Dancing with hunger

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Hope FM Radio, Kenya

From a housewife depending on twenty thousand shillings a month six years ago, Mary Gichuki is now an entrepreneur making way more than she could have imagined then.

Welcome to Mary’s world of farming.

Hers however is not just the conventional farming but she has adopted agroforestry which has helped her improve not just her financial status but her whole wellbeing.

With effects of climate change continually affecting food production negatively, the situation is getting worse by the day. However, for farmers like Mary who have adopted ways of making their lands more productive, they are sustaining their livelihoods comfortably.

From her small farm in Githunguri, Kiambu County, Mary is now reaping the benefits. “I got into agroforestry after learning that it can help add manure to the farm, the beauty of the trees and also feeding the animals from the shrubs,” Mary says adding that the shrubs are better supplements than those from the shops.

Agroforestry is the integrated approach of combining trees and shrubs with crops and livestock. It combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable land-use systems.

The World Agroforestry Centre’s (ICRAF’s) extension officer Moses Mwangi says: “We’ve seen a lot of deforestation but we cannot just go out and tell farmers we have to plant a lot of trees but we have to show them the benefit of doing it.” He adds that this approach will help in mitigating against climate change effects and also filling feed gap for the animals.

Mwangi says that this is a ladder to reforesting the lands as they are intercropping food crops with the fodder crops, improving the crop cover while helping the crops due to nitrogen fixing. This is improving the soil quality which in turn is increasing the land output.

He adds that the supplementary feeds are increasing production in animals which Mary concurs with. She says she has seen an increase in milk production as well as the crops harvested from her small piece of land. She attributes this to the fertilization of the soil through the integration of the trees and farms. She also produces enough seeds which she sells and makes an extra by training other farmers on agroforestry.

Women have always borne the brunt of the family burden as they have to cater for it. Mary says that Agroforestry lessens the burden women have to bear and also helps in saving time. “Women have been struggling to find water and firewood but with agroforestry these are within reach, we have firewood, food and manure for the land which makes us more productive,” she says. In addition she has biogas which she uses at home and which has reduced the cost of energy significantly. She says that her life has improved immensely since adopting agroforestry.

Mary’s farming has been recognized at the Nairobi Agricultural Show. She says: “The cows we have here are a product of the money I got from the show and much more from the trees.”

She says she started on a land which was bare but now enumerates the benefits of investing in agroforestry saying that she is able to sustain her family. Other perks which come with it are hot water showers, they have workers for them and now the money is working for the family and not vice versa. The common fodder crops are calliandra, trichandra, tree Lucerne, sesbania sesban, purple vetch, lupin, double bean, Guatemala grass, edible cana and mulberry.

In contrast, Ndeiya location still in Kiambu County is one of the areas that receives food aid in times of droughts but also does well when the weather patterns are favourable for crop production. Most farmers here are subsistence and this time round, they are staring hunger in the face.

Farmers here have not yet diversified and are still growing maize and beans as the main crops.

Even though the rains have been good, the maize crop which should be flowering now dying or is not anywhere near the flowering stage and only a few centimetres from the ground. The crop planted in April is dwarfed and yellow in colour.

By adopting agroforestry, these farmers and indeed many more from around the country would become food secure and have extra for an income.

Land is scarce in Kenya and it is becoming more so every passing day. The issue of availability of land has forced farmers like Mary to maximize on the small pieces they have. Every open space is utilized to ensure maximum productivity.

However, unregulated developments on arable lands are further compounding the food insecurity issue. Housing estates are coming up on these lands and the government has been criticized for not doing enough to protect the wellbeing of Kenyans.

Reverend Dr. Matthews Mwalw’a from the AIC Milimani feels that the government should support such small farmers who may be able to salvage the situation. “The government has to rethink its strategies and not necessarily outsourcing but look for in-house alternatives like growing other crops which would give stability to food security,” Rev. Mwalw’a says adding that research should also be in the forefront in the fight against hunger.