of water at a gradual rate directly to the soil at the base of crops (drip irrigation). Also referred to as micro-irrigation or trickle irrigation, it consists of a network of pipes, tubing valves, and emitters. Bottles are also filled with water, a small hole pierced at the top and then inverted and buried at the base of a plant to allow water to seep to its roots gradually. This is an economical use of water, as there is reduced evaporation and deep drainage compared to other types of irrigation such as flood or overhead sprinklers, since water can be more precisely applied to the plant roots. Farmers have also reduced disease prevalence due to this technology.

Drip irrigation technology

Drip irrigation technology

Water harvesting: Besides teaching our farmers how to sustainably use their water, we also train them on water harvesting technologies, to avoid water flowing to waste when it rains. We teach farmers the importance of capturing water runoff from the road for agricultural use. Fixing gutters on iron roofs is also important for water harvesting. The benefit of water harvesting is not only to secure and increase crop production in these regions, but also to stop soil erosion and recharge aquifers tapped for irrigation. It also improves soil fertility due to deposition of humus, silt, manure and other organic matter together with harvested water.

Agroforestry: Trees also play a vital role in agriculture. Practicing agroforestry using drought resistant trees species has helped to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable land-use systems. Besides providing shade to the crops, these trees are important sources of fruitsnuts and edible oils which counter global warming and the risk of hunger in the region. Trees in agroforestry practices catch, store and release water. Trees break the force of falling rain – preventing soil erosion and allowing percolation into the ground where it is stored as groundwater.

A multi story garden

A multi story garden

Multi-storey gardens: One of our farmers discovered that it is easier to water and maintain plants in a sack. She fills a sack with soil and then uses it as her land. It is easier to water it and accommodates more crops. This technology not only saves on water but also on other resources like fertilizer.

This and other technologies that we promote have since spread to other farmers through our farmer to farmer sharing systems. Farming has been made possible in the wake of water scarcity, and many people are adopting agriculture in the rural areas of Machakos. Thanks to these water saving technologies, farmers have increased crop production and a steady supply of agricultural products all year round. This has in turn cushioned them against the pangs of hunger.

Thanks to a steady supply of water, they have also been able to produce in surplus for the market earning some income. Generally, enabling people to farm has improved the food security situation in the region as there are more farmers than before. Trees have been incorporated in the crop production lots changing the entire picture of a dry area with scorching sun to a better environment.

There are more areas affected by water scarcity and struggling with agriculture. There is need to spread the benefits by these water saving technologies to them. We need to learn from these FCP experiences and replicate them in such areas. Having a database of all these technologies in ready to access and understand formats would help in sharing their benefits.


Steve Kibet: Mobilising Youth to Tackle Soil Degradation


In this guest post, young soil scientist Steve Kibet tells Farming First how he has managed to mobilise young people to take action against soil degradation in Kenya. This blog is part of our ongoing partnership with Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD).

My grandmother would sit us by the fireside after a long day of looking after her livestock. She would tell us how she used to plant crops; there was no use of organic fertilizer, just removing vegetation cover by slashing and planting the crops using hoes. There was little disturbance to the soil structure. The cover material would protect the soil from water erosion, which is the main type of erosion in the area.. This resulted in a maize plant producing 2-3 maize cops. Her granary was full all year round and the cost of production was very low. Continue reading

Nat Robinson: Start-ups Transforming Smallholder Farmers’ Lives in Kenya

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In this guest post, Nat Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of Juhudi Kilimo highlights three innovative Kenyan start-ups, from solar pumps to credit companies that are helping to change the lives of  rural farmers for the better.

Joseph Omwega is a 41 year-old farmer living in the Southern Nianza region of Kenya, Kisii. He belongs to the large community of smallholder farmers in the country estimated at 7.5 million individuals. Like him, the average smallholder farmer in Kenya owns 1-5 acres of land, produces for subsistence or sales in informal markets to earn USD 2-4 per day.

JosephDespite his limited means, Joseph was determined to develop his plantation and searched tirelessly for a lender who would not ask for a land title deed or vehicle logbook as security for a loan. In 2014, he met us, at Juhudi Kilimo. A for-profit social enterprise serving rural smallholder farmers and small-to-medium agribusinesses throughout Kenya, we provide financing to help them acquire wealth-generating assets, such as high-yield dairy cows, poultry, irrigation equipment and farm machinery. Continue reading

Emily Alpert: Can You Be Resilient on One Acre or Less?

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Our guest author, Emily Alpert, Deputy Director of Agriculture for Impact, concludes our series of blog articles on resilience published in partnership with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) ahead of the conference Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security” 15-17 May 2014.

An acre is about the size of a football pitch. That might seem like a lot, but if your livelihood depends on it, it is rather small. In a good year, (that is with good seed, fertilizer and rain) a farmer can yield about 3 tons of maize on one acre. You might wonder why the 500 million or so smallholder farmers worldwide, who by definition farm on less than five acres (two hectares), farm at all. But my recent trip to Bungoma, Kenya, proved that there are ways these small farmers can be supported to build more robust livelihoods. The Montpellier Panel, Growth with Resilience report, for example, makes the case that people can be resilient with support for women and youth, diversified incomes and better nutrition. 


We talked to Fumona, a single mother and grandmother. Over 30 percent of rural households in Kenya are headed by women, and focusing support on rural women proves to have a positive impact on health, nutrition and education levels for the rest of the family, thus contributing to more resilient communities. Funoma has been receiving credit, inputs, training and insurance from NGO One Acre Fund. Fumona planted more than just maize this year as an outbreak of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) could have destroyed her entire crop. Instead, with advice from One Acre Fund she divided her acre between finger millet, maize, beans and groundnuts.  She ended up with an astounding seven bags of finger millet (about 70 kg) from planting just a quarter-acre, or in other words, more than enough to feed her family and leftovers to sell.


Farmers situated near Kisumu in a small village called Siaya such as Timothy Okoth, his wife Jennifer and their 5 children, weren’t as lucky. With just a few goats and a couple of chickens milling about the village, it was clear that these farmers have very little to fall back on if the rains are too short or their crops are damaged by pest or disease. Last year they faced severe drought and only produced 6 bags of maize that simply was not enough for the 7 of them. Kenya 1 Diversity is key to resilience as an entire livelihood can be wiped out if you are reliant solely on one crop. When and where these options don’t exist, safety nets can catch your fall and help you to bounce back more quickly. Even though drought ravaged Timothy and Jennifer’s crops, they were relieved to be One Acre Fund members.  In addition to their package of seeds and fertilizer, they also bought an insurance policy.  The insurance pay-out turned out to be a very smart investment indeed; enabling them to stay on their feet in hopes of better rains to come.


40 percent of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted. Adequate nutrition not only prevents irreversible damage to physical and mental abilities, but helps children become more resilient in the face of disease. To that end, the farmers we visited in Siaya are learning how to build a nursery for sukumu seedlings, a nutrient-rich kale variety. The sukumu will not only help to provide essential vitamins and minerals, but also a potential source of income. They hope that One Acre Fund will also help them access seeds for onions and tomatoes to eventually sell in their local markets. Kenya2  So can you survive on one acre or less? It’s not easy, but it is doable, especially when there is good weather. And when there’s not, one hopes that more farmers will have the access to and choose to participate in programmes like One Acre Fund. Resilience for farmers on an acre or less might still require cattle and kale, but making a wise investment never hurts either.

This blog article is part of an ongoing series on resilience being published ahead of an upcoming IFPRI conference to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 2014. Building resilience means helping people, communities, countries, and global institutions prevent, anticipate, prepare for, cope with, and recover from shocks, not only helping them to “bounce back” but also to become better off. This conference aims to help set priorities for building resilience, to evaluate emerging threats to resilience, and to draw lessons from humanitarian and development responses to previous shocks.

Supporting Farmers’ Organisations in Kenya to Empower Smallholder Farmers

As part of GCARD 2010, Farming First hosted a session entitled ‘Better Benefiting the Poor through Public-Private Partnerships for Innovation and Action.’ Within the discussions, our panel of experts addressed several case studies that present different ways that partnerships have helped to empower smallholder farmers around the world.

Edward Kateyia – IFAP/Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers

Empowering smallholder farmers in markets (ESFIM) is a programme covering 11 developing countries set up by IFAP, ECART, IFAD, Agricord, CTA and various local researchers in Kenya. The project’s overall objective is to generate demand-driven action research support to the policy activities undertaken by farmers’ organisations. By creating an enabling policy and regulatory environment as well as economic organisations and institutions, the initiative works to empower farmers to generate remunerative cash income from markets.

Promoting collaborative research, the study gave research support to nine national farmers’ organisations to help them produce a set of propositions that would help them voice their research requirements more effectively and help to initiate partnerships amongst research groups for executing their various activities.

A second phase of activities involved supporting farmers’ organisations with information to strengthen their research capabilities and access to knowledge. Through this, farmers’ organisations have an improved and increased capacity to collect, organise and exchange experiences, knowledge and information within an international network of researchers.

Kenyan Smallholder Farmers to be Offered Crop Insurance

Following a successful pilot phase for the new insurance scheme developed by UAP in conjunction with the Syngenta Foundation, Kenyan farmers will be able to purchase insurance against the effects of drought and excessive rain.

The program is the first of its kind. Here are more details:

Under the novel system, farmers register their purchases by sending an SMS to a phone number provided by UAP. The weather stations then monitor the weather and inform the insurance company of impending crop failure and subsequent compensation. Each farmer is then informed via SMS about the payouts. Costs are kept down through the use of automated weather stations which avoid the need for expensive field visits to farms to ascertain risk and loss.   This makes the insurance feasible for both the farmer and the insurance company.

The first pay-out to farmers affected by drought happened in Nanyuki last week. UAP Head of Marketing and Distribution Joseph Kamiri said that the company had developed the product in response to a great need identified while developing agriculture insurance products for the Kenyan market in conjunction with the Syngenta Foundation.

The early success of the programme has given it the go-ahead to be released across the country in 2010, said Rose Goslinga, insurance coordinator of the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture in Kenya:

Traditionally, smallholder farmers have been totally dependent on the vagaries of weather. In times of drought they lost their crops and their investment in seed and fertilizer.  To make matters worse, farmers then had to pay for a second lot of seed to enable them to replant. But because they had not obtained a crop, they had little money, if any, to repurchase the seed.

In recent months, Kenya has been hit by severe drought, so this new programme will likely go a long ways toward helping impacted farmers get back on their feet.