Alphonce and Agnes Nzuki show of a few of bumper tomato crop they raised on the family farm with help from zai pits. (Photo by Jake Lyell, for Lutheran World Relief)

For farmers in Kenya project, life is the "pits" (and that's good!)

  • Gary Fields
  • Mar 21, 2019
Drought was hurting this Kenyan farm until the pits came

Charles Nzuki, 8 and his brother Evans, 11, sit outside, in the shadow of the Chyulu Hills, Kenya eating an evening meal of beans, butternut squash and maize.

The food is straight from their parents’ farm, the place that pays for their schooling, clothing and older brother’s medical studies in college. It also put a solar panel on their mud home, making them the rare kids in this region to have electricity and a television.

It is a harsh area climatically. Rainfall, especially in the last 10 years, is scarce and crops fail but the boys’ parents, Alphonce Nzuki 53, and Agnes, 46, have succeeded with a big boost from zai pits.

Charles and Evans enjoy evening meal, all grown on the family farm.

The pits

Trained by Lutheran World Relief’s Isaiah 58 Project, with funding provided by five Lutheran congregations, the couple learned how to keep crops watered in drought conditions that come suddenly to this region.

Before the project arrived Alphonce and Agnes struggled.

“We plant and they grow two months and the rain goes away and the crops wither and die and we don’t get anything,” said Alphonce. “Then we have nothing to feed our children, nothing to sell to pay school fees and nothing to sell to make profit for ourselves.”

Through the project, they learned how to rotate crops and other farming strategies but one of the main things they picked up on is how to build and use zai pits. These are hand-dug pits that are two feet wide, two feet long and two feet deep and hold water. A farmer plants five seeds in the pit — one in each corner and a fifth in the center — and then covers them with a mixture of soil and manure. The pits capture water and concentrate the nutrients straight to the seeds, resulting in a better harvest, even in harsh conditions.

Alphonce waters a zai pit on the family farm, one of 700 they have used to increase production.

An oasis of vegetation

Alphonce and Agnes have 700 of them and while they are labor intensive, they are worth it. Despite drought, their fields are green and laden with crops. Tomatoes grow vigorously, as do chili peppers, egg plants, maize and sweet potatoes. There is a small plot of onions for home use.

Tomato sells alone bring enough to pay their older son’s fees at Kenya Medical Training College where he is studying clinical medicine. For the first time, Alphonce and Agnes have savings and there is plenty of money to pay for school for Charles and Evans.

“Life would be “miserable” without the project, he said. “Without money, without food you cannot raise a family.  I would be a beggar and I am not a beggar.”

Gary Fields, Mar 21, 2019 email