By Allan Muturi.
For centuries, people living around Lake Victoria have largely been involved in fishing. In the true tradition of fisher folks around the world, they have repeatedly woken up very early in the morning or spent long nights seeking elusive fish. For them life away from the fishing boat, net and the big catch has not been a consideration.
But there is change in the air. The community is now embracing commercial farming as an alternative means of earning a decent livelihood. According to Martin Odoyo, a Field Agronomist with Animal Draft, more and more fishermen are leaving their nets and boats for the farm. “A lot people from the community are showing interest in agribusiness.” Animal Draft is a farmers’ training project based in Mbita Constituency.
Shem Owaga is one such a farmer. Owaga was a preacher who left the pulpit to engage in farming. “I was a preacher in Central Kenya for 27 years but since I ventured into farming, I have not looked back.” Like other farmers in the Constituency, Owaga is a beneficiary of a training project that was jointly facilitated by Animal Draft and the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP). Funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project had asked local farmers to form groups so that they could be trained on how to raise hybrid crops. “We learned that raising hybrid crops is different from the traditional farming activities that we had long practiced and are thankful to USAID for the training,” he says adding that before he received the training, he had no clue on how to raise hybrid crops.
Owaga is a member of a 200-strong group of farmers that received training on fallow irrigation and book keeping. Since he started implementing what he learned in his farm, Owaga now considers himself a successful farmer because he is able to pay school fees for his two children who are in university.
During a farmers’ field day held recently at his farm, local people expressed a lot interest particularly after they saw how much the former preacher has achieved within the short period he has been farming. “It is interesting to see how much one can harvest after such short time.” noted Mellisa Okomo, a local farmer who felt that raising hybrids “is the way to go” as they take a mere three months to mature and are more profitable.
He had planted water melons in a section of his farm that was lying idle and was to realise Ksh80, 000 when he sold his first harvest. He says the crop could have fetched him more had he harvested at the right time. “At that time, a kilo was selling at Ksh12, but at times when the market is good, one can get double that amount.” He says he ploughed back more than Ksh50, 000 to raise such other crops as butter nuts, tomatoes, onions and cabbages that are now ready for the market.
The significant ‘exodus’ of local people from fishing has been noted by representatives of seed companies that say they have seen an increase in the demand for hybrid seed. Elizabeth Khasa, the local Pannar Seeds sales representative, says a number of young people in the area are now venturing into farming for purposes of raising fees for higher education. Goerge Ojwang is one such student who says that he uses cash he gets from farming to finance a mechanical engineering degree course he is pursuing at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
According to Ian Chesterman, KHCP’s Project Director, different parts of the country should be able to feed themselves no matter how harsh local environmental conditions are. “I am delighted that the training project is a big success.” He advised local farmers to emulate what they have learnt from Owaga’s farm and promises that in the next one year, USAID would replicate the project in all counties in Nyanza, Western, Rift Valley and Eastern provinces.
By Allan Muturi.