In Esabalu, Kenya, we work with farmers to improve their maize harvest. In February, we supplied certified seeds and fertilizer on credit to 140 farmers. Participants received training on planting techniques to improve their crop yield. The project, which hopes to expand to 500 farmers in 2015, runs for nine months and helps farmers to budget for the cost of fertilizer through the season.
Local farmers were skeptical at first about implementing new techniques they learned in classes. Most farmers in Esabalu live on very narrow margins, which makes them naturally risk-averse. Farmers would rather grow crops "as usual" and be able to reliably feed their families than risk an entire crop on a new technique with a potentially higher yield.
To convince farmers, Vibrant Village developed a test plot of maize harvested with the new techniques. Farmers could then compare this example with traditional methods. Additionally, any farmer testing the new technique was invited to hang a Vibrant Village Foundation sign on their field to demonstrate their crop's success.
Happily, many of our farmers took up the challenge and their maize is performing well. Many plants are "double cobbing," an indication of a higher yield which bodes well for harvest time. Farmers are hoping for more rain to come, but are already seeing promising results. They are excited and proud of their maize, and are preparing for a bumper crop come September.
At an age when most people contemplate retirement and taking it easy, 62-year-old Joyce Otemba is gearing up for success. With recently acquired literacy and math skills, she hopes to boost both her baked goods business and agricultural production on her small farm.
“I can now see a future,” Joyce says, proud that she can finally calculate profits from her business making and selling mandazi (doughnut-like fried pastries) to shops in her Western Kenya village of Elufuyo.
Joyce was among the first students to take advantage of Vibrant Village Foundation’s Adult Education Project that began in November 2013 in Esabalu, a village in Western Kenya with a population of about 6,000 members of the Luhyia Tribe.
Now that she has completed the first two levels of Adult Basic Education and Training, Joyce plans to begin level three. She also hopes to acquire advanced business and agricultural skills to improve her family’s quality of life.
“She is one of our stars of our adult education class and made a very moving speech last week at our general meeting about how it has changed her life. She also encouraged the rest of the community to join,” says Nick Kempson, Vibrant Village Foundation’s Program Director for Kenya. Since starting the class and improving her literacy in both English and Kiswahili — Kenya’s two official languages — Joyce can now read letters from friends and family, official announcements from Vibrant Village Foundation’s community meetings and the Bible, he adds.
“My grandchildren are so happy to see that their Grandma is also in school,” Joyce explains. “They see me carrying my books to school, even as they are carrying their books to school too!”
While Joyce can now read her grandchildren’s schoolbooks and keep up with their progress at school, she laments that the Vibrant Village Adult Education Project was not around when her seven children, who range in age from 29 to 45, were still at home. Only one of her children finished primary school.
A motivated and hard worker, Joyce also learned best agricultural practices, including the use of organic fertilizer, this year through her participation in the Foundation’s Farm Input Credit Program. By using an alternative planting technique, she hopes to double the yield of maize that she grows on her own one-acre farm. Last year she produced three bags — equivalent to about 270 kilograms or about 600 pounds — of maize, but this year she is targeting at least six bags.
In this rural region where most families live in small mud and wood homes with corrugated iron roofs, electricity and running water is uncommon. For safe drinking water, she and other villagers walk up to 3 kilometers each day to stand in line with jerry cans at community wells.
Like most women, Joyce cooks over an open wood fire. Three days a week, she rises at 3 a.m. to start making enough dough to produce 200 mandazi. She then packs up the pastries to distribute to local shops, which sell them to customers for breakfast.
“I would like to make scones and other baked items, but I haven’t been trained and I don’t have the oven that’s required,” Joyce explains.
At the rate Joyce is learning new skills and putting them into practice, an expanded product line could be just a matter of time.
In Senegal, the Vibrant Village Foundation partners with Oregon-based non-profit, Andando, supporting women’s collectives to run community gardens. Recently, Andando completed a solar-powered water borehole project, bringing new irrigation water to the small plots of land run by each cooperative. Madame Diagne, one of the coop’s leaders, oversees a one-hectare market garden and represents the agricultural group made up of 85 women.
“We have organized ourselves into groups of 10, with one woman responsible for each bed,” she tells us. “The group collectively determines what to plant. If they use the produce for their own purpose, they must ‘buy’ it from the group at a reduced price, with all profits going into a collective pot.” Some of the crops in the garden include lettuce, carrots, onions, tomatoes, okra, corn, peppers, eggplant, potatoes and cabbage.
Madame Diagne has encouraged the group to be extra frugal as they start out with their fledgling business. The cooperative already has one steady customer in town: a small, basic motel that purchases 65 pounds of food a week. “We are excited to have customers and now want to develop relationships with more people to keep business steady,” Madame Diagne says.
Thanks to the new solar-powered water borehole, the women’s cooperative will have three harvests this year instead of one, which they hope will allow them to provide a more consistent supply of produce to customers. During the rainy season, the women plant lower-maintenance crops such as hibiscus and okra, while they are busy in the millet and peanut fields providing for their families. Then, during the other two harvests, they will plant higher yield cash crops to generate more revenue for the co-op. Madame Diagne tells us that the group already has plans to purchase a scale to weigh their produce for sale at the market.
By working closely with the Andando garden manager, the co-op is starting to bring soil amendments to their gardens such as manure, peanut shells and other organic matter. These practices and other new techniques will take time since change does not come easily and farmers are often skeptical of new agricultural practices. Yet with water flowing, new technologies, improved practices and burgeoning demand from customers, Madame Diagne is confident the market garden will continue to grow and be a successful, stable source of work and income for these 85 women.