Kenya: Finance Aid Boosts Farming Along Yatta Furrow

27 December 2018

The roughly three-metre wide canal snakes its way sinuously yet uninterruptedly across the terrain, its tawny-coloured water flowing quietly, trailing the contours that define the area's topography.

Sixty-eight-year-old Mzee Thomas Nzioka, a village elder, with a small twig in hand, unclogs a drainage conduit that directs some of the canal's water into his farmstead.

He then stares fixedly at the flowing water and distantly mutters: "Though not as clean-looking as would be envisioned, it does serve the purpose for which it was intended."

Mzee Nzioka is the village elder of Scheme Village, a small rustic community in Kithimani Ward of Yatta Constituency, Machakos County.

The area, according to him, is perennially dry, uncertain of rainfall for most of the year.

Area residents, occupying about 200 homesteads in his village alone, and many with no steady source of livelihood, are largely dependent on subsistence farming.

Many hardly harvest enough to sustain their food security and subsequently selling the surplus.

The winding canal, which according to Mzee Nzioka was built way back when the country was under colonial rule, and only just refurbished several months ago, has, for a long time, been their salvation on the many occasions the rains fail.

His village is not alone. Two other villages, Kauthulini and Kakangalani, both in Kithendu Sub-location of Kithimani, also rely on that canal for domestic and agriculture activities.

Other villages straddling the length of the canal, which sources its water from River Chania and drains it into Mwita Syano River, about 60 kilometres away, in Kitui County, also rely on it for the vital commodity.

In essence, in its own respect, the waterway holds an aspect of livelihoods of the smallholder communities lining either side of its course.

It sustains more than 70,000 smallholder farmers as well as many non-farmers along its course.

ERRATIC CLIMATE

With perennial water problems to a degree addressed, the farming communities were faced with the challenge of erratic climate, acquisition of the right farming inputs, training on proper farming ways as well as markets for what they harvest.

Mbula John-Musyoki, 48, states that her only means of livelihood has, for years, been her one-acre plot. On this, the mother of four cultivates an assortment of crops that include maize, tomatoes, bananas, beans and sugar cane.

As a small-scale farmer, earning enough from her farm has been a constant challenge that she grapples with.

She cites poor and insufficient inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and pesticides, as some of the challenges she faces. Others are variable climatic conditions that lead to the emergence of pests and diseases.

Add to this no training on proper farming skills, and it becomes clear when she says: "For ages, I only harvested barely enough for my family's consumption and very little; especially the sugar cane, left for sale."

Like the rest of the community, Mbula largely depends on the Yatta Furrow, as the area residents call it, for watering her crops.

Retired teacher Julius Mutuku Kasai is yet another smallholder farmer reliant on the canal. The 62-year-old cultivates maize, tomatoes, fruits, French beans, eggplant, and dudhi (lauki), among other vegetables.

EXPEDITING GRANTS

Kasai became a full-time farmer upon retiring. Like other farmers in the area, he has challenges acquiring proper pesticides, seeds and fertiliser. He also lacks proper knowledge in carrying out farming.

The Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) -- an independent partnership of public and private organisations, working towards a resilient, sustainable and prosperous future for vulnerable people by expediting grants to regions at high risk of recurrent crises such as climate threats, flooding and food insecurity -- stepped in to assuage the situation.

The enterprise, which considers resilience a prerequisite for understanding the drivers and impacts of complex issues to help communities and stakeholders identify and implement novel solutions, works in effecting these best practices and innovations needed to build communities' long-term adaptability to these challenges.

In Machakos County, the partnership, through the International Food Policy Research Institute (Ifpri), is advancing a module called Innovative Financing Models Boosting Resilience for Kenyan Smallholder Farmers.

WEATHER SHOCKS

"Climate change produces unpredictable short and long rainy seasons, making farmers' livelihoods subject to weather shocks. Ifpri has, therefore, devised a novel financial product, which helps manage this risk.

"The product called Risk Contingent Credit (RCC) is linked to rainfall index; low rainfall triggers a repayment on the farmer's loan, acting as a safety net in times of crop failure. It essentially eases a farmer's repayment of a loan in case of weather-related crop failure," says Dismas Manoti, a field officer with AgriFood Economics Africa, one of the partner organisations in the programme.

This loan, according to him, is given in the form of inputs, therefore, the financing system acts as a social safety net, allowing farmers to carry on with their activities even through poor harvests.

Together with other farmers in the involved villages, Mzee Nzioka, who was among the first beneficiaries of the programme on its inception in 2017, have seen an improvement in farm production.

"Through a local bank, Equity, we received the inputs needed as well as training from AgriFood Economics Africa. Some months later, those whose yields were plentiful began repaying the loan at just Sh500 per month. Some, who were not as lucky with their harvests were to an extent relieved. The repayment is flexible; you pay when you have enough and defer when not ready," Mzee Nzioka says.

Through minimising the risk factor involved in farming in such areas, the project now gives smallholder farmers confidence to invest in their farms, increasing their resilience against risks and maximising their incomes.

Programme lead, Dr Apurba Shee, who is also a Business Development Economist and senior lecturer at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), University of Greenwich, notes that the programme extends to crop insurance in form of weather index insurance, based on rainfall data. This, according to him, is embedded within the credit product that provides protection in bad weather conditions.

"Initially, we had a scoping mission and visited many counties in Kenya. We played pictorial games to communicate the idea of RCC with farming communities and received overwhelming response. We then sought to start with a semi-arid region and selected Machakos. We, however, plan to expand to other areas in due course," Dr Shee says.

See What Everyone is Watching

More From: Nation

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 700 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.