Unlocking the potential of sustainable agroforestry practices: Farmers meet ICRAF staff at agricultural fair
It’s a bright morning on Wednesday 24 June, 2015 and the four-day Agricultural Society of Kenya (A.S.K) Show in Machakos has just began. This is arguably the most popular agricultural and trade exhibition in the semi-arid region of south eastern Kenya. ‘Enhancing Technology in Agriculture and Industry for Food Security and National Growth’ is the overall theme this year.
I casually invite a man who is hurriedly walking past the ICRAF stand at the Machakos showground. Initially, he seems reluctant to respond to my simple karibu (welcome) expression. But later on, Sammy Nzongolu leaves the tent wearing a broad smile.
He was keenly listening to Eric Ng’ethe, the manager of the ICRAF Fruiting Africa project passionately giving a presentation about the newly developed fruit tree portfolio for Eastern Kenya.
The model ensures that the existing fruit tree diversity can be arranged in ‘fruit tree portfolios’ to be planted on each farm to provide year-round supply of fresh fruits. “We want to transform livelihoods by unlocking the potential of sustainable agroforestry systems. One way is by encouraging farmers to diversify their farming through growing between 8 to13 different varieties of indigenous and exotic fruit tree species in each farm. From this, they will not only boost nutrition but also income” explains Eric.
“Thanks so much. Visiting the ICRAF tent was an eye opening experience. Were it not for you, I would have missed out on a very important aspect on agroforestry. I’m now determined to concentrate my efforts on the neglected indigenous fruits which I have found to be highly nutritious” Sammy mentions this as he pulls me away from the scorching sun.
He prefers we do the interview under the Grevillea robusta shade next to the tent. Sammy passionately expresses his love for trees tracing the affair to have begun back in his formative years while growing up in Kambu trading centre – Makueni County.
“I grew up around trees. Trees are my life. This is why 10 years ago, I quit my job as a tractor driver in a road construction company to follow my dream in tree farming.” he explains this as he shows me laminated photos of the activities he undertakes in his farm.
“Why do you spare time to attend such an event” I ask. “Look here, it has been my tradition since 2004, to attend this particular show so that I can meet with people like you. People, who can give instant answers to the problems I face in my different farming activities. Remember, this is a service offered to me at no extra cost” He swiftly responds.
My interview with Sammy is cut short by a group of secondary school students who crowd the display table allocated to the Evergreen Agriculture project. “Wow! Fertilizer trees, you mean trees can also act as fertilizers? ” asks one student in astonishment.
“Yes, these are agroforestry tree varieties able to fix nitrogen from the air and put it in the soil through their roots and falling leaves. Fertilizer trees include Faidherbia albida, Gliricidia sepium and Calliandra calothyrsus among others” replies Silas Muthuri, an ICRAF field assistant based in Machakos.
Findings from a study conducted by ICRAF titled: “Can Integration of Legume Trees Increase Yield Stability in Rainfed Maize Cropping Systems in Southern Africa?” indicated that fodder trees boost farm productivity. “We found that maize farms with legume trees had, on average, a 50 per cent increase in yields and that the yields were stable, compared with those grown with or without fertilisers,” stated Gudeta Sileshi, the lead study author.
As the interactive session with students from Tawa girls high school is going on, two women are busy putting to practice the set of skills they have acquired on vegetative propagation.” Having the skills on grafting will enable us to expand our tree nursery business through maximizing our profits” says Phoebe Nzioki.
The women later leave the tent and an elderly man approaches. He introduces himself as Gregory Ngao, a retired medical doctor who has been engaging in fruit farming for the past
20 years. His fruit orchard of 30 acres hosts a variety of fruits including: mangoes, oranges and water melon.
“Pest pose a major risk in my fruit farming. My annual turnover from fruit farming of approximately 600,000 Ksh (6000USD) is constantly threatened by the presence of pests like white flies, mites, caterpillars and thrips. I want to know how I can control them” declares Ngao.
International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) estimates that over 80% of Africa’s farm produce comes from smallholder farmers who target both domestic urban and export markets. One of the major constraints that limit production are fruit flies that cause direct fruit damage of up to 40–80%. Quarantine restrictions on fruit fly-infested mango also restrict export to large lucrative markets in Europe, the Middle East, Japan and USA. Ngao is not taking this figures lightly.
The ICRAF – OPTIONs (Optimising Pesticidal Plants: Technology Innovation, Outreach and Networks) project is rooted in promoting and facilitating the uptake of innovative technologies for improved food security based on pesticidal plants that can be effectively deployed within the context of local needs and resources.
“Honestly speaking, I did not know that Mulaa (Tithonia divesifolia) and Ndau (Euphorbia tirucalli) can produce very effective pesticides. I have always disregarded them as weeds” Ngao confesses.
It is already 5pm on day four. This marks the end of our insightful experience in Machakos. I’m happy the agroforestry concepts have been well received – many are keen to advance their knowledge in it. If the numbers in the visitor’s book is anything to go by, our messages promoting sustainable agroforestry farming systems have reached more than 3000 farmers.
Story by Danyell Odhiambo, ICRAF Kenya Office
See more photos at: ASK Show, Machakos County, Kenya, 24-27 June 2015
ICIPE Website: http://www.icipe.org/