Agra’s Revolutionary Decade
In 2006, as Kofi Annan ended a decade at the helm of the United Nations, he called on African farmers to wage a ‘uniquely African Green Revolution’. This is the seed that planted Agra. Since then, Agra has been fulfilling the vision that Africa can feed itself and the world, transforming agriculture from a solitary struggle to survive, to a business that thrives. Last July, I was picked to join the Arete Stories team that was documenting Agra’s success stories across Africa.
Focusing on Kenya, my first visit was to Tharaka Nithi where I got to spend a day with farmers from Tharaka Cereals Growers. Started in 2009, Tharaka Cereals is today home to 750 farmers from 60 regional groups.
Before uniting to form the CBO, farmers had to travel far on rough gravel roads that became impassable with the slightest rainfall to get their produce to the market. The rewards of the challenging journeys were heart breaking. Their low quality produce received low prices from middle men in the market. With no one else to sell their produce to, the farmers had to settle for the little they received.
But with training on improved agricultural methods and the benefits of aggregation, Tharaka Cereals Growers CBO members started getting their rightful reward for their hard work. They planted and harvested as taught and with improved harvests – in quantity and quality – they started fetching higher prices and attracting more buyers.
Andrew Gitonga, 41, delivers a sack of green grams to Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya on 19th July 2016.
Josephat Muriungi (L) helps Josephat Muthomi deliver green grams to Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya on 19th July 2016.
Mwenda Judith gets her cow peas weighed by Josephat Muriungi at Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
Six Aggregation Centres have been built so far with the help of Saioma meaning there’s an aggregation centre near each farmer, reducing transport expenses for farmers. Aggregating and selling in bulk has helped Tharaka Cereals attract major local and international clients with the group recently receiving an order for 2,000 to 5,000 metric tons of green grams from India, with the client offering Kshs82/- per kilo while the local markets offered Kshs70/-.
A farmer holds cow peas at Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya on 19th July 2016.
A farmer holds green grams at Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
Benefits of aggregation aren’t only financial. In an area where farming was once looked down upon and considered an activity for the foolish, many are getting back to farms because of the promising prospects. Stories are told of men who ran away from home because they couldn’t live with the shame of not being able to pay school fees for their children. This led to many girls dropping out of school and being married off early to help meet their families’ financial needs.
These are now in the past.
Apart from building Aggregation Centres, Agra has helped farmers acquire agricultural equipment which has helped improve the quality of harvest and increase the land under cultivation. Previously, produce would rot in the farms because there was scarcity of labour at harvest time. This made farmers reduce the area under cultivation with subsequent planting seasons. Today, thanks to the equipment they have purchased with the help of Agra, more land is under cultivation and harvest is being handled and stored in hygienic and acceptable methods.
With the proceeds from the harvests, farmers have built homes, educated their children, purchased more land and even invested in other businesses to supplement the income from their agriculture.
Margaret Chamwambia winnows green grams in preparation for delivery to Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya on 19th July 2016.
Stephen Ndivo, 45, sprays insecticide on his cow peas farm in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
Stephen Ndivo started farming at a very young age and has been at it for 33 years, first with his family and now under Tharaka Cereal Growers CBO. Today, at 42, through the proceeds of his farming, Stephen is able to keep his 5 children in school.
Margaret Chamwambia holds green grams at her farm in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya on 19th July 2016.
Loise Muriithi, 42, harvests sorghum at her farm in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
In the four short years that Loise Muriithi has been growing sorghum, she has managed to reap impressive rewards. Loise has been able to keep her two children in school without being sent home for defaulting on school fees, helped build a brick house for her family and purchased a Land Rover Defender that her husband uses when going to work.
Leah Tembi George, 58, shows off her harvest of cow peas at her farm in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
Leah is an all-round farmer. The wide-smiled 58-year old grand mother doesn’t stick to just cow peas. She also grows millet, sorghum, cassava and maize. She uses her harvest for food and sells the surplus through Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre.
Mary Gachoka Simon, 42, at her home in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
This mother of four has been growing cow peas, green grams, sorghum and millet for ten years now. She delivers her produce to Mukothima Grain Aggregation Centre which was set up with the help of Agra. By uniting with other farmers and selling in bulk, Mary Gachoka Simon has been able to educate her children, buy clothes for her family of 4 and keep them well fed.
Mary Gachoka Simon, 42, winnows cow peas at her home in Tharaka North Sub County, Kenya, on 19th July 2016.
Despite the road network still being a challenge, the lives of the farmers in Tharaka North have indeed transformed for the better. Theirs is an inspiring story of farmers from a semi arid county who came together to tackle their challenges with profitable results.
Next I went to Machakos County to hear the story of Ngila Kimotho who founded Dryland Seed Company in 2004.
As a Food Scientist running an Agro Dealership, he saw the challenges local farmers faced when they planted seed that didn’t give them the harvests they were looking for. He decided to be the change he wanted to see and in 2006, Dryland Seed Company started operations, selling seed varieties that did well in the low rainfall conditions they were planted.
Ten years later, and with a $150,000 grant from Agra to help meet the demands from farmers, Dryland Seed Company is well on the way to sell 700 tons of seed in 2016. Their seed is sold and planted mostly in Kenya, with smaller quantities reaching Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan due to seed registration barriers.
Ngila Kimotho (L) assists Kamwene Mwanthi in parent cob selection at Dryland Seed Company’s warehouse in Machakos, Kenya, on 20th July 2016.
Even with a bright future, Dryland still faces resistance from farmers, with only 10 – 20% uptake of their seeds. Ngila Kimotho believes that policy intervention, partnerships with other organisations and education of farmers on best farming practices will allow more farmers enjoy the full benefits of Dryland seeds.
One of the many people who have benefited from Dryland Seeds is Nzioka Kivanga. At just 29, Nzioka has achieved what many Kenyans only dream of achieving by age 50. Nzioka is a maize farmer in an area of Machakos County that has very low rainfall. He uses seeds from Dryland Seed Company that are nitrogen efficient, making the most of the little rainfall available.
Nzioka Kivanga, 29, harvests maize from his farm in Machakos County, Kenya, on 20th July 2016.
Nzioka stumbled upon a Dryland Demonstration Farm and received complimentary seed to plant in his farm, alongside his regular seeds. From six rows planted, he harvested two 90-kg bags! He quickly bought more and has become a Dryland Seed Company evangelist ever since. Ten years later, he is still the hero of the village, converting many farmers to using Dryland seeds. Nzioka is a proud father to a daughter whom he’s educating. He also looks after his sister’s daughter, and above all that, has built his own brick house!
From Machakos, I headed to Western Kenya where AGRA has been partnering with KALRO (Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation) with great successes in elevating the profile of farming by enabling farmers become food secure, reduce poverty levels and take pride in the work of their hands.
Ann Munala in her agro supplies outlet in Luanda Market, Kenya, on 21st July 2016.
Being one of the leading stockists of lime based fertiliser in the region, Ann has helped educate farmers on the benefits of planting in nutrient-rich soils. This after she received training on the same from KALRO in partnership with Agra. Ann testifies that she has seen farmers grow their harvest exponentially through the lessons she’s shared with them.
Ann Munala records fertiliser stocks in her store in Luanda Market, Kenya, on 21st July 2016.
Everline Achieng’ Ochieng’ has a chat with Rosemary Wasonga of KALRO at her home on 21st July 2016.
Everline Achieng’ Ochieng’ was an early adopter of improved maize farming methods through training she received from KALRO in partnership with Agra. For several years, she hosted a demo farm which farmers from other counties visited each week to learn about correct maize farming practices. Today, Everline trains other farmers using the skills she received and with proceeds from her improved maize harvests, she’s been able to educate her seven children, grow her tailoring business, furnish and refurbish her home.
Joyce Anyango Otieno plays with her children at her home in Siaya County, Kenya, on 21st July 2016.
Juggling farming and teaching with great skills, Joyce Anyango Otieno, or ‘Teacher Joyce’ as some farmers call her has travelled far and wide, teaching farmers how they should best plant and harvest their maize. She received all the knowledge she shares from KALRO in partnership with Agra. Today, she trains other farmers from 10 farmer groups in the area, and grows maize for trade and her family’s consumption. Through the proceeds of her maize farming, Joyce has been able to keep her children in school, has purchased livestock to supplement her maize income, and has opened her doors to orphans from her area.
Dr Chrispus Oduori in the KALRO finger millet farm in Kakamega, Kenya, on 22nd July 2016.
Dr Chrispus Oduori is the Centre Director, KALRO Food Crops Research Centre, Kisii. He is also a plant breeder specialising in finger millet. Agra funded his PhD training at University of Natal. After finishing his PhD studies, Agra gave Dr Oduori a grant to advance his PhD products from findings on paper to crops in farms. One of the varieties of finger millet he developed is called ‘maridadi’ which has high yield, early maturity and is more adaptable to the environment in comparison to traditional varieties. It is also resistant to biotic stresses and low moisture levels like drought, making it 50% superior to varieties that farmers planted in the past.
Maridadi finger millet has farmers very excited. Where average yield per farm used to be 500kgs per hectare, farmers are harvesting up to 2,500kgs per hectare, giving farmers a 500% increase in harvest. This has made many farmers switch from cane and maize to finger millet farming.
The KALRO finger millet farm in Kakamega, Kenya, on 22nd July 2016.
Gerald Nakhungu in his finger millet farm in Matungo, Mumias, Kenya, on 22nd July 2016.
Switching from farming sugar cane to ‘maridadi’ finger millet has brought higher returns with every harvest. Gerald Nakhungu’s three children are now in private schools – not an easy feat in an area where public school education is still out of reach for many. Has also has opened a mobile phone and accessories business, as well as a motorcycle taxi business where he’s able to provide employment for others. Gerald also grows trees in one corner of his farm for sale as building materials.
Gerald Nakhungu in his tree farm in Mumias, Kenya, on 22nd July 2016.
A cassava farm in Nambale, Kenya, on 22nd July 2016.
In the 1990s, cassava mosaic disease ravaged almost the entire cassava crop in Busia. With cassava being a staple here, hunger and poverty followed in quick succession. In year 2000, farmers currently under Tangakona Commercial Village, a CBO based in Nambale Market that was set up with support from Agra, started working with KALRO to test new cassava varieties. After several attempts, they were able to settle on a variety that was disease resistant and gave them higher yields. Today, the Tangakona farmers are food secure, have built homes, taken their children to school and made investments to supplement their agricultural income. They have also formed a cooperative with other farmers to market their surplus harvests and cassava products to different organisations.
Maurice Olaba in his cassava farm in Nambale, Kenya, on 22nd July 2016.
Many farmers in Mumias, Kakamega County relied solely on sugar cane farming for income. But with cane companies delaying payments to farmers over and over again, farmers started looking for alternative crops. That is when KALRO stepped in and with the support of Agra, introduced maize varieties that were suitable for the soils in the area. And by training farmers on the best farming practices, today, the land under maize cultivation is on the increase as more farmers switch from farming sugar cane to reap the switching rewards.
Christopher Makana and his wife Jane Makana in their maize farm in Mumias, Kenya, on 23rd July 2016.
As a sugar cane farmer, Christopher Makana had to wait 22 months to harvest his cane. When he delivered it to the sugar cane factory, he had to wait longer to receive payment for his crop. He felt frustrated and unappreciated.
In 2014, he decided to try out maize farming. In his first season, he harvested thirteen 90-kg bags from his farm. It was good, but not good enough. That is when he received training from KALRO and in the next season, he harvested twenty bags from the same land! His season on season yield has been on the increase making Christopher a happy farmer with a happy family. He has been able to pay the school fees for two children in high school and University without a struggle, build a brick house, purchase a dairy cow to supplement his maize income, and purchase a motor cycle which one of his sons uses as a taxi.
My final stop was Magos Agrovet in Kisumu.
In 2007, Beatrice and her husband put together their savings and started Magos Agrovet, trading from a small 10 by 10 metres room in Kondele, a market on the outskirts of Kisumu City. Shortly thereafter, they received training in business management skills, product knowledge and safe use of products from Agricultural Market Development Trust (AGMARK). Magos also received a fridge for storing vaccines, office furniture, a weighing scale and other equipment from AGMARK in 2009 to help them expand their business.
Beatrice Akinyi in one of her agro outlets in Kisumu, Kenya on 23rd July 2016.
Today, Magos Agrovet has three outlets, including one in Kisumu’s CBD from where they serve more than 200 farmers a day. They also have a truck that delivers products to farmers and other agro dealers doorsteps, and field staff to reach farmers groups to give them technical farming advice.
Magos has also diversified from supplying farming inputs to smart farming where they construct green houses, irrigation systems and dam liners. They are also purchasing produce from farmers and providing market linkages. Magos have contracted farmers to plant white sorghum on behalf of East African Breweries, and passion fruit for export to a leading supermarket chain in the UK.
As I made my way back to Nairobi and replayed in my mind the different stories I’d heard from different farmers over the past week, I couldn’t help but give thanks to God for Kofi Anan and Agra, who have impacted not just the farmers featured here, but communities as well. Thanks to a vision that was birthed ten years ago, thousands of children have been educated, hundreds of houses built and millions of livelihoods reassured.
Visit an exhibition of these and other images showcasing Agra’s 10 transformative years at the National Museum in Nairobi 7th to 30th September 2016.