In our last blog, setting up SAWBO model farms and plots, we discussed the concept in detail and explained its application in facilitating farmers to gain first-hand experience on how knowledge acquired in the animation videos can work for them on their farms. We also discussed the qualifying factors for a model farm and indicated that they be located in the nine counties in which we have farmers’ networks. In this blog post, I am going to walk you through the ongoing preparations on our first model farm in Bulechia village, Mumias East, Kakamega County.  

Choosing the crops to plant.

This is one of the most important decisions a farmer has to make, because the crop type determines other factors, like the cost of land preparation, inputs, whether to use seeds or seedlings, type of fertilizer to be used, pest control measures, duration the crop takes to mature and harvest, and the labor intensity. Since our aim is to help our farmers maximize profits as they reduce cost, it’s prudent for a farmer to concentrate on crops they’ve been farming and understand the challenges involved. Priority should be given to providing a sufficient food supply for their families with extra yields sold to generate income.

A butternut squash fruit on the model farm. Picture by Kataru Concepts.

On our first model farm, the farmer, Mrs. Hellen Alukwe, had been practicing horticulture for a long time, planting cereals, pulses, oil seed crops, roots and tubers, sugar crops, assorted vegetables, and animal fodder like napier grass.  In her own words, she’s always planted what she calls “trophy crops,” which include crops that are fast maturing, high yielding, and better priced on the local market. Just to break it down to understandable levels, we advise our farmers to choose from the following list of crops to plant on their model farms:

1.            Cereals

Field corn (maize), sweet corn, and pop corn

2.            Pulses

Dry beans and bambara beans

3.            Oil seed crops

Soybeans (locally referred to as soya beans)

Peanut (referred to as ground nuts or njugu karanga in Swahili)

4.            Roots and tubers

Sweet potatoes, cassava, arrow roots, Irish potatoes, onions, ginger, garlic, and red beet

5.            Assorted vegetables

Cabbage, Kales, Amaranth, spider plant, nightshade, pumpkins, butternut squash, mchicha, mnavu, and cowpeas also known as kunde.

6.            Animal fodder

Napier grass, brachiaria and desmodium

On our model farm, owner Mrs. Hellen Alukwe subdivided her 2-acre piece of land into eight smaller manageable plots. This is because she desires to plant eight different crops from the six groups listed above and manage them using knowledge she acquired in several SAWBO agricultural animation videos. According to Hellen, she chose crops that can find ready market and fetch good prices at Shianda shopping center, Mumias, Kakamega and Bungoma towns which are close to her farm. She advises all farmers to let their family needs and local market demands determine what crops to plant from the above listed.

Besides the market for farm produce, every farmer is supposed to choose crops that can perform well in their types of soil as recommended by agricultural extension officers. Soil sampling and testing is recommended to help the farmer determine which crops to plant. In areas where farmers practice rain-fed agriculture, early land preparation and proper timing of the rains is important to ensure the crop has sufficient water at all stages of growth. However, we plan to include an irrigation system as explained in the video Survival gardening: Drip Irrigation on Hellen’s farm to use and increase productivity during the dry season.

To successfully use the SAWBO drip irrigation technique, a farmer needs to combine it with raised planting beds as explained in the animation video. This technique allows a farmer to consistently water their entire crop during the dry season. Every drop from the drip irrigation system benefits your plants and no water is wasted. Drip irrigation increases crop yield by enabling a farmer to plant during the dry season. Water for the drip irrigation system can be fetched from nearby streams, sunk bore holes, or collected and stored in water tanks and reservoirs during the rainy season.

As we all set out to choose crops to plant on our farms, we should remember not to choose unfamiliar crops that might give high yields but lack market in our locations. Let us stick with the crops we’ve been planting, but remembering to do it the SAWBO way.

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