by Peter Mutai
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Small scale
farmers in the lower eastern Kenyan county of Makueni have
embraced cultivation of indigenous vegetables as an alternative
to conventional staples like maize, an official has revealed.
Mary Muteti, the Makueni county chief officer for agriculture,
livestock and irrigation, said in a recent interview that due to
the perennial failure of maize that has long been regarded as
the staple in the region, farmers have now abandoned it for
indigenous vegetables and fruits.
"Farmers are at last adapting to climate-smart crops that
they grow for sale and domestic consumption after many years of
abandonment," Muteti told Xinhua.
She said that the movement is gaining ground courtesy of the
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
project that aims at increasing smallholder productivity and
profitability in the semi-arid region.
Muteti observed that promotion of traditional high-nutrient
vegetables through the establishment of kitchen and home gardens
and food preservation is now changing lives of majority who
initially suffered from hunger and poverty due to harsh climatic
"The farmers have finally learnt to tolerate climate change
and are today benefiting unlike the previous years," said Muteti.
She noted the project is succeeding due to the reintroduction
of extension service workers who continue to educate farmers on
proper agronomic practices and food utilization.
The project, she said, is supporting 100 groups with assorted
vegetable seeds - spinach, kales, onions, tomatoes and amaranth
in Makueni and neighboring Kitui and Machakos Counties.
In this region farmers predominantly grow pigeon pea, cowpea
alongside maize and sorghum but maize and sorghum harvests has
been disappointing over the years.
"The traditional vegetables are acting like medicine in my
family as the visits to hospital and purchase of medicine has
reduced," Eunice Manga, a farmer and member of Kithingali
self-help group in Kitui County said.
Manga said that besides consuming the vegetables, she has
been selling the surplus to the market and out of the proceeds
she is managing well in paying fees to her three children.
She noted that the proceeds from her one and quarter acreage
farm has enabled her to pay school fees for her son who has
completed a course on electrical engineering and continue to pay
school fees for her two other children.
For the 52 years Christina Nduku from the water scarce Kyani
village in Kibwezi, Makueni County, she no longer buy vegetables
from the market but produces both for domestic and market.
Nduku who is a member of Kasookwe self help group has been
growing the vegetables since October 2017 and is currently in
her second harvest.
"I am today growing kale, onions, spinach and coliandra as
opposed to sorghum and maize that had previously failed me due
to adverse climate," she said.
David Maundu, also a member of the group, said lessons on
conservation agriculture has helped increase his yield.
"The trainings has enabled us to become self reliant as most
of us no longer purchase vegetables from the market but sell
their produce," he said.
Nduku said that the group has become the envy of many
non-members in the locality as they admire our vegetables as
Also not left behind are the 39 members of Kikuu horticulture
farmers group in Kibwezi that grows vegetables in a group and
sells to the outside markets.
The group started from growing vegetables from their kitchen
gardens after being trained by FAO and County government
nutritionists and now doing serious farming along the local
"We initially disliked vegetables and over relied on maize
and sorghum but crop failures has forced us to listen to the
teachings of agriculture officials," Maurice Makaa, the group
Rosemary Kombo who initially had high blood pressure credits
the project for her normal status currently due to the
introduction of indigenous vegetables in her diet.
"I have reduced my sugar salt and oil intake after being
"And to date, I have stopped eating fried eggs and as a
result my health has improved as my weight has drastically
dropped from 120 kilograms to 65 kilograms," she revealed.
Tian Cai, FAO program officer in charge of the project in
Kenya, said that the last 10 months, the project offered 2,500
activities, including trainings to project participants.
Around 8,500 farmers now grow kitchen garden and 16,000
farmers preserve vegetables for their household consumption.
"We plan to reach 80,000 farmers by end of the project in
late 2019 that will benefit from the diversification of diets
and importance of balanced diets feeding of different categories
of people - children and the elderly.
So far, she said the project has reached 40,000 farmers in
the four counties while many more farmers are yet to form groups
but are busy adapting the technologies that include sunken beds,
nylon mulched beds, pits and mobile sacks.
Tian said that the 6.9 million U.S. dollars project aimed at
increasing smallholder productivity and profitability to
increase farmers’ nutrition status by improves their access and
consumption of nutritious food.