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Striking red gold in Muumoni

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

© FAO/Eric Kimani

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 the Muumoni district in eastern Kenya. Like many other Kenyans, Grace had traditionally been a maize and bean 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 a traditional bucket irrigation system before upgrading to furrow irrigation. Both of these irrigation methods proved physically demanding and left her with little time and energy to engage in other duties that required her attention. Grace needed an out-of-the-box solution.

A visit to the Muumoni district agriculture office was the break she needed. She received information about an FAO project being carried out in partnership with the Government of Kenya. The project was operating in the districts of Kyuso, Tseikuru, Mwingi central and her home district of Muumoni. The project was targeting districts with severe problems of food insecurity and limited access to water. Grace was very excited when she learnt that she qualified as a potential beneficiary. After district agricultural officials visited her farm for an assessment, an irrigation drip kit was delivered to her farm and immediately installed. Grace also received training on the operation and maintenance of her new acquisition.

Once in operation, the new drip kit radically transformed how Grace spent her typical day. She could now afford time to cater to other non-farm activities. 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 out her pickup truck to other farmers and business people in Muumoni. Grace also bought a dairy cow with her savings. The milk produced, aside from supplementing her family’s nutritional requirements, is sold to her neighbours. This gives her additional income. All of these side businesses would not have been possible in the past because Grace did not have 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 saving on her wage bill. These savings have all been invested in the tomato venture. Grace was also 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.

Mrs. Grace Mutisya tends to her young tomato crop.

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. Peter Munywoki, her next-door neighbour is one of them. 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 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 her vision.

This project was made possible by the generous support from the government of Swedish.

By Eric Kimani, Communications Officer at FAO Kenya