In Kenya, a Sower Went Out to Sow

New farming techniques helped David Mbungi quadruple his harvest of mung beans.

In the villages around Kambu in eastern Kenya, farmers look to the heavens with brows furrowed with concern.

The two rainy seasons each year are critical to these farmers in one of Kenya’s driest regions, who depend on these showers to water their crops. Now, white, puffy clouds dot the sky, but no rain is falling. The ground where they will sow their seed in the coming weeks is dry and dusty.

But there is a group of farmers who believe they will fare well during the dry spell. They are part of a coalition of 54 farmer groups called Muungano Nguvu Yetu, which is a Lutheran World Relief partner. They have less anxiety about the lack of rain because of a farming technique called “ripping” that has dramatically increased their farm production, even when water is scarce.

Ripping is done by a tractor-towed plow that digs a foot-deep furrow, allowing seed to germinate in soil that retains much more moisture, even in dry conditions. This allows for great harvests during a good rainy season, and at least some production when rains fail. The plow is made up of a first blade the cuts existing vegetation, a second vertical blade that cuts deeply into the soil and breaks up the soil hardpan, and a third blade that breaks up clods of dirt. The space between the troughs is undisturbed, helping to reduce erosion and channeling water into the troughs.

A tractor fitted with a specialized plow “rips” a field in preparation for planting.
A tractor fitted with a specialized plow “rips” a field in preparation for planting.

David Mbungi, who is 68, said the farming techniques LWR introduced—known as conservation agriculture—have quadrupled his production of mung beans, a highly valued cash crop. It’s so useful to him because even now, with barely any rain this season, his mung beans are still sprouting thanks to the soil’s retained moisture.

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“I am grateful to Lutheran World Relief for the support, the capacity-building education and the training we have received,” he says. “It has been a great help to us.”

In these agricultural communities, farming is never far from mind. On a Sunday at a small Lutheran congregation in Makindu, a tiny white stucco church with a big blue cross over the front door, a choir sings hymns in Swahili. Before Pastor Bernard Kyambo begins his sermon, he reads a passage from the Gospel of Mark: the Parable of the Sower:

Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.

The farmers in this congregation spent their days sowing in the hope that their seed would find fertile soil. While they have seen success, there is still plenty of land in other Kenyan farming communities that is hard, rocky and thorny.

As LWR seeks to expand our work with farmer groups in eastern Kenya, organizations like Muungano will continue to seek ways to increase production, and once their crops are harvested, to properly store them and collectively seek out the best price for them. And with your support, we will journey with them for years to come.