Moving from tilling to conservation
By Catherine Njeri – Communications Assistant, World Vision East African Region
Nelson Mwangi never imagined that his water-logged piece of land which is slightly shy of an acre could be transformed into a food generating unit.
“It is unimaginable,” says Nelson. “When I bought this piece of land it was completely water-logged. I only used to plant on half of it because the rest was completely flooded.”
Nelson is one of the two farmers visited in Nakuru’s Rongai area as part of the Beating Famine Conference which took place on the 10th to 13th of April. The event, which was a collaboration between World Vision Australia and the World Agroforestry Centre, focused on addressing food security through land regeneration.
During the field trip, participants were introduced to practical cases of conservation agriculture (CA); a concept that revolves around conserving natural soil resources through minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover combined with crop rotation. This method of farming is aimed at achieving sustainable food production and subsequently improving livelihoods of farmers. Nelson and Augustus Mwaura are beneficiaries of conservation agriculture training in this area, an initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture and World Vision.
Mbugua and his wife Helen were trained on conservation agriculture in 2005 and decided to adopt the practice four years ago. Today, Mbugua is reaping the benefits of adopting this farming method.
“I used to harvest around eight 90-kg bags per acre, but since I adopted CA, I have seen a steady increase in production. My last harvest produced 16 bags of maize.”
Nelson shares the same experience. He narrated how his piece of land only used to produce around four bags of maize per harvest, but that figure has more than quadrupled to 18 bags per harvest.
A reduction in the cost of labour is another benefit that the farmers cited. Since most of the crop residue is left on the land after the harvest to act as soil cover, there is no need to hire extra hands to assist with tilling.
With CA, farmers are able to generate enough crop to feed themselves and their families and have extra to sell. Mbugua, who has six children, proudly shared how his life has significantly improved since he adopted this practice.
“We have been able to multiply our livelihood activities. We have taken up fish farming and added two cows to our herd. We now have five cows,” he explained.
From the cow manure, Mbugua and his wife are generating biogas which they use for cooking.
Despite the obvious benefits of CA, most farmers in the region have been slow in adopting the practice. There are approximately 10,000 farmers in the Rongai area and less than 10% have implemented CA. The main cause of concern for most farmers is the crop-livestock conflict that CA presents. Farmers with livestock prefer to use the residue from the harvest to feed their animals rather than leaving it on the field as soil cover. Mbugua also notes that unwillingness of men to attend training sessions presents a challenge.
“Most men believe that these meetings are for women, making it extremely difficult for women to implement the practice,”said Mbugua.
The Ministry of Agriculture is working to ensure that gender balance is achieved during training meetings by enlisting male community influencers.
As the conference participants left Nakuru, a pertinent question remained unanswered. How do we get more farmers to adopt conservation agriculture?
Creating awareness, sharing knowledge and providing support through training emerged as a possible solution during the conference. It was also noted that re-greening would only take place in a meaningful scale if key stakeholders including governments, research institutions, private sector, civil society and others worked with communities to define simple and low cost solutions to a recurring problem.
Currently World Vision has experts working in different parts of the world to promote these re-greening projects. World Vision is already replicating knowledge that allows communities to better themselves through sustainable agricultural practices.
Artice edited by Yvonne Otieno