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In Kilili village, Makueni County, Eastern Kenya, a group of women are busy working in a farm under the supervision of a trainer. The women are members of a group known as Kilili Kathatu Kilimo Biashara Self Help Group (KIKA) and are receiving training on conservation agriculture (CA).

Members of this group are mainly small-scale cotton farmers who have previously used disc ploughs or hoes to prepare soil before planting. The trainers have been engaged by Kenya Markets Trust to equip the farmer groups with CA skills and create awareness around the same as they develop a strategy for the services to be offered to the farmers either through Tillage Service Providers or agrodealers. The 2.3 acres of land they are using for training belongs to Boniface Kitemu who has been a cotton farmer for over twenty years and is the group’s Secretary.

On his farm, Boniface Kitemu has planted cotton both with and without CA. He planted his non-CA cotton in December 2012 while his CA cotton was planted in January 2013. By February 2013 the CA cotton was already looking much better with the bigger stalks than the non-CA cotton. Even though the balls were destroyed by millibags (a kind of pest) before harvest, he was able to harvest 175kg of cotton from his ¾ acre farm where he used CA compared to 105kg from 2-acre portion without CA. This proved to him that CA can be effective and he is now planning to use it for other crops.

MAP has been supporting key market actors such Quest Agriculture, Meru Ginneries, Makueni Ginneries and Participatory Approaches for Integrated Development (PAFID) to promote CA among farmers.  Quest Agriculture, for example, is among other things, an agent for East Africans Malting Ltd (EAML) (a subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited). They, therefore, need constant supply of sorghum from farmers for further distribution to EAML. Offering training t on CA will increase the farmers’ productivity and thus Quest Agriculture will be able to meet their target to EAML. The farmers will also benefit by increasing their income. KMT is working with these market actors so that when they leave, the actors will still support farmers in CA.

In Makueni, KMT will be working with Makueni ginnery and Tillage Service Providers to offer CA skills to farmer groups. If the ginner train farmer groups on CA, it will create a win-win situation for both the farmers whose production will increase and the ginnery.

A few kilometres away in Kalamba village, a ninety year-old farmer, Kombo Ndula, prepares to harvest his cotton. He is one of the most renowned cotton farmers in Kalamba and was recently awarded Best Cotton Farmer during a Pamba (Cotton) Day celebration. Kombo has been using CA on his farm for the past two years. According to records at Makueni Ginnery, where he sells his cotton, he produces grade one cotton, which is of the highest quality. Despite challenges facing the cotton sector, which include global price fluctuations and high costs of production, farmers like Kombo are producing more and improved cotton as a result of CA. Since he started using CA, his two-acre farm has produced between 500kg to 800kg of cotton much higher than the 200kg that he was producing through conventional farming methods.

In Makueni County, this method of farming has been introduced to cotton farmers to improve yields inexpensively and therefore increase profits. “This method of farming is the best. I do not need so many people to till my land and I do all the weeding by myself using a machete,” declares Kombo.
In addition to cotton, maize farmers in Makueni have also used CA to increase their yields. Maize does not do well under low-rain conditions and many farmers in the area did not harvest any maize from non-CA plots this year. The only farms that yielded good harvest were those with maize under CA. Eunice Nthiwa, a farmer in Mavindini, Makueni who would normally harvest less than 90kg of maize from a 1/4 acre under good rain conditions, harvested over 240kg of maize from the same piece of land under CA.

KMT’s engagement in facilitating uptake of conservation agriculture is at an early stage. We have made significant time investments in building the capacity of market actors to provide CA services to smallholder farmers. We have also focused on catalysing demand among targeted groups of small holders to demonstrate the potential return from adopting the approach. Once appropriate momentum for adoption of conservation agriculture has been established, KMT will progressively look to withdraw from its facilitation role, leaving behind highly capable market actors with the interest and incentive to deliver CA services to farmers on a commercial basis.