In 2013, the planting season in Gongo, Kenya started with heavy rains. But just as quickly as the rains had arrived, they faded. Soon after, farmers in the area were facing severe drought.
Farmers in Gongo who had recently joined One Acre Fund were disappointed. They had seen how, in previous years, their neighbors’ harvests had increased after learning new planting methods. They had been anxiously awaiting the same transformation in their own fields.
Janet Adhiambo, 47, was one of these farmers.
“Last year was a hard season,” explains Janet, “The crops started well, but then there was too much sun and many of them just withered away.”
Because of the drought, the maize yield during Janet’s first year working with One Acre Fund was actually lower than the year before. Despite that, she saw something else happening.
For the first time in years, Janet had planted sorghum – a type of grain promoted by One Acre Fund in Kenya – as well as the traditional maize. And, for the first time ever, her sorghum grew well.
“Before, the sorghum would grow very tall but the harvest would still be very little. The most sorghum I had ever harvested on one acre was one bag. Last year, I harvested two bags on half an acre,” Janet explains happily.
She attributes the difference to planting methods she learned from One Acre Fund.
“Before I used to just toss the seeds out on the land,” she explains, “I think I was using too much seed on a small portion of land. Now I have learned to make rows and to measure the fertilizer I apply.”
One of the reasons that One Acre Fund promotes sorghum is that it’s more resistant to drought. Compared with the more popular maize, sorghum requires around 1/3 less water and can survive longer when the rains are delayed. That means that planting sorghum alongside maize and other crops helps to mitigate risk and prepare farmers for just this sort of situation.
Without the sorghum crop, Janet and her four children would not have had enough food to feed themselves for the whole year. “By mixing the sorghum harvest into my maize,” says Janet, “I had enough food to feed my family.”
Because of Janet’s sorghum success in 2013, she chose to enroll with One Acre Fund again this year. This year, Gongo hasn’t experienced any unusual weather, and Janet feels confident about her crops.
“I am happy,” she says with a calm smile and a nod, “my crops look strong, and my field is the first of all my neighbors to be ready to harvest. I will be the first person to have food in the area, and being first makes me feel special because others will notice!”
In the coming month, Janet expects to harvest more maize than she ever has in her lifetime. She estimates her half-acre of sorghum will produce close to 600 pounds of grain. “If I harvest well this season, I am confident I will have enough food.” she explains. “I’ll even have enough to sell some of my crops to pay my children’s school fees.”
With four children, Janet pays a total of 25,000 Kenyan Shillings ($285 USD) per year in school fees. And as the children get older, she expects the school fees to increase.
“I hope my children will do well in school and pass their exams. I want them to have the chance to go to college, and I am up for the challenge of getting them there,” Janet says. “I feel my life at the moment is not what I had anticipated it to be. When I invest in my children and they succeed, then I’ll finally feel I am living the life I had dreamed of.”