By Clifford AkumuThe sweltering heat and the winding dusty roads leading to Block Kamuchege A village in Thebere location, Kirinyaga County paints a gloomy picture of unrelenting effects of climate change.
Kamuchege region heavily relies on rice production, but one woman has decided to go against the grain by venturing into commercial vegetable farming and has never regretted.
Elizabeth Wambui, 38, grows mainly traditional vegetables such as; terere (amaranth), managu (nightshade), kunde (cowpeas) and sukuma wiki (collard greens) in her half acre plot of land using irrigation.
Wambui’s journey of becoming a successful vegetable farmer is reminiscent of the one thousand miles.
The mother of two started with a teaspoonful of the amaranth seed she was given by Farm Input Promotions Africa’s village based advisor, today she earns around Sh2, 100 per every harvest.
“When I picked the seeds I did not know I was picking luck. Amaranth has now become my bank” said Wambui.
Elizabeth Waweru Munene, Kamuchege’s VBA says that the initiative is the answer to the perennial food shortage in the area.
Through comprehensive training on adoption of climate sensitive agriculture, ecological conservation, access to markets and alternative livelihoods, farmers have become food sufficient in the area.
“This project provides Kamuchege area with alternative sources of food and income when crops fail as they can sell vegetable, chicken and survive on income from their businesses” said the VBA.
She says that the new variety of amaranth fetches high price at the market.
“I get about 70kgs per harvest of the vegetables and sell at Sh30.This is an increase from the sales of the older variety which costs Sh15 for 30 kgs I got per harvest” said Wambui.
Whether they are farming for sale or home consumption, women in sub-Saharan Africa contribute up to 80% of the labour force in the agricultural sector, according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation.
In Africa, for example, women do not have total ownership of land on which they farm a situation that has left them with no choice but to rely on the traditional crops.
Culture and traditions beliefs have connived to put the African population to stare at a food insecure future.
“We are the drivers of agribusiness in the society hence the need to be accorded some autonomy when it comes to farming decisions” noted Wambui.
Before she ventured into vegetable farming, Wambui used to grow maize. But as she puts it maize farming ‘was not reliable due to erratic weather patterns in the region’.
Returns from vegetable farming, she says, are better than what she used to get from maize.
“There is ready market for vegetables. Whereas maize takes about eight months to mature, terere only takes six weeks and from there you keep on harvesting” said Wambui
The new terere variety, she continues, has a better leaf formation than the rest hence making it appealing to her customers.
She uses organic manure from her livestock to grow the vegetables.
“I save on costs of production. My customers normally buy in bulk hence no wastage” noted Wambui
The farmer has also learned how to conserve water and reclaim eroded farms using the Zai-pit technology.
Zai is a traditional land rehabilitation technology, used by farmers to rehabilitate degraded dry lands and restore soil fertility.
“I use this technology to reduce water losses when I irrigate my vegetable farm” explained Wambui
Selling directly to consumers is sure bet on eliminating middlemen in the vegetable value chain.
According to Wambui growing the vegetables starts with the right seeds.
“For a good vegetable one needs to plant the seedlings in the nursery for one month then transplant to the field by applying organic manure” she advised.
Proximity to the water supply will ensure continuous production even during dry season.
“I use about Sh200 to buy diesel that I use in pumping the water from the canal to irrigate the vegetables”.
“Most vegetables do best in moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter (such as compost or peat moss).” said Wambui.
Wambui advises that about an inch of water per week is usually sufficient for improved yields.
“I water the vegetables once every week. Weeds compete with vegetables for water and nutrients and could host pests, so it’s important to keep them to a minimum” she advised
Just like any other agribusiness practice, Wambui’s vegetable farming has had its share of challenges.
“When I take this variety to the market my customers always want the one with green leaves-called green amaranthus.But they always buy because this variety has more nutritional value” said Wambui
Wambui is ready to buy more seeds and plant on more acreage.
“I want to invest more in this terere variety because I have seen the value” concluded Wambui.