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Kenyan smallholder farmers now embrace
indigenous vegetables amid diversification

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 conditions.

"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 others emulate.

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 river bed.

"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 secretary said.

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 trained.

"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.



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