Taita Taveta farmers make a fortune from drought-tolerant crops

Christine Nashera inspecting her groundnut crop in Chala Ward, Taveta

Though groundnuts are a highly popular and nutritious snack in Taita Taveta County, the residents had always depended on imports from the neighboring Tanzania. Farmers had failed to take advantage of its popularity and high demand as they believed the prevailing prolonged drought conditions in the region were too harsh for the crop to thrive.

It therefore came as a sweet surprise in 2019, when AVCD, through the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) introduced the crop in the area. “Many of us were amazed at the robustness of the crop in the plots that AVCD had established despite the prevailing droughts,’ states Austin Vita, a career farmer from Chawia Ward, Taita Sub County, Taita Taveta County. ‘Our Lack of knowledge on how to farm groundnuts – from good agronomic practices, post-harvest handling, to market opportunities – had blinded its vast potential as a high earning and nutritious crop.’

After ICRISAT training him on good agricultural practices, the father of four children tried the new crop on 0.75 acres of his 7-acre farm the following year. And he was not disappointed. He harvested 35 bags of unshelled? groundnuts. Impressed with the performance of the groundnuts in 2020, Vita doubled the acreage under groundnuts to 1.5 acres in 2021 and even donated a further 2 acres to his neighbors, Patrick Mwamburi and Kingori Mwangi who were eager to emulate his successes with groundnut farming.

Like Vita, Francis Mwachofi, from Bura Ward, Taveta sub County, committed 2 acres under groundnuts in 2020 after being introduced and trained on farming groundnuts. Like Austin, he was amazed at the 100 bags of unshelled groundnuts he harvested. The earnings from these sales enabled him to acquire a multipurpose thresher for processing produce from other DTCs like sorghum and green grams which he establishes. Mwachofi was impressed with the yields that he increased the acreage under groundnuts to 3 acres in 2021.

However, shelling of the bumper harvest was a challenge. Farmers were taking too much time to shell manually at the same time the post-harvest loses were high close to 50%. The AVCD project through Egerton University supported Taita Taveta farmers with a groundnut thresher which did not only enhanced efficiency but reduced post-harvest loses, reduced labour costs and improved grain quality for the market. The project has also supported farmers with a motorized multipurpose thresher for processing of sorghum, green grams and pigeon peas.

But this was a unique kind of production for the farmers. They had been contracted by Egerton University Seed Unit to produce seed. Before planting the groundnuts, AVCD in partnership with ICRISAT and Egerton University Seed Unit had trained the farmers on requirements and procedures of producing groundnut seed that would be certified by a reputable agency, in this case, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service. Indeed, once satisfied that the farmers had adhered to the requirements, the Egerton University Seed Unit purchased all the seed from the farmers at the contracted farmgate price of 100 shillings per kg of unshelled groundnuts.

Davis Mwangoma, the County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Taita Taveta County lauds this local seed production initiative noting that it will not only help smallholder farmers access to high quality seed of improved drought-tolerant and high-yielding varieties, but it will also lead to increased adoption of these varieties by smallholder farmers resulting in improved incomes and livelihoods. “It is a sustainable way of developing the groundnut seed system for the county,’ he remarks.

Diversified crop package
It was not only groundnuts that excited the farmers. ICRISAT had also in 2019 introduced drought-tolerant and high yielding varieties of pigeon peas, green grams, and sorghum. ‘Impressed by the performance of these varieties even under harsh weather conditions, I planted green gram, groundnuts, and Gadam sorghum varieties on 1.5 acres,’ states Agostino Nguruwi, from Mtakuja Village, Mata Ward, Taveta Sub County who has been struggling growing green grams, and sorghum in the drought prone region without much success.

Agostino Nguruwi, from Mtakuja Village, Mata Ward, Taveta Sub County

Mwangi had reaped big from his green gram and sorghum production in 2020 and used part of the earnings to purchase a hand plough and two bulls at a total cost of 50,000 shillings. He used the balance to clear outstanding fees balances for his children in school, one who had just completed class 8 and awaiting to join Form 1. Mwangi also doubles as a Community Health Volunteer (CHV). He was trained on agri-nutrition as a Trainer of Trainers by ICRISAT and now trains households within his coverage area. His nutrition training also covers on nutritional benefits of these drought-tolerant crops to households especially for women and children who have greater nutritional needs.

‘Combining nutrition messages with the real crop on the farm helps households take the teachings seriously because they can see the crop and practice what we tell them’, says Mwangi. His wife, now with a one-month old baby, has benefited from the nutrition trainings, he will ensure he supports her to exclusively breastfeed their newborn for 6 months. Mwangi currently shoulders most of the work at home to enable the wife rest and feed well to produce enough milk for their baby. ‘I practice what I teach to my community members,’ Mwangi remarks.

Impressive earnings
Vita was very impressed with the gains. “This was one of my most high earning and fulfilling seasons in my farming career. I earned 35,000 shillings from my 35 bags of groundnuts I produced and sold as seed. I also harvested 5 90-kg bags of green grams, which I sold at 80 shillings per kg.’

It was the first time that Mwachofi was earning 100,000 shillings from a single crop in a season.
‘Having tasted the bounty of the first season, I still committed the 1.5 acres to the three crops during this year’s first planting season. And despite the prevailing harsh weather, I am looking forward to a decent harvest, looking at how the crops are performing,’ states Nguruwi

While many might have seen the robustness and yields from the groundnuts and other crops as miracles, Vita attributes it to the approach taken by AVCD in introducing the crop in the region. ‘AVCD and ICRISAT did not just bring us the seed. It was a wholesome package that included provision of certified seed, training on good agricultural practices, regular physical field visits and provision of information on weather, mechanized threshing, and shelling, among others. We received an SMS on weekly basis on weather, and possible disease and pest outbreaks and how to control them. AVCD also ensured that we are not stuck with our produce by creating the necessary market linkages.’

Lucrative markets
Nguruwi emphasizes the importance of having a good market for the produce. ‘In 2018, I invested 150,000 shillings in an acre of tomatoes. The crop did very well. But the market was so bad that instead of a crate of tomatoes retailing at 3,000 shillings, it was retailing at 500 shillings. I only got 30,000 in return,’ laments Agostino adding, ‘this has not been the case with the drought tolerant crop varieties AVCD introduced.’

Nguruwi, Vita and Mwachofi are part of the 1,283 members of TANAFACO, the apex farmer producer organization formed in 2019 with AVCD assistance to coordinate all drought-tolerant crop producing farmers in Taita Taveta and aggregate their produce for marketing.

Mwangoma is very appreciative of AVCD efforts in improving agricultural value chains in the County. ‘We appreciate the difficulties these farmers get in accessing improved and drought-tolerant seeds. We are grateful to AVCD for facilitating the establishment of TANAFACO, that has come in handy in seed procurement, local seed production, and marketing of farmers produce. As a county, we have committed 1 million shillings towards strengthening the operations of TANAFACO. Additionally, we have seconded an Agribusiness county extension staff to the cooperative to ensure its functionality. I am very happy, that the organization has been able to establish three seed banks over the last 3 years.’

‘With assistance from AVCD, we have reached close to 6,557 farmers with supply inputs – seeds of drought tolerant groundnut, pigeon peas, green grams and sorghum – in the lowland areas of Taita Taveta. Our target is to reach 20,000 farmers in these dryland areas,’ states Mwangoma.

It is not just the early maturity, high yields, the ready market, and the good prices that are appealing to these farmers. The cost of production of these improved drought tolerant varieties is also very low. ‘I need not less 20,000 shillings to produce French beans on 0.25 acres compared to less 10,000 shillings for green grams on an acre,’ states Nguruwi adding, ‘The maximum I can harvest from 1.5 acres of maize is 20 90-kg bags. When the market is really good, bag of maize retails at 2,500 shillings. With green grams, I am assured of at least 1.7 tonnes from 1.5 acres. And they hardly retail at less than 100 shillings per kg. More importantly, with a ready market, I am assured of cash.’

The benefits of bumper harvests and increased incomes are trickling down to their families. ‘I am using part of the earnings to purchase other nutritious foodstuffs for my family. While other families are coming to terms with loss of their crop due to drought, and subsequent earnings, these crops never fail completely, I can feel the joy and happiness of a well fed and catered for family, thanks to AVCD and ICRISAT interventions. School fees does not stress me these days even without cash as schools are more than willing to have parents settle fees with their green gram produce,’ states Mwangi.