Our journey to Kiogoni village, a far flung area in Tharaka Niithi constituency during the El-Nino rains was a treacherous one. For close to four hours we were stuck in a hot and humid environment along the Shiakariga-Marimanti road as we waited for the waters of Gituma– a seasonal river – to subside for the journey to continue. Several other seasonal rivers were flooded and kept us still for hours. However, this did not stop OAIC staff from their mission; to meet the various groups in the village keen on improving their farming practices whilst distributing seeds.
Tharaka Niithi is in the lee-ward side and the area is largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture. The several seasonal rivers are a great resource that the county government could tap into to mitigate against hunger and the poverty cycle exacerbated by food and nutrition insufficiency. One resident noted the long rains had taken about 3 years and this often leaves the community at the mercy of the markets.
“Seasonal rivers have their source from Kijege Mountain at a place called Mburi Muiru and they often wreck havoc and rendering roads impassable but since this happens once in a while residents haven’t advocated for the construction of a bridge. A drift was recently constructed to ensure that the water drains quickly but it hasn’t made much of a difference,” notes one community member.
So fertile are the soils in this region that farmers rarely use fertilizers for planting and further the prices are still out of reach for most farmers. Nevertheless, farmers here assume their fertile soils won’t lose fertility as they rarely add manure. “I can’t remember the last time I used fertilizers in my farm. However, I sometimes use organic manure which I get from my goat’s remains which I sprinkle on my farm before ploughing. I also do crop rotation for my maize, beans, and green grams as well as cow peas which ensure that nutrients are spread evenly in my farm. I prefer to plant traditional foods like arrow roots and sweet potatoes but most of the time they end up drying fast due to lack of sufficient water,” notes Ms Mary Gatigi.
Green grams – nylon type – ; maize; millet; sorghum and cow peas are some of the crops that yield highly in Niithi. Most of the residents here buy food from food secure areas like Meru which are on the wind-ward side and rarely lack rainfall. Despite buying a lot of food, they have worked to preserve their traditional varieties of seeds and domestic animals from chicken, goats, cows, as well as sheep.
Reverend John Kimbo the in-charge of National Independent Church of Africa (NICA) church in Tharaka Niithi is a brilliant farmer himself with a kitchen garden filled with various types of food crops. A large foray of bananas; sweet potatoes; oranges as well as mangoes are doing well in his farm. “I am concerned about the food insecurity in this village and I have set aside a 3 acre piece of land that will be used as a demonstration farm (demo-farm) at Turimatweru – whitish grass -. Groups in my church will plant food here and we intend to use the farm as a learning resource for other farmers to curb food insecurity,” noted Rev. Kimbo.
A seed bank will be set up for subsequent planting seasons to enable the groups expand the distribution of seeds to other church groups. Green Amaranth, finger millet; green grams and sorghum seeds were distributed amongst groups of members of NICA church and are to be planted in each person’s ¼ acre piece of land that group members had set aside.
Lack of extension officers is not new to residents here as most of them are based kilometres away at a place called Marimanti and often demand that community members pay for their fuel before their problems can be attended to. “Our beans sometimes are affected by a lot of diseases where they all dry up and when we call an extension officer for advice, they come and take some soil sample but then you don’t see them again and sometimes even stay away for five years. The leaves of the green grams sometimes turn white and thus we end up without any harvests. Extension officers are no longer there to help the farmers and the only time we see them is during chief’s baraza’s,” notes Mary Gatigi
The community has engaged the County government on the need for provision of water tanks for the community and during meetings with the administration officials. This will be effective in ensuring that rain water is preserved and used for irrigation when rains fail.
Village meetings that are often held provide an opportunity to discuss development issues. The villagers have presented a memo with their voices on corruption; poor road networks as well as national core values to their leaders, an effective way of demanding for service delivery. An inter-religious forum to deal with issues arising in the community was also recently formed.
Furthermore, the community and county government is collaborating to ensure a greener environment through tree planting in churches and other public spaces. This has also led to learning’s on conservation agriculture enhancing the capacity for farmers.
The number of men in agriculture is still lower compared to their women counterparts and some have been accused of wanting to control farm produce despite contributing the least to ensure high yields. Furthermore, most of the land is owned by men who control the yields. Nevertheless, more women and especially those who are educated are able to own land as they have the purchasing power.