Farmers reap big from Climate Smart Farming

Journalists Angeline Ochieng and Victor Raballa visited Ms Bilha Munyole, a Kenyan farmer in Kimilili, Bungoma County, on her maize plantation. About the important role of mechanisation in climate-smart agriculture and in building resilience to the impacts of climate change.

West Kenya Machinery Ring provides machinery to farmers and trains them in climate-smart agriculture. © GIZ

By Victor O. Raballa

Victor Raballa reports for Daily Nation in Kisumu Bureau. He previously worked for The People Daily newspaper before joining Nation Media Group in July 2017. Raballa writes on a wide range of issues, including business, politics, environment, governance and human rights. He holds a degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Nairobi and a Diploma in Journalism from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication.

All contributions

By Angeline Ochieng

Angeline Ochieng is an environment and agriculture reporter at Nation Media Group and has worked in the newsroom for more than three years.

All contributions

Ms Bilha Munyole, a farmer in Kimilili, Bungoma County, was taking a walk around her maize plantation when the ´Seeds of Gold´ team visited her home on a Thursday morning. If the rains continue, Ms Munyole, who hails from Kibingei, hopes to harvest at least 20 bags of maize from her one-acre farm, thanks to mechanisation and climate smart farming that has improved their resilience to effects of climate change. “In the beginning, we relied on human labour which was very expensive, time-consuming and led to high cost of production”, she said. “We were also planting maize every other season, but we have learnt that failure to embrace rotational cropping has led to constant degradation and exhaustion of nutrients from the soil.” Ms Munyole said she used to harvest as low as three to five bags of maize from her one-acre farm.

 

Just when she was about to give up on her sole means of livelihood, M Munyole was delighted when she heard of an initiative that supports smallholder farmers access sustainable mechanisation services. Farming in Kimilili and Tongaren is small-scale but in an effort to improve production, the West Kenya Machinery Ring (MR) sought to empower farmers by bringing together those in close proximity to ensure the fields are worked on at once. The initiative, which originated from Germany, mapped out 1,200 acres of land and encouraged joint development. Apart from training 1,350 MR members on climate smart farming, the implements provided to farmers include tractors, chisel ploughs, maize planters, rotary cultivators, mobile maize shellers, maize mills, seed planters and soil rippers.

 

What are machinery rings?

Machinery rings are agricultural membership organizations where community and innovation are paramount. The members decide on the business activities and statutes. Small farmers, contractors and other actors in the agricultural sector can become members. The machinery ring brings the actors together and sets billing rates and standards for work completion. This creates transparency and fair prices. In the event of a dispute between contractor and client, the machinery ring acts as an arbitration board. In addition, the machinery rings can take on other business areas for members, such as the procurement of labor or access to markets.

 

In order to make the use of a machineries sustainable, MR, which is currently being piloted in Bungoma and Laikipia counties, trained farmers on budgeting, management, farming and machine calculations. In Africa, the initiative is being piloted in Kenya and Senegal. MR seeks to promote the use of chisel ploughs as opposed to disc ploughs.

 

“Other than breaking the hard pans, chisel ploughs ensure deep tillage and shatters the impermeable soil layers which aid in better infiltration and storage of rainwater in the crop root zone,”

 

... said MR Kenya Project Manager Chris Onyango. He said amalgamation of farms helps reduce the cost of production by up to 40 per cent.

 

MR has so far managed to support eight farmer groups in the county, with over 5,570 members. For the success of the business model, farmers rent the machinery within their membership at low cost while non-members pay at the market rate. In the past one year, the group has been able to raise Sh1.5 million in terms of membership fees and Sh700,000 from land preparation services. “The funds are utilised for maintenance and payment of the machine operators while the rest is saved in a joint account for the purchase of new equipment, depending on their need, as well as replacing those that depreciate,” said Mr Eugene Wafula, another farmer.

 

The chairman of Kibingei Machinery Ring said adoption of new farming techniques enabled him to make a profit of Sh38,000 from his one-acre farm. He is optimistic that the current rains will lead to bumper harvest this season. MR practical adviser in Kenya Andreas Hastedt said the initiative that has been used for over 60 years in Germany and Europe in general has a great potential of transforming Kenya's agricultural sector. “The only challenge is when members fail to maintain and replace the worn-out farm implements,” he warned. MR Kenya team leader Dr Thomas Wilde encouraged private investors to adopt the model.

 

“We are facing the effects of climate change; the rain patterns have changed. We need to embrace innovative mechanisation solutions to increase sustainability in the management of the farms,” he said.

 

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) donated two tractors to farmers to help the group to be more self-reliant. FAO Country Representative Carla Mucavi said the initiative is part of their plan to ensure food security in the country.

 

Since July 2021, the Fund for the Promotion of Innovation in Agriculture and Food (i4Ag), commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), has been supporting the establishment of machinery rings in Western Kenya. In cooperation with the Bundesverband der Maschinenringe e.V. and sequa gGmbH, a total of 19 local machinery rings were established. The machinery rings in Western Kenya combine a business model that is based on the inter-farm use of adapted agricultural technology as well as training on business management issues and climate-intelligent agriculture.

 

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