Wednesday 12 September 2012

Residents of Wote in Makueni come up with new ideas to fight hunger

Farmers get tips
Story and Pictures by Luyali Jirongo in Wote
Farmers receive training
For so many years, Makueni and other semi arid parts in Ukambani have been ravaged by decades of hunger and starvation. With sixteen administrative divisions, the county is mainly arid and semi-arid and is characterized by hot and dry climate for most of the year. It experiences two rainfall seasons, one in April and another in October. Thousands of starving families in the area have for many years depended on relief food from the government and other non-governmental organizations. Though the land in the area is fertile, water is very scarce hampering agriculture and making starvation a perennial problem. Dependency has become a hindrance to innovation as many residents do not have a slightest idea on how to put their arable land to good use and help alleviate the suffering caused by acute hunger in the area.
Cows in a dam
Sorghum farm
Carlos Wambua, a villager of Mulala in Wote says that the only source of livelihood in the area for long has been charcoal burning and sand harvesting. He adds that this activity has largely contributed to   environmental destruction, thereby exposing huge tracks of land to continued water and soil erosion. “Since the time I was born, we have been depending on food rations and many people here do not know anything to do with agriculture”, says 40-year-old Josephine Mbithi, a resident of Wote.
However, in a sleepy village of Kikumini in Wote, villagers from over forty families have formed a group that has decided to make use of their large tracks of land to plant drought resistant crops as a way of getting out of this serious problem. Under the name‘Kalomo Community and Dam Group’, they have started planting sorghum and cowpeas which act as cash crops as well as food. The group also digs dams to provide water for their farming activities.
The group’s chaiman Mutuku Mutesi says that since most of the villagers have small pieces of land, they are renting large tracks at Sh.1,500 per acre. Currently, they have ten acres in which they have planted sorghum and one where they have grown cow peas.“We started this initiative two years ago but in the first year things were not really good for us”, explains Mutuku.
Over this period, they have started realizing the benefits of what seemed as a dream in the beginning. They have now harvested 180kgs of peas, which they sold at Sh. 40 per kilo. Part of this money has been channeled back to the project to buy fertilizers and build a storage facility for their produce. At present, the members of the group do not get paid but they all share the profits that come from the sale of their produce. Mutuku adds that through such a project, they will soon forget the practice of depending on relief food and will also be able to save something to take their children to school.
According to Mutuku, these crops are very useful, as they do not take too long to mature and require little water to grow. Sorghum for example, takes only two months to be ready for harvesting. Since this is a semi-arid area, they have dug a dam in which water is held after each season of rain. It is this water that they use for irrigating the crops. Some of their future plans include rearing of goats and chicken as well as opening a firm that will mango juice from the readily available mangoes that grow in the area. They also plan on opening an account to help save the groups profits. 
Mutuku however says that this project has come with its share of challenges. The most sticking one being that of water. The dam in which the water is stored is to small such that it dries up before the next rain season. This water, which is also used for drinking, is usually contaminated as they share it with livestock. Some people even bath in the same water. Other problems include lack of fertilizers and new seed for planting. In addition, he says that birds destroy the sorghum especially when it produces seed but this is dealt with by members observing the firms in turns to chase away the birds. A market for their produce is also an issue of concern.
Recently, the group received a reprieve as their efforts were recognized by the Africa Harvest Foundation which offered them with training on soil and water management, bulding of on-farm water harvesting structures and managing soil erosion. The foundation has also given them seeds and fertilizers.
Mutuku advices other people in the drought stricken Ukambani area to turn to such initiatives as they will help in poverty alleviation and ensure food security through improved food production, improved land and water management, increased productivity and adoption of sustainable adaptive mechanisms to drought and climate change.

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