Farmers Group rewrites Ukambani drought story

Talk of Ukambani and everyone equates it to drought, hunger, excess heat and unsuitable land for farming. Mwingi area, in particular, has been received as an area ‘beyond repairs’ when it comes to agriculture.

Our journey to Itivanzou area in Mwingi North Constituency does not depict a different story either. We are greeted with shrubs and dry areas as we leave the outskirts of Mwingi town.

But our arrival to one farm in Itivanzou sub location, Kyuso District in Kitui County changes the whole story. We walk into a busy shamba where over 20 women and men are busy tending the sukumawiki and weeding on the onions. This shamba is owned by the Kathitu Farmers Field Group which, with the help of Actionaid, has transformed food security in the area.

Outside the compound, just as we are entering the shamba is a heap of onions that have been set aside for sale. “We harvested these ones yesterday and due to the ongoing rains, we have to keep them here first so that they dry properly,” Rita Mwaniki, the Group secretary says, as she ushers us to the site.

Started in 2014 through the Kenya Drought and Resilience project (KDRP), Kathitu Farmers Field Group began by digging terraces and tree planting as a group. We then sat and asked ourselves what we would do after this project comes to an end. This is where we started by rearing chicken. In the beginning, everyone contributed a chicken and Sh50 for buying a book for record keeping. At the time, the group had 29 members. Everyone contributed and we got Sh1,450. We bought the book and poultry food. We then build a small poultry shed at the home of Jackson Mwende Kiteme, one of our beneficiaries,” explains Mwaniki.

Besides, the 29-member group had also learnt community banking and they would contribute Sh50 on this platform. However, they experienced death of the chicken, even after seeking the help of veterinary officers in the area.

But the Kathitu Farmers Field Group members did not give up. They sought other options and after some consultations among themselves, the group decided to go into vegetable farming. The secretary explains: “We asked from within the group if there was anyone who could help us with a piece of land to grow the vegetables. We just wanted a small place for basic production. Kathini Wambua, one of the beneficiaries offered us a small piece of land. That was in June 2014.”

The chicken had all died and only three were remaining. The Group sold the chicken at Sh1,650. All this money was used to buy the Sukuma and spinach seeds. We started with a nursery. Here, we would get vegetables for domestic consumption. However, proceeds from the little that the group sold would be used to buy pesticides.

By September 2014, the nursery had done well and proved that there was a possibility of getting more yield. Rita says: “We went back to the same lady and asked her if she could give us another piece of land so that we could expand. She accepted to give us 3.5 hectares-the place you see here,” she says as she points to the green well-tended garden.

The group signed a three-year agreement with the land owner, in the presence of the area chief. “We were determined to do agribusiness so we wrote to Actionaid to assist us with the necessary materials needed including cement, tanks and generator to pump water. These would help us thrive, even during the dry season.”

Fortunately, Actionaid approved the proposal and the group was set to start work at the new farm, and on a larger scale. They gave us cement, tank, generator and a technician. But the group members were to provide the basic materials such as ballast and sand and a ny causal workers needed. This took two months between October and November.

All this time, the group’s hopes were high so they had already established a nursery while work was still ongoing at the larger farm and as the tank was being constructed. The secretary explains: “At first, the group planted dhania, carrots, tomatoes, sukumawiki, onions and spinach. At the end of that season, around January 2015, we got Sh72,520 in revenue,” she added.

Besides, every member of the group would take home some vegetables every week. Although we experienced some pests infection, we still continued. The next season, we planted onions which gave us Sh20,000. Or Kenya Commercial Bank account, thus, was now at Sh92,520 from vegetable farming alone.

Early November, the group started transplanting of tomato and onions and since then, “Our group is to reach a Sh500,000 in revenue.” The group also hopes to raise enough revenue to be able to acquire a vehicle for transporting their farm produce.

Besides farming, Kathitu Farmers Field Group is also involved in table banking, in a bid to ensure that the members are economically stable. Currently, the group has Sh112,000 in the account. The group lends out money at Sh100 for every Sh1,000 borrowed. Delay in paying for the borrowed money attracts a Sh100 fine.

Rita says that the banking platform has enabled many members of the group to be able to educate their children pay for the school fees. Through the Sh2,400 that Actionaid gives us, we have also been able to improve ours lives. “Some of our members have even constructed their own family houses through this money. Another member has bought a donkey and a number of cows. We have so far learnt the essence of being together,” she concludes.

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