Part IX: Benefits of Small Scale Farming in Kenya
I just started writing these Reports from Kenya on “Benefits of Small Scale Farming in Kenya” without any grand plan. As I have continued, people have suggested additional topics and I have added more myself. Some readers have encouraged me to assemble and edit these postings into a booklet. This I plan on doing.
Consequently this posting should have become at the beginning, namely, what are my qualifications for writing these posts? I have no academic qualifications whatsoever in agriculture. This is a resounding positive factor. I have not been indoctrinated in what farmers – meaning commercial agribusiness farmers — ought to be doing. I have not been indoctrinated by the large scale commercial farming philosophy promoted by most agricultural schools. I have seen so many articles and books which discuss the small scale farmers with the attitude that, since they are not listening to and following the advice of the “experts”, it is because they are too conservative, uneducated, or at worse “backwards.”
My approach has been quite different. I look and see what actual small-scale farmers do. I ask questions and find out what they do and often why they do what they do. If the farmers do not follow what the experts advise, I consider the “experts” to be the ones who are wrong. No innovation, no improvement can occur unless the clients, the recipient farmers, are willing to adopt it. If they do not, there must be some reason(s) and that reason(s) must be addressed. If it can’t be, then the innovation is moot.
I have lived mostly in four different places in Tanzania and Kenya as can been seen on the map above.
- In 1965/66 I lived for 15 months in Muzenzi refugee camp in Ngara District near the Burundian and Rwandan borders. At this time the local population was still using shifting “slash and burn” agriculture where they would clear and burn a plot and cultivate it for a few years until the fertility declined. When this happened they would shift to and clear another plot of the forest and bush. Population density used to be very low and land was always available to clear. This is no longer the case so farmers have had to develop other methods of maintaining their soil fertility.
- In 1966 to 1967 I was assigned by the US Peace Corps to a government sponsored project called Rwamkoma Settlement Scheme near the town of Musoma on the east side of Lake Victoria. In another Report from Kenya called “What not to Do” I’ll relate my experiences there.
- In 1968 to 1970, I lived for two years and four months in the Mua Hills, Machakos District, east of Nairobi. Here I was the founding principal of what is now called the Mua Hills Girls Secondary School. The school was one of the first few high schools in Kenya to offer studies in agriculture. I married Rodah Wayua at that time and we bought a four acre farm which was later increased to a total of six acres, ten kilometers (six miles) from the school.
- From 2007 to the present, my wife, Gladys and I have lived for twelve and one half years and counting in Lumakanda, Kakamega county, in western Kenya. Currently we have a three-quarter acre homestead plot and cultivate two acres nearby that belong to Gladys’ son, Douglas. In other words we are small scale farmers. Gladys is the person responsible for the agricultural work because I frankly don’t know all the myriad details that are needed to farm successfully. On the other hand I have a first-hand participant’s view of how various agricultural activities are done.
All four of these sites have commonalities. First all are between 1500 and 1825 meters (5,000 and 6,000 feet) above sea level. This means that there is adequate average rainfall of from 75 to 125 centimeters (30 inches to 50 inches) per year. Moreover all the sites are on fairly fertile volcanic soil. As a result of these attributes all these sites are relatively highly populated, although Ngara District in 1960’s was not nearly as thickly populated as it is now.
I have also made numerous trips to (1) Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. I have kept my eyes open and asked questions.
In total I have therefore had eighteen and a half years of observing small scale farmers in East Africa, mostly in Kenya.
These Reports from Kenya on small scale farming are the results of what I have seen and learned over the years. These are actual descriptions of what farmers do, not what they might do or ought to do. This then emphasizes the strengths of their current activities. I also show what can be done better because some farmers are doing it already. Lastly I focus on how improvements do come about, emphasizing that, when something really works, it is quickly extensively adopted through word of mouth.
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