BLOG Category: farmer-profile
In partnership with One Acre Fund, ONE will follow a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season.
A sense of anxiety looms large in Luucho village. A months-long drought wiped out more than half of this year’s crops, leaving many homes in desperate need of food.
Like most villages in western Kenya, Luucho plants two times a year. Farmers who lost their crops during the first season, when rains failed to arrive between May and June, banked their hopes on the second harvest. But another wave of drought has struck again since last October, dashing all their expectations. Now, withering plants covered in brown dust dance lazily in the light wind, thirsting for the return of rain. There is not much hope to save them – farmers normally harvest their second-season crops in December, and the damage has already been done.
“This has been the strangest year of my life,” says Mary Nekesa, a 55-year-old mother of five. “I depend on farming, but now how am I going to feed my family?”
At the start of the season, Mary had huge expectations. She planted a half-acre plot of maize, and like in the past, she hoped to harvest at least 12 bags of grain. Thinking she’d have plenty of food for her family, she had even planned to sell a few extra bags of maize to buy a dairy cow, which she had been longing after for years. But because of the drought, she only harvested two bags—hardly enough to feed her children for two months, let alone buy a cow.
On this morning, Mary is standing in the shallows of Khalaba River, half a mile away from her home. The Khalaba flows between two deeply eroded banks covered in thick vegetation. It’s a tributary to the River Nzoia, which pours its waters into Lake Victoria. The river is Mary’s last lifeline. She swings a small bucket in and out of the water, spewing a blast of wet sand on the river bank with each wave.
“I couldn’t sit and watch my children starve,” Mary says. “The only other way I could provide food for them is by harvesting sand."
Sand is used for all kinds of things in Kenya’s construction industry, including making bricks and concrete to build houses, bridges, and roads. Drawing sand from the river is backbreaking work for Mary, who needs to fill up a whole truck in order to find customers. She usually sells each load to a middleman for a throw-away price of $10. It’s a lucrative business, but not for Mary. Those middlemen can resell what she has collected for $40 to $50 per truckload.
Harvesting sand is a difficult job, especially in drought. During the rainy season, the waters usually swell up and sweep sand down the river, so that it only takes about a day to draw enough out to fill a truck. With this year’s dry weather, it now takes Mary three days, working from morning until evening.
“I’m not able to sleep much nowadays,” says Mary, who rises as early as 3 a.m. each day, because the thought of her hungry children disturbs her sleep. “Every evening at dinner, I sit and watch as my children eat. The thought that if I don’t work harder the following day my children might sleep hungry fills me with fear. I will do anything to make sure my children have food.”
Sand harvesting is an activity mostly carried out by men, and as the only female sand harvester in Luucho, Mary has raised mixed reactions in the village. While some men respect her courage and strength, others feel she is competing for a man’s job, or that her body will soon fail from exertion. However, most women in Luucho are motivated by Mary’s willingness to take up this kind of work.
“We were all shocked when we saw Mary harvesting sand. She is like a man!” says Felistus Nanjala, Mary’s friend and neighbor. “I feel very encouraged by her commitment to take up this work in order to take care of her family.”
Mary says she won’t stop her work, even when the rains return. With her children in school, she is in need of money all year round, and she hopes her new job will provide enough to supplement her income from farming.
After a full day at the river, Mary walks along a narrow dirt path to her home. She picks up a hoe and starts clearing weeds from her farm. Although it is still some time before her next planting season, Mary wants to be ready when the next drop of rain lands in Luucho.
After decades of farming, the soil on Edouard Munyankindi’s small plot of land in southwest Rwanda had failed him.
Edouard, 61, remembers a time when his half-acre farm could produce enough maize and beans to feed his wife and the oldest of their seven children, but those days were a distant memory by the time he first heard about One Acre Fund in 2010. Degraded soils, a lack of fertilizer, and outdated planting techniques meant that by that time, Edouard typically only harvested enough food to last his family for two months.
Edouard and his wife Leotaria only signed up a small portion of their land with One Acre Fund that first year—but they still saw a big jump in their harvest. The organization delivered fertilizer to a location a 10-minute walk from their house—unlike before, when the nearest supplier was an impossible two hours away. They learned how to plant their crops in rows, properly space seeds, and apply fertilizer in small doses. In their second year with One Acre Fund, they enrolled nearly all of their land.
“That year was the last year of hunger in my house,” Leotaria says, recalling that their harvest of maize, beans, and eggplants was larger than ever before. “I was no longer worried about hunger after that, since I never run out of food.”
The family not only has plenty to eat now, but they’ve also able to invest their extra income in new ways to help pull themselves further out of poverty.
After their first two harvests, Edouard and Leotaria had saved enough money to buy a young bull, which they raised and later sold for a profit. With that additional income, Edouard was able to open a small shop, where he sells items including salt, soap, and clothing. Leotaria still maintains the farm throughout most of the year, but Edouard works in the fields with her during planting seasons and other busy times.
Since joining One Acre Fund, the family’s quality of life has improved in other ways, too. Edouard bought a solar light from the organization, helping the family reduce spending on kerosene. They’re also able to afford health insurance and school fees for their youngest children, Rachel and Aaron. There’s even some left over to spend on their 13 grandchildren, Edouard says.
“Schooling is providing the children with a base for their life,” Leotaria says. “I would like to see Rachel and Aaron finish their studies up to university.”
In a new partnership with the ONE campaign, we’ll be following a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season. From planting to harvest, we will check in with the villagers of Luucho every month to learn about the choices and decisions their families must make as they seek to suvive the hunger season in rural Kenya. To view the original post, click here.
John Sirengo with goats he brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.
John Sirengo almost never stops running.
The livestock seller from Luucho village, Kenya, starts each morning with the first crow of the rooster. With seven children to feed, he’s always on his feet. He jogs eight miles to the nearest market, herding the cows left over from yesterday’s sales with a small stick.
John spends most of the day running from market to market, but he’s not just chasing cattle. He’s also racing after better prices. Cows usually sell for higher sums of money in the morning, so he always tries to be among the first sellers to arrive at the market every day.
“As a businessman, I try to make as much money as I can, even if it means sacrificing my sleep or walking to the furthest markets,” says John, who’s known fondly in his village as Mchurusi. It’s a name that translates to cattle seller in the local Bukusu dialect, although John also buys and sells goats, sheep and chickens.
Arriving early not only guarantees better prices. John is also able to spot and buy the healthy-looking cows before his competitors. He regularly buys cows, anticipating that he will be able to sell them for more money at the next market. Cows with large udders, straight legs, large frames and complete sets of teeth are in high demand and attract top prices.
On a good day, John can make a profit of $20. However, his income is never guaranteed. Market prices fluctuate every week, and it is common for cattle sellers to end up with losses.
Scenes from around Myanja market, one of the markets in Kenya where John sells his livestock.
Sometimes sellers like John are unable to find customers who are willing to pay more for their cattle. That often means they are forced to keep their livestock at home, incurring high costs for feed. John cannot afford such losses. Before traveling to any market, he calls his friends who live nearby to inquire about the prices that day.
“I have many responsibilities to provide food, clothing and education for my family, and so I’m always in need of money,” John says. “Still, I cannot solely depend on selling cattle, and so for three days in a week I work in my farm.”
John, like many Luucho residents, is a smallholder farmer. John owns half an acre of land that he uses to plant maize. For many years, he experienced a series of poor harvests. In 2009, John learned new planting techniques from One Acre Fund, a nonprofit organisation that supplies smallholder farmers across East Africa with seed, fertiliser, and training. John started applying the skills he learned, such spacing his plants in rows, and in the next season, his harvest tripled. While John keeps the majority of his harvest for food, he now has a small portion left over to sell when he goes to the market to trade his livestock.
Goats John brought to sell at Myanja market in Chwele, Kenya.
Apart from selling his own produce, John also helps other Luucho farmers find good markets for their crops. While conducting his cattle business, John scouts for the markets offering the highest prices for maize and other farm produce. Many of his neighbours knock on his door in the evenings to ask where they should sell their crops the next day.
Those evening courtesy visits also come from neighbours who are interested in buying cattle.
“The whole village trusts me to choose the best cows. If people want cows for milk, beef or to pay a dowry, they all come to me,” John says. “I’ve built good relationships with all my neighbours because of my work.”
John also plays the role of a banker. Despite the small income he makes for his business, John is among the highest-earning people in Luucho. Most of the people living in his village depend solely on agriculture for their livelihoods and have to raise money from limited income sources to feed their families. Because of this, John often lends small quantities of cash to his neighbours to buy food.
“This season, we have not received enough rainfall. Our crops wilted, and as a result we are going to harvest very little,” John says. “I’m worried because this means the whole village will be hungry.”
If indeed farmers in Luucho harvest little food this season, then John as their Mchurusi will become more important to his village than ever before. The demand for him to lend money to his neighbours will increase, and in turn, John will need to wake up even earlier to find a better price for his cows.
Want to keep up to date with the citizens of Luucho? Check back next month for part three of this year’s harvest series.
How far are you from the nearest power outlet? If you’re in North America or Europe, the answer is likely within 20 feet. But what would it mean if the nearest outlet wasn’t even in your neighborhood?
In most East African countries, only 10 to 20 percent of people have daily access to electricity, even in urban locations, according to a 2012 World Bank report. The situation is even more critical in rural areas, where people often lack access to even their most basic needs. Homes without electricity also don’t have running water or refrigeration, which can influence sanitation behaviors, cooking, and grocery shopping frequency. This also can affect how populations spend their money and time. And, the vast majority of these rural populations are farmers, since more than 75 percent of the world’s poor farm as a profession.
Most rural East Africans do not own cars, so the challenges are even tougher for farmers trying to access seeds, fertilizer, competitive markets, or even a safe place to keep their money.
So, how do farmers in East Africa get around?
The reality is that many of them walk, often barefoot or in flip-flops. For farmers who don’t own a bicycle or motorcycle, this is the most affordable way to get somewhere.
“I never have the 20 Kenyan shillings (approximately $0.19) that people use to go into town, so I prefer to walk,” says Christine Nakhumicha, a widowed mother who lives on the outskirts of Chwele, Kenya. “It’s not so far away, and it’s good for my health.”
Christine starts most days by walking to get water. There is a water pump at a church roughly 30 meters from her house, but it regularly runs dry, so she often has to walk 30 minutes to the nearest stream. From there, she’ll fill as many jugs of water as she can carry back home. On average, she returns to the stream for water one or two more times each day.
“I need the water to do everything: cooking, drinking, washing, and to water my cows,” Christine says.
Depending on the day, Christine might also walk to the market for some household shopping, or go to meet with the community savings group that she belongs to. The savings group is the closest thing Christine has to a bank. Each week, members pay a set amount, and one individual takes the lump sum to use for personal needs.
“The meetings for the savings group rotate through the houses of the eight farmers who are involved,” Christine says. “The furthest from me is a two-hour walk, but I have to attend so that I am able to receive the money when it is my turn to do so. Then the market can take an hour to get to and then an hour back.”
Bicycle or Boda Boda
Another popular transportation method is by bicycle. Whether it’s a personally owned bike or a bicycle taxi, known as a boda boda in Kenya, bicycles are deeply linked to farmer mobility.
The term boda boda, which is sometimes also used for motorbikes in other East African countries, stems from a history of people using bicycles and motorbikes to carry items across land borders between countries such as Kenya and Uganda. Because this was the cheapest way to travel longer distances, bicycle taxis became affectionately named after the journey. With a hint of Swahili flare, the name shifted from border to border to boda boda.
Francis Mamati, a smallholder farmer in western Kenya, purchased his first bicycle in 1985 to help him travel around for work. By 2006, his bike had started to break down, but since his farming was going well, he was able to upgrade to a newer model.
Similar to Christine, Francis spends most of the time he isn’t farming traveling to access basic necessities like food and water.
“Here we have a problem of water,” he says. “We must go very far to get water, and we would then have to carry the water up a very steep hill. If I don’t have money, and I have a journey I need to make, I can cycle there. To use a boda is too expensive compared to having your own. If I get a boda to take me somewhere, then I also get charged for any waiting, so owning a bicycle is cheaper over time.”
Still, many farmers cannot afford to purchase a bicycle upfront, which means bicycle taxis are a booming business in East Africa. Outside of cities, everything from couches to 100-pound pigs can be seen being transported by bicycle.
Motorbike or Piki Piki
When the terrain is too hilly, the load too heavy, or the distance too far, motorbikes become the next transportation solution. In Kenya, motorbike taxis are known as piki pikis.
For 63-year-old smallholder farmer Juliana Wavomba, using a motorbike taxi is the most effective way to run her business. Juliana goes to the market daily to buy a type of collard green called sukuma wiki in bulk, and then sells it in local villages to those who can’t afford to go to the market. She uses the extra money to care for her six grandchildren.
“I always want to get to the market very early so that I can get the freshest vegetables,” Juliana says. “With a motorbike, I’m assured that I can get there any time I want, and the motorbike owner will come and pick me up from my home.”
To get the freshest sukuma, Juliana leaves her house at 6 a.m. most mornings to embark on an hour-long motorbike ride, which gets her to the market right as the shops open. Juliana says she prefers to take a motorbike because otherwise the journey to the market and back would take up too much of her day, and with the motorbike, she knows she’ll make it on time.
“I think bicycles are slow, and they might not be able to carry my large bags of sukuma,” Juliana says. “On the other hand, public transport buses would want to charge me both for my fare and all my sukuma bags, so I prefer using a piki piki.”
Minibuses, vans, and other means of public transportation are available for some rural populations, but like Juliana, many people struggle to afford them.
Smallholder farmers in East Africa often don’t have regular access to their daily necessities, much less the right types of seeds and fertilizer or markets to sell their crops. This is why One Acre Fund puts an emphasis on distribution and delivery, helping farmers attain the tools they need to produce more food. We believe that this is the best way to support rural populations in growing their way out of hunger and poverty.
Kija Katemana hadn’t ever owned much. The 36-year-old single mother of four rented both her house and a small plot of land in rural Tanzania. The little income she earned from farming and selling baked samosas in town went entirely toward food and trying to pay her children’s school fees. She always felt as if she didn’t have much to show for her years of hard work.
Each year, Kija hoped to harvest enough maize to do more than pay the rent on her land again the following year. However, her three-acre farm plot rarely produced more than 10 sacks of maize – not enough to feed her family or generate extra money to change her status quo.
“Life was a real challenge then,” Kija says. “Sometimes we’d go the night without a meal. There were even times when I would have a little money from work that day, but I couldn’t find food to buy.”
In late 2013, Kija learned One Acre Fund was operating in her village. She heard they would provide agricultural training to help farmers improve their yields. So, she took a gamble and enrolled.
“I had only ever used local seed, and I had no idea how to space anything when I planted,” Kija says. “I sometimes would use a little fertilizer as well, but I didn’t know how much was correct to use.”
It turned out that One Acre Fund’s training would be the key she had been missing to improving her yields. When harvest time rolled around in 2014, she produced 20 sacks of maize from one acre of land. Kija was in disbelief.
Since then, she’s continued to plant with One Acre Fund year after year, and slowly she has started to alter her finances.
“My family can eat as many times a day as we like now,” Kija says. “My kids now are joyful knowing they’ll always come home to a meal. Before One Acre Fund, meat at our house was unheard of, but now we can have it any time we want.”
Not only has Kija been able to provide food for her family year-round, but she’s also made investments. In 2014, she sold a portion of her harvest and bought her own quarter acre of farm land. The next year, she built her own house. Between the two purchases, she’s now saving roughly $12 each month that she used to spend on rent.
“With that money, I’ve now been able to take all four of my children to school,” Kija says.
She also has grown her samosa-baking operation. She produces roughly double what she could before because she can afford to buy more ingredients upfront.
“Before I thought my life would be one of hardship, but thanks to One Acre Fund, I feel free of that life now,” Kija says. “I feel very confident that I am able to take care of my children, unlike before. The future I see ahead is now bright.”
In a new partnership with ONE campaign, we’ll be following a small community called Luucho in Western Kenya through the agricultural season. From planting to harvest, we will check in with the villagers of Luucho every month to learn about the choices and decisions their families must make as they seek to suvive the hunger season in rural Kenya. To view the original post, click here.
About 250 miles northwest of Nairobi, Kenya, the sun rises over Luucho, a quiet village nestled between large granite boulders. At the centre of the village, there is an outdoor market where three orange, dusty roads intersect, bordered by thick and thorny vegetation.
In the morning, the market begins to stir as the first of the vendors arrive to unlock their booths and restock their shelves. Later in the day, the vendors will be busy counting change and wrapping items in recycled newspapers. Until then, they work quickly to prepare for their customers and try to stay out of the sun’s increasingly punishing heat.
Residents of Luucho gather at a water pump to collect water to take to their homes, most of which do not have running water.
On the outskirts of the market lives 66-year-old David Wanangeiye, one of the village elders responsible for solving minor disputes in the community. Also trying to escape the sun’s wrath, David takes refuge under a lone tree outside his mud-walled home.
“This has been an extraordinary year. I’ve never experienced a year as hot as this in my whole life,” David says, his eyes gazing up toward the sky. “But I can see signs of the coming rain everywhere now.”
A woman farms her rocky field in Luucho, Kenya.
Like many smallholder farmers in Luucho, David depends solely on the rain to water his crops. In an ordinary season, the rains start somewhere between late February and early March with most farmers planting seeds by mid-March. This year, the fields sit empty, waiting, while farmers anxiously await the return of the rains. It’s now late March.
“My grandfather taught me that if the rain pours heavily at night, then it’s time to start planting. Every night before bed I walk outside and look to the sky searching for dark clouds,” David says. “I pray the rains start soon because if not, then this whole village will lack food in a few months.”
Signs around Luucho village.
Ironically, lack of food is a common struggle for farmers in western Kenya. The majority of farmers run out of food three to four months after harvesting, leading to a period of food insecurity that lasts until the next year’s harvest is mature. This period is commonly referred to as wanjala in Bukusu, the local dialect; it means “hunger season.” During this time, farmers and their families will rely on a cup of tea or porridge in place of a meal.
Wanjala is still vivid in Shalene Simiyu’s mind. Shalene lives about 300 feet east of David’s home and could never grow enough food to make it through the entire year. Usually, Shalene managed to harvest just one bag of maize from her half-acre farm, and this single sack of food would only last her family of six for two months. For the rest of the year, her family would be limited to one meal a day.
“When we had no food in the evening, I would give my children a cup of water and then ask them to go to sleep. But they could not sleep because their stomachs were hungry, so I had to stay awake the whole night trying to calm them down,” Shalene says.
One Acre Fund field officer Salate Oteba hands out planting trainings to Shalene (far left) and her neighbors as part of a One Acre Fund crop training.
In 2009, Shalene bought seed and fertiliser from One Acre Fund, a nonprofit social enterprise that delivers farm inputs on credit to farmers in remote areas of East Africa and trains them on how to increase farm productivity and income.
Armed with new agricultural knowledge and supplies, Shalene increased her harvest that season to an astounding eight bags of maize. With this food, she was able to defeat the hunger season and feed her family for the full year. Since then, she has continued to improve her crop yields, and says she even has a surplus that she can share with her neighbours.
Shalene Simiyu and her daughter Lenise Nafulasit together in their house in Luucho.
“All I wanted was to give my children a good life. I’m now happy when I see them smiling and happy because I’m able to provide them with at least three meals in a day,” Shalene says. “I pray for rains so that I’m able to continue producing enough food for my family.”
At half past noon, a distant gong signals lunchtime at Luucho primary school. As her children arrive home, Shalene quickly moves to the kitchen and starts serving a meal of rice and beans. She is soon joined by Christine Nanjala, her immediate neighbour and friend. The two friends chat happily as they arrange the plates on the table.
Residents of Luucho travel primarily by foot or bicycle.
According to Christine, a meal of rice and beans is common for this time of year in many Luucho households. Since onset of the dry season three months ago, green vegetables have become scarce and expensive. Villagers now depend on other foods that can be dried and stored, and beans fit the bill.
“During the dry season, all the farms in this village are empty, so our options become limited. I’m looking forward to the start of the rains because then there will be plenty of fresh vegetables in the farm for us to choose from,” Christine says, Shalene nodding in agreement.
Shalene’s children (from left) Laban Wanyonyi, Mark Wekesa, and Getrine Nasimiyu eat a lunch of rice and beans at home in Luucho.
Shalene and Christine clear the table after the children finish lunch, and the two women prepare to head out in the heat to the market where Shalene sells clothes, fish, and mangoes.
Unlike the morning, the market is now abuzz with activity. Sellers and their customers bargain to get the best price. Music booms from several shops, and a growing line forms at the cereals mill, where parents wait their turn to grind grains into flour for porridge. Unexpectedly, a cool breeze sweeps through and the whole market pauses for a moment. Everyone looks to the sky, hoping—perhaps today will be the day when the rain finally returns.
Want to know if the rain finally falls over Luucho? Check back next month for part two of this year’s harvest series.
Pascaline Ntangyungwi sorts through her beans
She had little left to lose. Most years, smallholder farmer Pascaline Ntangyungwi would only harvest marginally more than the amount of seed she planted. Without any other income source, she found her poor harvests not only translated into hunger, but a failure to provide the education she had envisioned for her seven children.
“For years we couldn’t even harvest enough to last one month because we didn’t know how to plant well,” Pascaline says. “It was also so difficult to get fertilizer. We’d travel far to buy it, and often the shops would run out… If I got to the shop and there wasn’t any fertilizer left, I would plant without it because I couldn’t afford to wait.”
Pascaline recounts walking two hours, mostly on mountainous footpaths, to the nearest shop in the Burundian countryside where she might be able to buy fertilizer, and then often leaving empty-handed with a heavy heart knowing her harvests would suffer. She would then plant by scattering her seeds at random and hope somehow she might harvest more than the year before.
Then, four years ago, she heard news that promised to change her agricultural practices and possibly more. Her neighbors told her about a new company that had arrived in Burundi and was coming to their village. Pascaline took note because she heard the business would deliver fertilizer near her house and provide trainings on how to use it. After attending a meeting, Pascaline enrolled with One Acre Fund.
That year, Pascaline bought fertilizer on credit, which she was able to pick up just a 15-minute walk from her front door. She also took time to measure the spacing between her rows, between each seed as she planted, and the amount of fertilizer she used. Though the process overall was a bit more time-consuming upfront, Pascaline says it paid off.
In 2012 she harvested, 880 pounds of beans—more than double any other harvest she had ever produced on her land.
“I felt so happy about having food for my family,” she says. For the next few years, Pascaline continued to harvest well and started to dream.
Now, Pascaline is a proud mother. At 54, her oldest children are in their early 20’s and 30’s and her youngest are approaching high school. She and her husband never continued their education past elementary school, and she had always wanted better for her children.
Each year, Pascaline would save a portion of her harvest for food, and then sell some to support her older children in pursuing advanced educations. In 2015, she even chose to invest in more land so she could increase her revenue further.
“I bought the land with one intention: to increase my production,” Pascaline says.
Pascaline's son Yves attends university in the country's capital, Bujumbura
Today, two of Pascaline’s sons are in university in the country’s capital, Bujumbura. Norbet, 25 years old, is training to be a civil engineer, and Yves, 21, is studying math. Her younger children also now grow up with the expectation that they too will go to college. This is something Pascaline feels especially proud of.
“It would not have been possible for my children to attend university before because we had poverty,” she says. “Now we have so much, and I have pride.”
Alice Nasambu, Kenyan smallholder farmer
Alice Nasambu always has money on her mind. Most of her children are still young, and she is determined that all five of them receive a good education, which means building up her savings now.
The desire to save for the future is what first prompted Alice to plant trees. To her village neighbors—who regularly struggle with hunger—planting an inedible crop seemed illogical. But with the nearest savings bank more than hour's walk from her home in rural Kenya, growing a crop with the intention of selling it several years later presented a unique opportunity.
“Trees are the closest bank I have,” Alice says. “With trees, one is generating money from an investment. Eventually when they are tall, one can sell the trees and get a lot of money in return.”
Alice first started planting trees years ago, inspired by the profit she heard was possible from selling mature trees. At first, she planted Eucalyptus trees, which worked well the first year. However, in subsequent years, she noticed her other crops were not doing very well.
“Even the texture of the soil in my field changed. The soil was very dry and brown in color,” Alice says. She later learned that Eucalyptus trees require significant amounts of water and nutrients to grow, and were robbing her crops and soil of both.
Disappointed with her trees and in search of new investment opportunities, Alice joined One Acre Fund, purchasing a variety of farming products on credit. One of those products was Grevillea tree seeds.
Alice and her son Abel (6) stand alongside one of their young Grevillea trees
Alice had learned about Grevillea trees from a One Acre Fund field officer. Similar to Eucalyptus, Grevillea trees grow quickly and grow straight, which makes them marketable as timber for building houses and furniture. Unlike Eucalyptus trees, however, Grevillea tree leaves are nutrient-rich and contribute to soil fertility when they fall around the trees. Alice realized that by planting Grevillea trees, she could get the financial benefits she hoped for from Eucalyptus without her compromising her harvest yield.
Grevillea trees, which are worth less than $1 USD as saplings, become worth roughly $15 USD a piece after six years. For smallholder farmers like Alice, this is an incredible return on investment. In Western Kenya, the profits from just 10 six-year-old trees could cover an entire term of a child’s high school tuition—and the trees rapidly increase in value each year after that.
“This is a lot of money for poor farmers like me," Alice says, standing next to one of her young Grevillea trees. "My children will be in high school by the time my trees mature, and I use that money for their school fees."
Alice with her sons Abel (6) and Bednego (8)
Since joining One Acre Fund in 2011, Alice has planted Grevillea trees every year. After talking with her field officer, Alice chose to plant her trees around her house and the perimeter of her farm, so that they wouldn’t take up valuable space for edible crops in her field. In total, she has roughly 65 Grevillea trees scattered about her property, growing tall and strong.
With a few of her trees already approaching the six-year mark, Alice feels she can rest assured that her dreams of educating her children will come to be. Her 14-year-old daughter Wendy will start secondary school next year, when Alice’s first round of trees reach maturity.
“Wendy hopes to be a doctor someday,” Alice says. Her smile is the smile of a woman on track to accomplish her goals.
Alice and her son Abel, standing near one of their Grevillea trees (tallest tree to their left)
Agnes Kemunto, surrounded by her sukuma wiki crop
Sukuma wiki is Swahili for collard greens, but the literal translation means “pushing through the week.” In western Kenya, it is common for smallholder farmers to eat this leafy green during the financially lean weeks of the year.
Sukuma wiki is nutritious, full of fiber and vitamin A, and is also relatively affordable. Though it is cheap to buy, Agnes Kemunto, a smallholder farmer in Masaba, Kenya, is making big money from it.
“Sukuma is making me rich,” Agnes laughs. “My whole village depends on sukuma to feed their families and they all line up at my house every day to buy from me.”
Just three years ago, Agnes was not able to feed her own family, let alone a whole village. Each season she would invest the little money she had in seed and fertilizer purchased from local retailers. Often, the expired seed and fertilizer would produce low yields, and Agnes’ family would inevitably go hungry. And then, before she knew it, it was time to purchase planting supplies and begin the frustrating cycle again.
“I had given up on farming. I always wondered why I should spend so much energy and money on farming in a year, and then watch my family sleep hungry the following year,” Agnes says.
In 2013, Agnes took out a loan for seed and fertilizer from One Acre Fund. Along with the loan she also received sukuma seeds and planting trainings. In that season, Agnes planted her first sukuma garden and made $176 USD in just three months.
Agnes purchased solar lamps on credit from One Acre Fund
Her success didn’t stop there. Through One Acre Fund, Agnes was able to buy two cell phone-charging solar lamps on credit. She began earning money every week charging her neighbors’ cell phones, and was able to save the money she had previously spent on kerosene. Agnes’ home now shines brighter at night than any other house in her village.
“I’ve chased darkness out of my house completely. The solar lamp produces so much brightness that people passing by my house at night think I have electricity,” Agnes says.
With profits from her sukuma wiki and solar lamps, Agnes has been able to educate her children. Two of her children are currently studying at university.
“I work very hard in school because I hope one day I will be able to repay all the hard work my mother does on the farm every day. I respect her a lot,” says Pauline Mwige, Agnes’ daughter, who is studying journalism and communications.
Agnes with her daughter Pauline
In the future, Agnes hopes to expand her business beyond her village. She plans to lease more land this season, plant more sukuma, and hopes to sell her leafy greens to big cities throughout Kenya.
One Acre Fund is hiring for over 60 positions. Apply today to join our family of leaders.
This blog was written by Evariste Bagambiki, and originally published by FoodTank. To view the original piece, click here.
Odette Nyirahabineza winnows her beans.
It is 9 a.m. in Ruhinga, Rwanda, and everyone in Odette Nyirahabineza’s family is busy with doing something different. Her daughters Chantal Mujawimana, 21, and Françoise Nishimwe, 19, are working in the field; her husband Francois Sebitabi feeds the milk cow; and her youngest children Collette Ibyimanikora, 17, Domina Iradukunda, 14, Emmanuel Kwizera, 12, are at school. Just outside their mud-walled home, Odette picks grass and pebbles out of the beans that she will cook for lunch.
Before Odette married her husband François Sebitabi in 1994, she never thought about planting beans, let alone making them a part of her daily diet. It all started when her first child, Chantal Mujawimana, started to eat solid foods, around the age of two.
“Beans were Chantal’s first favorite food. If there were no beans on her plate, she would be in tears. So I would make sure to put at least a little bit of beans on her plate at every meal,” Odette says.
A year later, Odette was blessed with her second child, little Françoise Nishimwe. Given her experience with her first baby, Odette wasn’t altogether surprised when, around the two-year mark, it became clear that beans were also Françoise’s favorite food. Odette began to think loving beans was hereditary. With plans to grow her family, she started cultivating beans on her less than an acre farm.
Her kids’ love of beans was the main reason Odette decided to grow beans, but it wasn’t the only one. A nutrition officer from the nearest health center had taught Odette that beans are very nutritious. Odette was excited to grow more beans because of the protein they would deliver to her growing children.
“Beans are very nutritious— they make me strong, and I can work in my field until sunset,” Odette says.“I had known the secret of beans before, but speaking to the nutrition officer confirmed it.”
As the years went by, Chantal and Francoise grew older, but their love of beans remained as strong as when they were toddlers. Odette and her husband had five more children, all of whom shared their older siblings’ enthusiasm for beans.
Over time, it became clear that Odette’s 220-pound bean harvest was just not enough to feed such big family. Once her harvest ran out, she would sell some of her bananas to buy beans, so that she could feed her family while she waited for her next bean to mature enough to harvest.
“I was not able to purchase clothes for the kids regularly anymore. At a certain point, I started using the income from my bananas to buy beans instead of buying clothes,” Odette says
Odette stands with her family and her bean harvest.
With seven kids to feed and clothe, Odette decided to enroll with One Acre Fund in 2012. She purchased fertilizer on credit and learned improved planting techniques, including how to micro-dose fertilizer and how to properly space seed. Her hope was that the improved planting techniques would be enough to turn things around for her family.
That year, Odette’s beans harvest doubled. She and her family were able to enjoy beans grown on their own farm year-round, and she was once again able to buy the children the clothes they needed. The next year, Odette increased the amount land where she grew beans.
“I thought big when I expanded the amount of land for bean-growing; I was no longer worried about the harvest shortage. Since I was secure with having enough beans for food at home, I planned to sell my surplus to pay for our needs in the future,” Odette says.
In 2013, Odette’s dreams came true. That year, she sold her bean surplus and purchased a goat for $13 USD. That goat has since produced three more goats. Odette is still raising all of them, though she is planning to sell two of them in September to buy Christmas clothes for her children.
“My harvest store room never runs out of beans. Even better, there are no more tears from any of my kids because we don’t have beans for dinner. When I chose to grow beans those years ago, I knew I made the right choice!” Odette says.
If you're interested in helping farmers like Odette grow their way out of hunger and poverty, apply to join the One Acre Fund field team today!
Page 1 of 14 pages 1 2 3 > Last ›