Ms Bilha Munyole, a farmer in Kimilili, Bungoma County, was taking a walk around her maize plantation when the ‘Seeds of Gold’ team visited her home on a Thursday morning.
If the rains continue, Ms Munyole, who hails from Kibingei, hopes to harvest at least 20 bags of maize from her one-acre farm, thanks to mechanisation and climate smart farming that has improved their resilience to effects of climate change.
“In the beginning, we relied on human labour which was very expensive, time-consuming and led to high cost of production,” she said. “We were also planting maize every other season, but we have learnt that failure to embrace rotational cropping has led to constant degradation and exhaustion of nutrients from the soil.”
Ms Munyole said she used to harvest as low as three to five bags of maize from her one-acre farm.
Just when she was about to give up on her sole means of livelihood, Ms Munyole was delighted when she heard of an initiative that supports smallholder farmers access sustainable mechanisation services.
Farming in Kimilili and Tongaren is small-scale but in an effort to improve production, the West Kenya Machinery Ring (MR) sought to empower farmers by bringing together those in close proximity to ensure the fields are worked on at once.
The initiative, which originated from Germany, mapped out 1,200 acres of land and encouraged joint development.
Apart from training 1,350 MR members on climate smart farming, the implements provided to farmers include tractors, chisel ploughs, maize planters, rotary cultivators, mobile maize shellers, maize mills, seed planters and soil rippers.
In order to make the use of the machineries sustainable, MR, which is currently being piloted in Bungoma and Laikipia counties, trained farmers on budgeting, management, farming and machine calculations.
In Africa, the initiative is being piloted in Kenya and Senegal.
MR seeks to promote the use of chisel ploughs as opposed to disc ploughs.
“Other than breaking the hard pans, chisel ploughs ensure deep tillage and shatters the impermeable soil layers which aid in better infiltration and storage of rainwater in the crop root zone,” said MR Kenya Project Manager Chris Onyango.
He said amalgamation of farms helps reduce the cost of production by up to 40 per cent.
MR has so far managed to support eight farmer groups in the county, with over 5,570 members.
For the success of the business model, farmers rent the machinery within their membership at low cost while non-members pay at the market rate.
In the past one year, the group has been able to raise Sh1.5 million in terms of membership fees and Sh700,000 from land preparation services.
“The funds are utilised for maintenance and payment of the machine operators while the rest is saved in a joint account for the purchase of new equipment, depending on their need, as well as replacing those that depreciate,” said Mr Eugene Wafula, another farmer.
The chairman of Kibingei Machinery Ring said adoption of new farming techniques enabled him to make a profit of Sh38,000 from his one-acre farm.
He is optimistic that the current rains will lead to bumper harvest this season.
MR practical adviser in Kenya Andreas Hastedt said the initiative that has been used for over 60 years in Germany and Europe in general has a great potential of transforming Kenya’s agricultural sector.
“The only challenge is when members fail to maintain and replace the worn-out farm implements,” he warned.
MR Kenya team leader Dr Thomas Wilde encouraged private investors to adopt the model. “We are facing the effects of climate change; the rain patterns have changed. We need to embrace innovative mechanisation solutions to increase sustainability in the management of the farms,” he said.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) donated two tractors to farmers to help the group to be more self-reliant.
FAO Country Representative Carla Mucavi said the initiative is part of their plan to ensure food security in the country.