You are here: Home > News > Postcard from... > Planting the seeds of success

Planting the seeds of success

04 August 2016

Planting the seeds of success

Blog by Onesmus Mwangangi, project officer for Farm Africa’s sorghum and green grams work in Kitui, Kenya

"A good harvest starts with good seeds. Planting quality seeds in an environment in which they can thrive is the first step to a plentiful harvest.

I grew up in Kitui, Kenya, and my parents were smallholder farmers. I know the land here well, and having watched my parents labouring without access to up-to-date agronomic information, I know the challenges that farmers face first-hand.

In 2012, I began working with Farm Africa in Kitui, promoting conservation agriculture, and two years ago I began work on our sorghum and green grams project, encouraging farmers to plant quality seeds that produce drought-tolerant crops. These are crops that have been bred specifically to grow in drier land and have a shorter production cycle so that they can help farming communities through lean seasons. The seeds for these crops are certified by the government to show their quality.

In dryland regions like Kitui farming is difficult, as it can be hard to predict when the rains will come. This year the rains came a month later than they were meant to, causing farmers to lose around 80% of their crops. This shows just how vital it is that we help farmers build resilience to drought – and in a world faced with climate change, being more resilient to droughts today will help prepare the communities we work with for an even more uncertain future.

One way farmers can protect themselves from poor rains is by sowing crops grown from quality seeds. But for many smallholder farmers, getting hold of improved seeds can be difficult as they are often sold in bulk, pricing farmers with limited incomes out of the market unless they group together, form cooperatives and buy in bulk.  

And then there’s the problem of adoption - farmers are understandably reluctant to invest and take a risk on a new product when they know that they can get a certain yield with tried and tested techniques. Farmers need to be convinced of the economic value of these new seeds before they’ll be willing to make the switch.

To solve these problems, Farm Africa bought a batch of certified seeds for drought-tolerant crops, which we planted in demonstration plots. This meant that farmers could see for themselves the benefits that improved seeds could bring before they planted them on their own plots of land.

And to make sure that the farming communities in Kitui have a sustainable source of seeds for drought-tolerant crops in the future, we’ve also been working with farmers to help them produce large quantities of these seeds, which can then be distributed locally through established agro-dealer networks. We work with the government to make sure that these seeds are grown correctly and aren’t contaminated, so that they can be certified and classified as ‘high-quality’.

These drought-tolerant crops don’t just grow bigger harvests faster, they also fetch better prices at market. Sorghum in particular is in high demand as breweries buy up large quantities to produce beer. Sorghum has been grown in the region for hundreds of years, but has developed a reputation as a poor man’s crop – over the last few years, we’ve been demonstrating to farmers that sorghum can in fact be a valuable income stream, with many different uses.

Farming in Kitui isn’t always easy – but by making a few small changes to their agricultural techniques and crop types farmers can still build profitable businesses. Small seeds can make huge changes in the lives of farming families."

Click here to read more about our work with drought-tolerant crops in Kitui