We work in a semi-arid area directly on the equator where most people are small-scale farmers – producing just enough to feed their families and pay for necessities.
Drought is a huge problem and both the crops and farming methods being used are not suited to the harsh conditions. Climates in Kenya vary wildly over small areas, so it is difficult for individual farmers to find what is right for their area; what works on one farm could completely fail on a farm 30km away. Rain patterns have also become much more erratic in recent years.
Local farmers with limited resources are not in a position to experiment with unproven crops or farming techniques and so they persist with traditional methods, even when they are unreliable (50% failure rates). As a result, farmers and their families really struggle and regularly experience both hunger and economic difficulty - perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Solving such a deep-rooted and difficult problem is crucial to help lift this community out of poverty. This is a difficult task, which will take time and perseverance. As a result farming has always been and will remain a major focus area for us.
On our demonstration farms in Sarambei (14 acres) and Rongai (5 acres) we experiment with new crops and farming methods to determine which are best suited to this particular climate. On-farm trials show both successes and failures. We then give training & assistance to help local farmers implement beneficial techniques.
We facilitate discussion groups where farmers come together to share and learn from their experiences and we are also working towards creating a farmer’s co-op where shared services and supports can be accessed.
We do extensive research before beginning a new program, consulting with
We provide regular training sessions for local farmers on all the farming methods being used on our farm, as well as ongoing support. We facilitate table banking groups and micro-finance loans which farmers can used to fund innovations where setup costs are high (read more here).
The following sections outline the programs we are currently running.
Dairy farming in the areas we work is not very productive, with each cow producing less than 1 litre per day. The main reasons for this are
We implement the following techniques on our farm in order to investigate and showcase how to best improve milk production.
Zero Grazing is a feeding technique whereby cows are kept in a shed and are brought cultivated fodder and harvested rainwater. Milk yields can be greatly improved with this combination of better quality food, clean water, energy conservation (no foraging) and minimal disease risk.
On our farm we have adult cows, calves, cow barns, hay barns and slurry storage facilities. Fodder for the cows is produced on our farm and rainwater is harvested in ponds.
Cross-bred cows (e.g. Boran + Ayreshire, Sahiwal + Friesian) combine the hardiness of local breeds with the higher yields associated with breeds like Friesian and Ayreshire.
On our farm we have cows of various different cross-breeds and we continue to investigate different breed mixes to determine the most suitable ones for the area.
All feed for the cows must be grown / produced onsite; though common elsewhere, supplementing grass/silage/hay with a lot of nutrient-rich concentrates (e.g. grains) is not sustainable in Kenya because of cost, availability and quality issues.
On our farm we grow various grass types to determine both their suitability for the climate and how they affect milk yields in cows of different breeds.
The traditional approach to leaving cows forage for food and water means that the dry season is extremely problematic for dairy farmers, with milk yields almost non-existent. Preserving food for cows is thus vital to ensure stability in milk production.
Silage: Our farm is the first in the area to have produced silage on a small scale.
Hay: The hay we produce/use on our farm is stored in our large barn; we sell some locally and also provide our barn as a hay storage facility for other farmers.
A biodigester is a device which allows cow manure to be used to produce gas for cooking. A large underground pit stores the dung and the gas that is emitted is piped to a hob.
While installation is expensive, biodigesters have huge benefits over the traditional wood fires that are used for cooking in the area:
Large farm machinery is prohibitively expensive and beyond the reach of almost all farmers in Kenya; this greatly limits the potential of farms. The long dry season is crippling for dairy farmers, but cutting and saving fodder for cows is so labour intensive that it is simply not feasible for most.
An anonymous donor, along with CRS Cold Storage Ireland were extraordinarily generous in providing us with the funds to purchase a Tractor, Silage Harvester and Plough.
These machines are used on our demonstration farm to train local farmers in making fodder, as well as being made available to them for use on their own farms.
Such technological advances will greatly enhance the capability of farmers in our area and so will improve the lives of much of the community.
With milk yields improving, farmers need somewhere to sell their excess milk. A number of neighbouring farmers bring their milk to our farm every morning so that it can be transported and sold - alongside the milk produced on our farm - to nearby retailers (hotels, tea stations, etc). This allows the farmers to bypass expensive middle-men and thus maximise their profits.
We would hope to eventually form a farmers co-operative where milk would be collected daily from individual farms, processed and sold at a community shop/kiosk, along with other farm produce.
The production of value-added dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese would also be beneficial and could be done on a cooperative basis.
We are now involved in a major collaboratative dairy program with development partners which has been the driving force behind many of our recent dairy initiatives. Read more below.
Maize and beans are the most common crops grown all over Kenya and in the areas where we work, but they don't grow well in this drought-prone area and regularly fail.
In order for farmers to make the most of their limited resources, it is essential that they diversify their crops and use better farming techniques that are more suitable for the conditions.
We use the following methods on our farm in order to demonstrate how crop yields can be improved.
The main reason for crop failure in this semi-arid climate is lack of rain, so irrigation is the only solution to this problem.
In drip irrigation we deliver water directly to the roots of crops to ensure that the plants have the water they need while minimising wastage of this precious resource.
Access to clean water is obviously an essential component of such a farming method so a suitable water harvesting solution is also used (see more).
Low-cost drip irrigation kits are made available at our regular training sessions.
Using greenhouses in a hot, dry climate may seem strange, but greenhouses provide many more advantages than just heat.
The use of greenhouses thus helps farmers to minimise costs & maximise profits.
Maize and beans are the most common crops in Kenya, but they don't grow well in this drought-prone area and regularly fail. In order for farmers to make the most of their limited resources, they must diversify and start growing crops that are more suitable for the conditions.
Introducing drought-resistent crops (e.g. sweet potatoes, cassava, sorghum) offer more stable yields and provide extra nutrients to families, while cash crops (e.g. watermelon, mango, bananas) can provide families with additional income.
On our demonstration farm we trial various types of crops so that we can advise local farmers on the most suitable ones.
We regularly perform seed trials to evaluate which crop varieties grow best in our area. We investigate different farming techniques as well as assessing cost, hardiness, weed/pest control and overall yield.
On our demonstration farm we trial different varieties of crops so that we can advise local farmers on the most successful ones. We also distribute runners / seedlings from our own crops to interested members of the community.
Fruit trees are not commonly grown in the area, but when mature enough to produce fruit, they are low maintenance and can become an additional source of income and nutrition for local families.
We trial various fruit trees on our farm (mango, banana, pawpaw, avocado, etc) and advise locals on the most productive ones and where to purchase them. We also provide training on how to properly maintain the trees. We have a nursery of pawpaw seedlings which we regularly distribute, along with suckers from our banana trees.
Fruit trees also act as an effective barrier around farms and are essential in the fight against deforestation (a huge problem in Kenya).
Throughout our showcasing of new farming techniques and technologies, we continue to emphasise the importance of good crop and soil management (e.g. sowing technique, weeding, pesticide/herbicide usage, soil maintenance, protection from livestock, etc.)
We use the fertiliser generated on our farm to show people how they can use compost and cow dung to fertilise their crops.
Access to clean water is a huge problem in the areas we work. The local rivers are far away, they often run dry and the water is contaminated, thus giving rise to health problems for both livestock and people.
Since the groundwater in the area is salty, the only solution to this problem is rainwater harvesting which can be done using tanks (for human consumption) and ponds (for livestock and crops). Our farm uses large ponds to collect rainwater and surface run-off; this water is suitable for irrigation and livestock.
We train local farmers and community groups in the construction and maintenance of such ponds and also help with installation.
Baringo county is known all over Kenya for its high quality honey, which is due to the prevalence of the acacia tree. Our farm is on the border Nakuru and Baringo counties, so we are hoping that bee-keeping could become a viable income source for local families. It is relatively cheap (€35 for a hive) and requires little work.
Through our on-farm trials we are learning the best methods to use and we hold training sessions with the community to teach locals how to do it for themselves. We would hope to eventually encorporate the sale of local honey into our farmer's co-op.
We hold regular training & demonstration sessions where we invite local farmers to come and learn about the new crops and farming techniques we are using on our farm, as well as basic instruction on good farm management practices.
Where possible, our training sessions are hosted by experts in the specific topic (e.g. drip irrigation, bee-keeping, silage making, etc.) to ensure that everyone is getting the best information from the most relevant sources.
Training sessions are held either in local villages or on our farms - either out in the open, in our covered pavilion in Sarambei or in our training rooms in Rongai.
In 2019 Development Pamoja was chosen to take part in a large project funded by the Embassy of Ireland in partnership with Teagasc (The Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland), KALRO (Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation), Greenfield International and overseen by Self Help Africa in Kenya.
The project is entitled Climate Smart Research and Innovation for Livestock Development in Kenya with a focus on Dairying. and its aim aligns closely with our own dairy program: To develop and demonstrate new improved systems of forage-based dairy farming which are resilient to climate change.
As part of this program, our farm is being used as a Training Facility and as a Demonstration Farm
A full-time farming expert (extension officer) provides training, support and oversight over 123 local farmers (from 9 villages) who trial various initiatives on their own small farms.
The farmers are formed into discussion groups to share their experiences and work through any difficulties.
Our farm is used to showcase best practices and trial new initiatives in the following areas:
Our inclusion in this project has allowed us to not only expand into new areas, but also to improve our existing farm infrastructure:
We hope to eventually expand this program to form a co-operative society and credit union among the farmers we work with.
We would like to sincerely thank Teagasc and DairyMis in Ireland and the Irish Embassy, KALRO and Self Help Africa in Kenya. We would also like to thank Seamus Crosse, Tom Ryan, Owen Carton, Dermot Forristal and Brian Lenehan who have provided us with expertise in building biodigesters, forming discussion groups, designing cow sheds and recommending machinery to us.
Finally, we are extremely grateful to the anonymous donor who has completely changed the course of this project by funding the purchase of machinery - some of which has never been seen in the area.
Our farm is fulfilling its goal - the methods we showcase and teach have allowed local farmers to adopt more productive and efficient farming techniques (e.g. ponds, hay, zero grazing, drip irrigation, crop diversity, etc). Their livelihoods are more secure as a result. This is contributing to our overall aim of helping people to achieve financial security.
Our farm is also benefiting the local community in other ways:
Farmer, 6 children
James lives 5km from our farm. During the dry season his wife and children used to walk the cows for miles to forage for food.
We sourced sorghum seeds for him, showed him how to plant it and used our machinery to help him to cut and make silage. With food now preserved for the dry season he won't have to worry about the well-being of his cattle and his children will be able to attend school.