Nyanza farmers reap ‘sweet’ success through USAID’s Feed the Future initiative
At 105 years of age, Raphael Abongo is not your average senior citizen. The elderly father of 24 and grandpa of 210 is not just an avid farmer but also still the main breadwinner for his large family. While he has been depending on crops like maize, peanuts, beans, tomatoes and butternut for sustenance, he says his latest crop has been the most profitable by far.
In April 2011 Abongo was among the 52 smallholder farmers who pioneered the growing of new varieties of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. The national institute promotes agricultural productivity through research and development of new technologies for adoption by farmers to ensure food security and environmental sustainability.
Unlike the traditional variety (nyano), the new ones (kabonde and vitaa varieties) are drought resistant, contain vitamin A and beta carotene, and take three instead of six months to mature. With only a quarter acre of land for sweet potato production and another for producing vines to supply other farmers with the crop, Abongo makes enough to provide for his dependents and see 18 of his grandchildren through high school.
Like him, hundreds of other farmers in Kenya’s Nyanza region have tripled their incomes by adopting the new crop. They are happy to have moved from producing an average of seven bags to an average of 17 bags per acre by adopting the high quality inputs and new farming methods. The larger incomes from sale of surplus produce are improving the living standards of these rural smallholder farmers who can now be food secure even during dry seasons.
Kenya is a food insecure country with current estimates from the Kenya Food Security Steering Group showing that between August 2011 and January 2012, 3.75 million people were in need of food assistance. This project is part of the U.S government’s Feed the Future initiative to tackle global hunger and poverty by helping partner countries transform their own agricultural sectors to become food sufficient and as a result, eliminate the need for chronic food aid.
“United Millers wants 10 tons of our produce a week!”
The project is implemented by the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project and targets 7,800 farmers in Nyanza region. The horticultural program helps farmers get seeds to grow the new varieties, trains them, and links them to markets where they can sell their produce.
Farmers also form cooperative societies through which they can competitively sell the potatoes and promote their welfare. Already, there is a sure market for the nutrition rich sweet potatoes in urban centers that fetch better prices than other local varieties. Several local companies are also showing interest in the product. For example, United Millers, a Kisumu-based food fortification company is interested in purchasing substantial amounts of the potatoes.
“The company wants 10 tons of our produce a week, while others like Frigoken and Sunripe are also in the process of working out supply agreements,” announced Tobias, the marketing manager of Brandy Kodumba Cooperative.
The high demand will encourage production and ensure that more families in the region have enough to eat, increased incomes and increased resiliency to climate change and maize shortages. The project will also help the country achieve its food security objectives while tapping into the export potential of the crop to ensure that the small holder farmers in Nyanza continue enjoying ‘sweet’ success.
By Clara Kakai