Striking red gold in Muumoni

Striking red gold in Muumoni

07/10/2012

How a woman in rural Kenya is reaping the benefits of growing tomatoes using innovative irrigation technology

Mrs. Mutisya keenly studies the leaves of her newly transplanted tomato crop. She has been told  that an ashen look on tomato leaves is not good news for her newly discovered gold mine. She has completely done away with growing maize and now dedicates all her energies to cultivating tomatoes which she says gives her more income. She therefore knows that she can’t afford anything to come between her and her new found fortune.

Grace Mutisya is a visionary woman. She is one of the beneficiaries of an irrigation drip kit in Katse location of Muumoni district in eastern Kenya. Like many other Kenyans, Grace had traditionally been a maize and beans farmer. However, unpredictable weather patterns meant that rain-fed agriculture was not working in her favour. It was not until 2005 that she first ventured into vegetable farming – and she is not looking back. Initially, she used traditional bucket irrigation system before upgrading to furrow irrigation. Both of these irrigation methods were very physically demanding and they neither left her with extra time nor energy to engage in other duties demanding her attention. She needed an out-of-the-box solution.

A visit to the Muumoni district agriculture office was the break she needed. There she was informed about a project being implemented by FAO in partnership with the Government of Kenya. She learnt that the project was being implemented in the four districts of Kyuso, Tseikuru, Mwingi central and her home district of Muumoni. This was mainly due to the severity of food insecurity and unavailability of water. When she learnt that she qualified as a potential beneficiary to the project, she was very excited. After some district agricultural officials visited her farm for an assessment, an irrigation drip kit was delivered to her farm and immediately installed. Grace also received some training on the operation and maintenance of her new acquisition.

The new drip irrigation kit once in operation radically transformed how Grace spent her typical day. She could now afford time to cater to other non-farm activities that still demanded her attention. Courtesy of her tomato harvests, she was able to save up some money and purchase a pickup truck which she uses to transport her produce to the market. When not transporting farm produce, she hires it out to other farmers and business people in Muumoni. Grace also saved up in the same way and acquired a dairy cow. The milk produced, aside from supplementing her family’s nutritional requirements, is sold to her neighbours thus providing her with a new income stream. All of these side businesses would not have been possible before because of lack of time.

Thanks to improved efficiency afforded by the drip kit, the farm’s demand for labour was reduced and she trimmed down her labour force from three to one – a more than 60 per cent savings on her wage bill. These savings have all been invested in the tomato venture. Grace was however able to train one of her former labourers in her new way of running the farm and the former labourer is now working on her farm aspiring to be like her former employer. She is also training a friend on the new technology.

Looking into the future, Grace would like to purchase more irrigation kits in order to expand her farm operations. She has plans to expand the acreage under tomatoes in order to command a wider market. She is also toying with the idea of venturing into other vegetable varieties like carrots and onions. This, she reckons, would cushion her from ruin in case one crop failed due to pests or disease.

Grace has been a great source of inspiration to many of her admirers. Mr. Peter Munywoki, her next-door neighbour is one such admirer. He credits all his learning of this new drip kit innovation to Grace. “She has been a mentor to me in these modern farming methods. I will one day drive my own car just like her – I just need to work harder each day”, says Peter.

Grace will do all she can to protect her “red gold”. She knows that she must soon pay another visit to the agriculture office with a sample of the ashen tomato leaves for a second opinion on whether she has a reason to worry. She smiles, knowing that the future can only get brighter. “I am grateful to the government for these (irrigation) pipes. I will soon be supplying the people of Muumoni with fresh vegetables daily. I will run the traders from neighbouring Mwingi town out of business” she declares.

That is vision.

This project was made possible by the generous support from the Government of Sweden.