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!
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…