Originally published on October 26, 2016.
Located on the eastern side of Meru County, Mugae county is characterized by a sparse population with low and erratic rainfall resulting in food insecurity, environmental degradation and high poverty levels. Massive wind storms carry away the soil from the bare land, making agriculture a unreliable investment.
This however, is home to Francis Mwika, a 47-year-old livestock farmer. Mwika has witnessed crop failures and droughts over the years. He has had to find a way to mitigate the drought effects for the wellbeing of his family of one wife and eight children. He resorted to livestock farming as a source of income. The amount he earned from his sales was used to pay school fees for his children and provide basic household needs, leaving little, if any, for savings. He had not realized the full potential of livestock farming as a business up until he was selected to be a facilitator for Farmer Field Schools (FFSs).
With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mwika received training as a FFSs facilitator through the Kenya Semi-Arid Enhancement Support (K-SALES) project. The four-year project, implemented by Land O’Lakes International Development, seeks to increase agricultural productivity and expand trade in livestock products. Through K-SALES, Mwika was equipped with the necessary knowledge to train other farmers in the FFSs on farm management and improved livestock production techniques. Mwika has formed and trained over 10 FFSs in his area comprising of 384 farmers.
“After the training, I realized that I had taken for granted my livestock over the years. If only I knew some of the things I know now, I would have benefited a lot from my livestock then,” he says. As luck would have it, Mwika, had a chance to invest in his livestock for business. “I had to make some changes in my own home on how I reared my livestock in order to set an example to the farmers I trained.”
Mwika is one of the 150 farmers benefiting from Maji ya Chumvi
spraying and vaccination crush, which is less than 2km away and was constructed by K-SALES. “Before the training, we never used to spray or vaccinate our animals unless they fell sick. We are very grateful for the crush constructed by K-SALES for our community, as we can now spray and vaccinate our animals regularly with ease.” Currently, Mwika sprays his livestock at least three times a month and noted the minimized illnesses brought about by pests and diseases.
He has embraced several lessons to help improve his livestock in terms of breeding. Last year, in order to upgrade his own local sheep, he bought an improved sheep breed, a dorper, which is hardy, fertile and fast-growing. The ewe has since given birth to lambs that are growing rather fast and fetching a higher price at the market. “Just last month, I fetched 3,000 shillings for a one-month-old lamb,” he stated. From these sales, Mwika has since acknowledged that livestock rearing is indeed rewarding, and he plans to increase the number of sheep he owns, adding that they can reproduce as often as three times in a year.
With the dry season around the corner, Mwika has plans to pursue fodder storage as a business especially now that there is a looming food shortage in his area. He had recently stashed fodder for his own animals, but he sold it to another livestock farmer. “I knew fodder could earn me an income but not this much,” he says. “The quantity of the fodder wasn’t much but the buyer surprisingly paid 20,000 shillings for it. I was amazed, and that is when I realized there is a lot of potential in the hay business.” He also received training on financial literacy and plans to borrow a loan from Centenary Sacco, where he is an active member, to enable him to construct a proper hay barn to store his hay for sale.
Mwika is one fortunate farmer that is headed in the right direction. However, not many people in Kenya are as fortunate as Mwika. They lack access to the required information to scale up from subsistence farming to commercial farming. By providing the required knowledge in improved livestock production techniques and technologies, more farmers can see the benefits of keeping livestock as a business venture.