by Nick Kempson
Here are field notes from Nick Kempson recounting the day’s activities for the initial distribution of farm inputs for local farming groups. This project is part of Vibrant Village Foundation’s agricultural initiative in Esabalu, Kenya.
The night before – The group leaders packaged the seeds and fertilizer to ensure the right quantities for all farmers.
7:00 a.m. – The group leaders and new Vibrant Village field officer arrived to take tea and set up. We transported nearly 4 metric tons of di-ammonium phosphate and certified seeds to the delivery zone outside.
9:00 a.m. - Members from each of the 17 farmer groups arrived. Each group was checked to make sure they had a planting string with correct spacing and a planting stick, so they can employ new planting techniques for this season. Some group leaders were in charge of dividing up the seed packets, others security, others helped the groups with their measuring sticks and strings.
Each farmer was then called to collect their inputs, confirm that their order was correct and sign to confirm receipt of farm inputs.
10:00 a.m. – It started raining, even though it rarely rains in the morning. We were forced to quickly collect and return all the fertilizer and seeds to the office to prevent spoilage!
11:00 a.m. - After an hour of confusion, the group leaders and field officer set up a new system in the cramped office and we started again. The District Agricultural Officer (DAO), who had arrived during the commotion, took the opportunity to say a few words to the group. The DAO had been instrumental in the project, making it possible for Vibrant Village to purchase the government subsidized fertilizer.
1:00 p.m. - 132 of the 139 Vibrant Village farmers received their farm inputs. All in all, it was a successful day and a great first run through. The group leaders rose to the occasion and played a key role in the success of “distribution day”. Next month, we will do it all again with topdressing fertilizer distribution!
The Vibrant Village Foundation supports Mercy Corps with a $425,000 grant to build the capacity of small-scale farmers to improve incomes and reach higher value retail markets in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Read more about the Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepreneurs (IMARE) program.
Strength to Fight
For years, Modesta Ramirez Mendez's life centered on caring for her family and her home, and raising small livestock to help provide for her family in their village of Cabrican, Guatemala. But seven years ago, the 57-year-old with a third-grade education had to take over the role of breadwinner for the family after her husband, a gas station attendant, lost his sight during an accident.
To meet the new challenge of providing for her children, she joined a local farmers' association, the Buena Vista producers' group, participants in the Vibrant Village and Mercy Corps agricultural support program, Inclusive Market Alliances for Rural Entrepreneurs (IMARE). As a member of the Buena Vista producers' group, she began planting radishes, potatoes and cauliflower on a small, 110-square-meter plot. She sold the produce locally.
“After that first harvest, I realized that [all the work] was all worth it. We wouldn’t have been able to do it on our own, but Mercy Corps provided us with support to improve our production and helped us improve our income," Modesta says. "Now, I’m planting 220 square meters and have diversified the crops. I’m planting cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and potatoes. Everything is coming up nicely and I’m able to sell the harvest here in the community and on the local market. I have made $70 to $105 in profit, aside from what we eat at home, and I reinvest the capital so I can keep up my production.”
She says that before Mercy Corps, her income was very uncertain. She was not used to working outside the home, having always relied on her husband.
“I’ve taken on the role of both father and mother to my 15-year-old daughter, Gloria Onoria, who is in high school, and my 17-year-old son, Joaquin, who is studying to be an accountant," Modesta says. "Before they head off to school, they help me out in the field with the crops.”
“Since I started participating in the Mercy Corps IMARE Project, I have found support and grown as a woman. I realized that we can be successful in supporting our families," Modesta says proudly. "I have learned so much. And I can be there for my husband, who is no longer able to work.” Modesta is now the Vice President of the Buena Vista small producers' group in Cabrican.
“As a result of my participation in the vegetable production project," she continues, "I have been able to pay for my children’s studies, household expenses, medical treatment for my husband, and a few other things that I need.”
Here in Esabalu, the rainy season has arrived and most households have been busy preparing their land. The short rains from August to November provide a chance for families to grow enough food to get through to July when they will harvest again.
Last Wednesday, fifteen community volunteers and I spent the day preparing the Vibrant Village Maize Demonstration Plot at a local school in Esabalu. The Demo Plot aims to show the difference between traditional and modern planting techniques, and is the first stage of our input credit program—modelled on One Acre Fund’s great work in East Africa—that Vibrant Village will start in 2014.
From 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M., we measured out the correct spacing, dug the lines, and planted our seeds, along with a pinch of fertilizer. We also had time for an impromptu practical lesson with the school kids in the afternoon!
It is tough, unforgiving work in the 86°F (30°C) heat. After digging two lines, I was sunburnt, sweaty, and with aching legs. I asked one of our volunteers, Aggrey, who had dug 25 lines, “Don’t you get tired?!” as he waited for me to struggle to the end of my line before we could move on. Laughing at me, he replied, “This is my job! We are used to it.”
Many local farmers already know these planting techniques, but lack of finances still prevent them from maximizing their yield. Our input credit program will provide farmers with fertilizer and seeds on credit before the March rains arrive, as well as providing training in good agricultural practices. When I ask Aggrey if he has planted his own land for this growing season, he tells me he doesn’t have the cash to buy fertilizer for the whole shamba at once, and therefore must plant section-by-section as he gets funds. He knows this is bad news for his harvest, particularly given the unpredictable rainfall at this time of year, and he tells me he is looking forward to the Vibrant Village input credit program so he can get his inputs on time.
Before planting, I understood the difficulty farmers experienced relying on unpredictable rainfall, but as I dragged my sore, aching body to bed at 6:00 that evening, I also fully appreciated the physical effort that all farmers—from old mamas to their young grandchildren—must put in to grow the food that will feed their family for much of the next nine months. Agriculture may be a great route out of poverty, but it is not easy work. And imagine doing that work on an empty stomach…