Kenya Farmer Profiles

Photos: Brenda Kimaro/for LWR

The following farmer profiles may be copied & pasted into your congregation’s publications and newsletters. We will add new profiles here as they are available.

Regina Mwangangi

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Please credit “Brenda Kimaro/for Lutheran World Relief”

Regina Mwangangi is no stranger to hard work. She began farming as young girl helping her parents and continued with her husband when she got married. Now a widow, she continues on her own, working her 8-acre farm near the village of Silanga.

Regina’s farm is large compared to some of her neighbors, but she struggles to harvest enough crops to feed her family, let alone sell any for income. All four of Regina’s adult children live with her on the farm, along with six grandchildren. The oldest grandchild, a teenager, helps her with the farm work, while the adults in the family work away from the farm. Their income is used for purchasing seeds and other farm inputs such as fertilizer, and hiring temporary labor when needed.

The day begins early for Regina, waking by 5:40 am to help her grandson get ready to leave for school at 6 am. Then she spends most of the day outside, gathering water from the small stream that runs through her farm, taking her cows and goats out for grazing and collecting firewood. She also collects manure from her livestock to use as fertilizer for her crops of maize (corn), green grams (mung beans), and cow peas (commonly referred to as black-eyed peas).

Regina’s farm is mostly flat with a scattering of yellow acacia trees and a few large baobab trees. The land is very exposed to the elements — wind blows away topsoil during the dry season, and the farm experiences a lot of surface run-off during rains. Squirrels especially pose a threat to Regina’s farm — they dig up and eat her seeds before they even have a chance to sprout.

But what is perhaps most disheartening to Regina about the struggles she experiences on her farms is the uncertainty of the rainfall. “When will it come?” she asks. She has been told that the rains will be short this season so she wonders what she should plant that will produce even if the rainfall doesn’t come.

Regina uses half of her farm — 4 acres — to plant maize. In a good rainy season, it can produce 10 bags of maize, but typically only five or six, all of which she needs for her family’s consumption; there’s nothing left to sell at the market for cash income. On two more acres she produces green grams, and on the remaining acres she grows cow peas. Those crops she is able to sell for cash, but the market is unstable and she has no bargaining power when selling her small supply to a middleman. In addition, Regina must get the crops to the market herself, requiring her to hire a motorcycle for transportation, eating away at the little profit her crops might bring.

Regina has seen the positive effects from conservation agriculture methods on her neighbor’s farm (his maize production is eight times the amount she produces). And although Regina worries that converting to new farming methods will require a great deal of work, she envisions a positive change for her farm. With your generous support, Regina will learn how to implement these new farming methods and will benefit from the collective marketing that the project will facilitate, giving her a higher price for her crops.

James Mwenga Ndutu

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As a young man, James Ndutu received about 25 acres of uncultivated land from the Kenyan government and set out to make a living as a farmer. He had grown up on a farm and learned farming from his parents; now he’s raised his own children to be farmers, and they are all farming nearby.

James’ farm is busy with a wide variety of livestock — cows, sheep, goats, chickens, even donkeys and ducks. His fields are planted with green grams, cow peas, maize and grass for the animals.

In the 50 years he’s been on his farm, James has seen the weather change for the worse, making it hard to succeed as a farmer. “When the rains were good we had good harvests,” he remembers from his early years of farming. But now days the rains are unpredictable and unevenly distributed. “One village gets rain, the next doesn’t,” he says.

James has modified some of his farming methods to adjust to the diminishing rainfall. He’s built a small farm pond and harvests water by directing the rain runoff from the road to his farm. But even so, the tree seedlings in his small farm nursery have withered due to lack of water.

With your generous support, James is learning that traditional plowing doesn’t work because it creates a “hard pan” — compacted soil — making it difficult for the crop roots to get established. He also learned about ripping as a better, “minimal disturbance” method of soil cultivation. He plans to try a one-acre test plot with the new method that will break up the hard pan and give crop roots and rain water deeper access in the soil.

At 80 years old, James still does the farm work himself. During planting he hires three people to help him and together they can finish in about a week’s time. His wife, Jane, also helps with the farm work, and the two make decisions together about their farm.

In the future, James plans to pass the farming responsibilities on to younger family members as he gets too old to continue. He is encouraging his children to learn and adopt new farming technologies for their farms, and to attend the trainings offered by Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya.

Mueni Ndambuki

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There’s little idle time in Mueni Ndambuki’s days. Her husband has a job away from their five-acre farm and their two sons are in school, so it’s up to Mueni to tend livestock, work in the fields and fetch water — if she’s lucky she can collect water from the well about 500 meters from her house. When the rains don’t come and that well runs dry she has to go much farther.

Like all farmers in the area, Mueni’s greatest farming challenge is lack of rain. “We plant and we get nothing,” she says. Mueni has already learned a bit about conservation agriculture from Peter Mulwa, who serves as a “lead farmer” for Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya. As a lead farmer, Peter travels from farm to farm teaching farmers about new techniques that can produce crops even if the rains don’t come as hoped.

Mueni has participated in the project’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) seminar and learned about the ripping method of cultivation. Ripping uses long narrow tines to break through compacted farmland and allow crop roots and water to reach deeper into the soil. She’s hopeful this technology will lead to increased production on her farm. Currently she uses traditional plowing methods with an ox-pulled plow, but she is planning to do a one-acre trial using the ripping method in the next growing season. She owns her own ox so she’s looking for an ox-pulled ripper to use, and your support is helping her to access conservation agriculture services.

Sulphice Ndonye

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At 80 years old, Sulphice Ndonye does the farm work that would exhaust a man half his age. He and his wife, Esther, settled on their farm in 1968, when it was nothing but brush and wild animals. At that time the Kenyan government issued land in the area to people who were willing to convert it to farmland as an effort to ease the burden of overpopulation in other areas. Sulphice and Esther claimed 26 acres of land, which these days they share with their nine adult children. They’ve given two acres to each of their eight sons and one daughter, but Sulphice still does the bulk of the farm work.

In his long farming career, Sulphice has noticed a reduction in the rain, starting back as far as the 1980s. “If the rains are [poor], we get nothing,” he says, adding that when his farm doesn’t produce he has to ask his children, some of whom have jobs outside of the farm, to buy food for them. Sulphice and Esther have also had to reduce the amount of livestock they have as their farm can’t produce enough food to sustain the animals either. He has just a few chickens and goats left, and two cows to produce milk for the family’s consumption.

Sulphice and Esther grow the typical crops for their area — green grams, cow peas, pigeon peas and sometimes maize depending on the rains. But they are also experimenting with growing aloe vera, which could bring a higher price than their traditional crops if they can find a reliable market.

Over the years, over-cultivation has depleted the soil on Sulphice’s farm and he is intrigued by the conservation agriculture methods he’s seen some other farmers adopt. He’s attempted to dig a few “zai pits,” a special cultivation method that concentrates nutrients and rainfall directly on the seeds, but without having received any proper training in how to properly prepare and plant in them, he hasn’t seen any significant results. With your support, through Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya, he’ll be properly trained in how to use zai pits for increased production of his crops.

Esther is blind in one eye, which limits her ability to help with the farm work, but she and Sulphice are equal partners in managing the farm. Together they plan what crops and how much of each they’ll grow for the season. This isn’t typical to Kenyan culture, which sees men as the sole decision makers for their farms, but Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya will encourage farmers to include their wives in the farm planning and determining how to put the income they generate to the best use for the entire family.

Anthony Kimeu

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Anthony Kimeu is a community leader participating in Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya. In addition to learning from the project, he will most certainly serve as a role model for his fellow farmers.

Anthony is 45 years old and in his second 3-year term as chairman of the Kikuu Water Resource Users Association (Kikuu WRUA), one of the farmer organizations partnering with Lutheran World Relief in Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya. As chairman, Anthony’s duties include keeping members informed of the association’s activities, connecting members with resources to help them improve their farming techniques, and linking members with the market.

Although he dedicates several hours each week in his role as chairman, Anthony spends most of his time working on his farm. He and his wife Esther have a 5-acre farm that Anthony inherited from his father. On their farm they grow pigeon peas, green grams, cow peas, mangoes, oranges and tangerines. They also grow maize for their own consumption. In addition, they have a dairy cow, bulls for plowing, goats and chickens.

During the dry season, Anthony and other farmers in his area rely heavily on the rain water stored in the sand of the dry riverbed for irrigation. In the past there had been an increase in commercial sand harvesting, selling the sand for construction and other purposes. To protect the sand supply from being harvested, the Makueni County Sand Conservation & Utilization Authority was formed. The Authority monitors the sand supply, ensuring that people harvest the sand only for their own construction purposes, not to be sold. Anthony serves as the Authority’s director. The Authority is also working with the young people in the area to help them find livelihoods in agriculture, as many of them had turned to sand harvesting to earn an income.

Anthony is hopeful for the success of Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya and what it will mean for the farmers as they manage the effects of climate change.

“We expect the farmers will get enough food to eat and sell for sustainable livelihoods,” he says.

“[You are] doing a wonderful job for the communities. [You are] bringing knowledge to the people. It’s because of lack of knowledge that people are not changing. [You are] bringing change.”

Julius Ndemange

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As a young man, Julius Ndemange had a promising career in business but longed to be his own boss. His father encouraged him to return to the family farm and become a farmer. “God created man and put him in the farm,” his father told him. Taking his father’s advice, Julius left Nairobi in 1979 and came back to the village and the 13-acre farm.

Early on Julius grew maize and beans on the farm, but in the 1990s converted to mangoes because of lack of rain. “When you grow maize if the rains fail you fail,” says Julius. He also grows green grams and cow peas, both of which are for selling and family consumption.

“I paid school fees with mangoes,” remembers Julius, speaking of how his farm production provided enough to educate his children — all grown up now — and supply his family’s needs. But lack of rain continues to create hardship for Julius. Last year, he lost 130 of his 720 mango trees to drought.

The struggle has motivated Julius to be open to new farming methods that might better withstand the depleting rainfall. “We need the expertise to combat the effects of climate change. I’m ready — if you advise me, tomorrow you’ll find me here doing it. You won’t see me questioning,” he says.

At age 64, Julius still uses the skills of his business career on the farm, where he also raises chickens and dairy cows to produce milk, poultry meat and eggs for selling. Julius treats his farm like a business — he puts a lot of time and effort into planning and organizing his farm activities and doesn’t leave his success to chance.

Joseph Mwasila

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When Joseph and Mary Mwasila settled on their 5-acre farm 25 years ago, it produced enough for them to live comfortably and educate their children, but these days the farm production has drastically diminished. Now the farm is only producing enough for their family consumption, nothing to sell for income.

All of their children are grown now, and five live on Joseph and Mary’s farm, along with their spouses and children. They work together on the farm growing green grams, cow peas and pigeon peas, maize and sorghum. During the rainy seasons they also grow tomatoes and spinach.

There are no wells near the farm so to get water for household use they must get it from the nearby river. But lack of rain means low water levels, leaving barely enough to meet their needs.

When they can manage to produce enough crops to sell, Joseph and Mary lack access to collective marketing to help bring a good price for their harvest. Without any bargaining power when they sell on their own, they must settle for lower prices. They could possibly gain as much as 20 Kenyan shillings (about 20 US cents) per kilogram by marketing their crops collectively.

Joseph and Mary recognize that they need to keep up with new farming methods in order to survive on their farm. They are using zai pits — trenches to capture water — for some of their crops and have seen an increase in production. Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya will encourage them and other farmers who already practice some conservation agriculture to keep up with those methods and to try others. In time, the project will also help them with the collective marketing they need to increase the price their crops can get.

At age 83 and 72 respectively, Joseph and Mary don’t do much of the farm work themselves anymore. They rely on their family and hired help to take care of the crops and the chickens, goats and cows. But they still call the shots — Joseph and Mary see themselves as partners in the farm operation and decide together on what to plant and how much of each crop.

Daniel Macharia

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Daniel Macharia bought his 3-acre farm ten years ago when he moved to the village of Ngangani to teach school. Daniel is now retired and relies on what he earns farming because he has not received any of his teacher’s pension from the Kenyan government.

Daniel grows maize, green grams, cow peas and pigeon peas on his farm, along with mangoes. He is also expanding into citrus fruits. All of his crops are both for earning a livelihood and for family consumption. He raises chickens for meat and eggs — mostly for his own use but Daniel has visions for a commercial poultry production enterprise and has already built the chicken coop. He also plans to keep a cow for milk production. Daniel does the day-to-day work on the farm himself and hires a tractor and extra help for planting.

Like his neighbors, Daniel feels the greatest challenge to farming is uncertainty about if the rains will come and whether it will be enough for the crops to produce. “We are waiting for the clouds to drop some rain but we are not sure what we will get,” he says. “Harvests are not guaranteed.”

Mango trees flower when the weather is hot and dry but if they don’t get rain in time they shed their flowers too soon and don’t produce. Daniel doesn’t have irrigation for his mango and citrus trees so his crop is especially at risk if it doesn’t rain. White ants also pose a serious threat — last year he lost 70 mango trees to an insect invasion.

Daniel has seen the positive effects of conservation agriculture on other farms but hasn’t adopted any new methods yet. He thinks ripping would be a good cultivation method for his crop, but currently there’s not a ripper available for hire in his area.

Anna Mukeka

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Anna Mukeka and her husband bought their 10-acre farm 27 years ago and built it from the ground up. Now a widow, Anna is carrying on the work on the farm with the help of her children.

“I’m the manager,” she says. At age 68, she mostly supervises the work done by her sons, daughters-in-law and casual laborers whom she hires to help during busy times on the farm. Besides the field work to be done, Anna’s farm also has a fair amount of livestock — chickens, goats and cows.

Anna and her family grow maize, beans, green grams, pigeon peas, and cow peas on their land. They also grow mangoes and oranges as cash crops. In the past she was able to market her crops collectively through her farmer organization. But after a bad experience with a buyer that didn’t pay, leaving the crop to rot in the warehouse, the organization stopped doing collective marketing. Instead, Anna must go it alone to find a buyer for her harvest.

Despite the challenges that Anna faces in farming, she is committed to serving her local community and sharing her resources with people in greater need. In fact, Anna is part of a group of 19 women and three men who helped to construct a children’s home and continue to use some of the proceeds from their crop sales to buy food and school books for the children.

Peter Mulwa

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Peter Mulwa is making the most of his 4-acre farm near Silanga village. He grows green grams, cow peas and pigeon peas to sell, plus maize for his family’s consumption. He raises chickens, goats and cows.

Peter started farming as a young boy, helping his parents on the farm that he ultimately inherited from his father. His wife, Dorcas, also grew up on a farm. Now their four children help them on the farm when they are not in school.

Conservation agriculture is nothing new to Peter. He first learned about it three years ago when a friend who is an agriculture extension officer for the Kenyan government took him to a farm that was flourishing from the benefits of conservation agriculture. It inspired Peter to try it on his own farm.

And he has already seen increased production from his farm. From just half an acre he gets 10 bags of maize — that’s eight times the production of his neighbor, who does not use conservation agriculture.

But despite the success he’s seen, Peter acknowledges that the work involved in conservation agriculture is tedious and requires a lot of motivation. Zai pits, which are very effective for concentrating nutrients and water on a crop’s roots, are especially labor intensive. A zai pit is a hole that is 2 feet wide by 2 feet long and 2 feet deep with a mound of dirt beside it that directs the rain fall into the pit. A farmer plants five seeds in the pit — one in each corner and a fifth in the center — and then covers them with a 3:1 mixture of soil and manure. Peter says one person can dig about five to seven zai pits in a day, but even on his small farm he has hundreds of zai pits to dig. With the help of hired labor, Peter has already dug nearly 1,000 zai pits on his property for growing maize.

Still, Peter remains enthusiastic about conservation agriculture despite the hard work it requires. He is happy being a farmer and says he is “on a crusade” to get other farmers to also adopt conservation methods. He serves as a Super Lead Farmer in Isaiah 58:10 – Project Kenya, visiting farmers on their farms to teach them about conservation agriculture and using his own farm as a demonstration plot.

All of Peter’s work has not gone unnoticed. Two of his children, 18-year-old Jackson and 13-year-old Mercy, are inspired by Peter’s commitment and he envisions them taking up farming after they finish school. After all, they owe their education to farming. Income from Peter’s green grams covered half of the costs of the kids’ school fees this year. Now he is increasing the acreage of green grams since Mercy is finishing primary school and next year he’ll have three kids in secondary school (secondary school fees are more expensive than primary school fees).