By Evance Odhiambo

Withered crops and malnourished livestock paint the picture of how adverse climate change can be as you walk around several villages in Lower Nyakach, Kisumu County. The area receives little rainfall that cannot support productive agricultural activities. Residents here are largely dependent on rainwater and this is not sustainable as the climatic pattern is not predictable. The area has over the years been importing agricultural produce from other regions.

A project funded jointly by the Government of Kenya, World Bank and the County Government of Kisumu at attune of Ksh. 650 million is changing the narrative with many farmer groups targeted. The project that began in 2017 is covering three sub-counties which include Nyakach, Nyando and Kisumu East. Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) is being implemented in 24 counties and has reached 255 farmer groups since its inception.

According to Kaguza Benard, monitoring and evaluation officer at KCSAP, the project deals with climate smart farming by creating agricultural sustainability and also in increasing productivity in the three value chains it is targeting which include sorghum, cassava and indigenous chicken farming.

According to Kaguza, the groups to benefit from the project are chosen based on the three value chains. They are also selected after thorough evaluation by a committee which is made up of ten officials from the project.

He says that the applications are overwhelming because of the impact created by the project. Kaguza noted that they receive close to 500 applications annually in the 24 counties reached adding that the applications are always made after their random visit to groups to make a formal introduction of their project. The interested groups are given forms to fill out. The forms are then probed by the selection committee for suitability.

Benard Kaguza

“After meeting the set parameters which also include membership of not less than 10 per group, the groups are trained on the expectations of the project. They are also trained on the project’s sustainability as a way of making it beneficially even after the curtain falls on the initiative. The training takes one month and the groups from neighboring sub-counties are consolidated for the purposes of the training,’’ says Kaguza.

He says that after the training, it takes another one month for evaluation and selection of groups to benefit. The selection is done openly through the committee.

Kaguza says that high expectation among farmers is a major challenge they face while selecting groups as most groups want to be given cash instead of inputs, contrary to the project’s bylaws.

“The selection is based on the ability of the group to sustain the project after its completion, availability of market within the group’s locality and the groups’ previous history in project implementation,’’ he says.

Kasae Model Farmers Group in Nyakach is one of the groups that are now earning decent livelihood, thanks to the climate smart agriculture project. Started in 2014, the group’s aim was to fight poverty through poultry farming. This however was hindered by the adverse climatic condition within the Sub-County. The group which was started by 10 women with only five hens now boasts as one of the poultry suppliers within Kisumu County earning them close to Ksh. 500,000 (about US$5000) per month. The membership has since risen to 15.

Damaris Awino, the group’s chairperson, attributes this to the input by KCSAP in ensuring that they practice climate smart agriculture. She says that the project gave them 458 improved kienyeji chicken which has so far changed their lives

“From the chicken we got from KCSAP, we now have over 2000 chicken. We keep improved Kienyeji which is resistant to this harsh climate. Before the project, we were incurring losses since the breeds we had could not survive here,” posited Awino.

Awino says that through their group, they have purchased hatching machines and they have the capacity of hatching 200 chicks per day. The group sells the chicks at various stages and the money from the sales are shared among the 15 members with a fraction saved.

Damaris Awino attending to chicks

“We sell a day old chick at sh.100 (about one dollar), a month old at sh. 300 (about three dollars), two months old at sh. 500 (about five dollars) and from four months old we sell at sh. 400 (about four dollars) per kilogramme,’’ says Janet Akinyi, a group member.

Besides poultry farming, the group has incorporated the growing of indigenous leafy vegetables. The vegetables supplement the 10% nutrition adding value as one of the objectives under KCSAP.

The vegetable is consumed by members and the larger fraction sold in the local markets. They earn up to Ksh. 20,000 (about US$200) from vegetable sales in a month.

According to Kisumu County Agricultural Statistics officer at KCSAP Kevin Kanywira, 70% of the support is used in purchasing farm inputs while 20% of the support is channeled towards alternative livelihood activities.

“I am glad to report that most of our beneficiaries are keen on not only earning a living through selling the end product, but also improving the nutritional standards at family set up,” says Kanywira.

According to him, the farm input are given depending on the value chains. Those in poultry farming are given chicks, hatcheries and feeds.

“This we are doing to ensure the farmers realize maximum production. We have so far distributed over 10 cassava chipping machines to groups involved in cassava production. We have also given out sorghum seeds, fertilizer and grain storage facilities,’’ says Kanywira.

Kevin Kanywira

The project officials conduct two visits per month to the farmers to evaluate how the inputs are used and also address challenges that may arise.

In as much as the farmers are reaping from their sweat, disease burden is still a challenge facing them. The farmers said that outbreak of diseases is a threat to their poultry farming. Cost of feeds is also eating into their earnings and this they say varies based on their stock.

“Besides diseases and cost of feeds, we lack extension services. Extension officers have resorted to staying in offices as opposed to going to farmers and assisting with expertise knowledge,” says Akinyi.

As the Nyakach farmers are improving their lives through climate smart farming, the same is replicated in Kolwa East Village of Kisumu East Sub County. The area is not only dry but has both sandy and black cotton soil. This makes agricultural activities, especially farming difficult.

Just like Lower Nyakach, the climatic change has rendered chunks of lands in Kisumu East unproductive and most people have resorted to importing the produce. Cassava Pesa Group has however changed the narrative, thanks to KCSAP project. The group’s chairman Thomas Mwalo says that he started cassava farming solely in 1997, however, the yield wasn’t  that pleasing due to the prevailing climatic conditions around his Kolwa East home

“Drought destroyed all my cassava crops in 2002 and this affected my family who relied mainly on cassava as a subsistence crop. I had no option but to buy it elsewhere in Migori County, kilometers away,” says Mwalo

Mwalo says that through their Cassava Pesa Group, they are now growing cassava in large scale despite the harsh climatic condition. He says that through KCSAP, they got drought resistant cassava variety called KME-08-02 (Tajirika) that thrives in the area. The project gave them farm input valued at sh.500,000. This included the cassava cuttings, fertilizer, cassava chopping machine and packaging materials.

“The cassava variety we got is not only drought resistant but also matures fast,” he says.

The farmers through the group are now supplying fine chopped cassava to the markets within Kisumu County and beyond. The farmers are now working on value addition mechanisms boost their earning. They intend to grind, package and brand their cassava flour, with supermarkets as their immediate target.

“We sell a 2kg tin at sh. 120. This is not enough; we are in the process of packaging the flour for wider market. We also keep dairy goats as supplement,” Says Pamela Anyango, a member of Cassava Pesa Group.

Cassava in a chopping machine

According to Anyango, the group takes home close to Ksh. 700,000 per harvest. A fraction of the money is used to lease lands for expansion cassava plantation. Their farming has been made possible irrigating the farms in the early stages of cassava crops; they are then left to grow under maintenance.

chopped cassava

The cassava is not only sold in the local markets, the surrounding schools also purchase them to boost nutritional standards among students and pupils. Mr. Jesse Anjichi, a tutor at Ahero Vocational Training Institute is a regular customer at Cassava Pesa Group’s farm. He purchases 10 bags of cassava per month from the group.

‘’Our institution has resolved to mix maize and chopped cassava to make flour. We use cassava because of its nutritious value. Our students need carbohydrate to remain active,’’ says Anjichi.

He however says it was not easy to convince the students to take ugali from a mixture of maize and cassava. This is because of the already changed perception on the crop.

“Many initially regarded cassava as poor man’s food. This has so far changed. Cassava is served even in first class eateries,’’ says Anjichi.

Cassava farming is however still facing challenges, which include laxity among farmers to adopt to growing it, diseases and rodents that eat the tubers while in farms.

Members of Pamoja Group after harvesting sorghum

In Nyando Sub- County, Pamoja Self Help Group is taking up sorghum farming which has far improved their lives. KCSAP Monitoring and Evaluation Officer in Kisumu County Benard Kaguza attributed the success of the project to the zeal shown by farmers to transform agriculturel activities. He said the productive of the three value chains have improved and farmers can sustain the project once their tenure is over.

Delays in completion of the projects and high expectation by farmers are among the challenges they have been facing since the inception of the project.

Kisumu County’s Department of Agriculture has assured their full support of the project to make the county one of the Kenya’s food basket.

“Climate smart farming is the way to go as the globe is facing challenges resulting from climate change. Through KCSAP, we are helping in improving the productivity of the less productive areas within Kisumu County. This has resulted into pumper harvest and now our people have food in their stores,’’ says Dr. Paul Omanga, Kisumu County Agriculture Chief Officer.