Makongo Farmers Network in Kiptangwany, Gilgil sub county of Nakuru is a group that has gone through ups and downs since formation 5 years ago but has stood the test.
The group which has over 30 members at the moment after going through many challenges and losses decided focus on organic farming.
According to the group’s chairman Francis Ngiri, the group had initially partnered with Egerton University that saw farmers benefit from farm produce such as beans which went at Kshs.150 per Kilogram.
The partnership also enabled the farmers to have a demonstration farm in the area to enable them learn more on the same as well as exchange training programs.
Ngiri narrates that EFC Bank had them have their first loan of about Kshs.500, 000 which enabled them to buy farm inputs and first production of certified seeds were realized through their farming activities.
However, no much profit was realized and this prompted the farmers to phase 2 productions but the El-Niño rains came and all the crops they had planted were affected.
This, the chair says affected the group so much such that some members left the group after it emerged that they could not pay the loan they had acquired.
“After the rains came all our crops were affected yet we had a loan to pay. Some members were forced to leave the group after they felt disappointed” says Ngiri.
He adds that at that particular time they tried to hold meetings, have petitions to the government but their effort was in vain as they received no assistance from the government.
He says this happened despite government setting some funds to compensate those who had been affected by the El-Niño especially farmers.
Intervention by then Nakuru County Woman Rep Mary Njoki Mbugua through government grant was reprieve to the group as they were able to pay back the loan.
However, Ngiri says the grant only afforded to pay the loan but the farmers were left with nothing to buy even firm inputs prompting some members to leave the group.
It is at this point that Seed Savers Network-an organization that focuses on quality seeds for farmers came in with organic farming concept to the famers which the group embraced.
The organization has seen Makongo Farmers Network members from Kiptangwany attend trainings on organic farming.
Community Seed Bank
Through the trainings, the Group has been able to start a community seed bank-to help improve seedlings that farmers use in their farms.
Farmers are now able to select seeds through trainings.
The seed bank was established 3 years ago with only 10 varieties of seeds but according to the Makongo Farmers Network chair at the moment they have over 45 varieties of seeds from indigenous crops.
Elphas Matsanga from Seed Savers Network in an interview reiterated the need for quality seeds urging organic farmers to ensure they register their seeds to have ownership.
“Ours is to ensure quality seeds for farmers and we call on farmers to understand that they are the owners of the seeds” said Matsanga.
While encouraging the need for more community seed banks establishment, he added that they will continue to work with counties to ensure quality farming and trainings for farmers’ development.
Similar sentiments echoed by Peris Njeri from Seed Savers Network who said information sharing was paramount for improved production.
Saving indigenous seeds
Makongo Farmers Network is focused on saving the indigenous seeds through the seed banks as well as assistance from Seed Savers Network.
The crops are grown without any chemical involved.
Peter Kamau-a farmer and member of the group says diverse crop farming helps avert hunger and is good as far as nutrition is concerned besides the economic benefits to the farmers.
“What we are doing here is diverse indigenous crops farming which have many benefits from averting, nutrition and economic benefits to the farmers” said Kamau.
According to the group members, many diseases in the world could be done away with if people embrace organic foods which have no chemicals.
Makongo Farmers Network chair Mr. Francis Ngiri adds that food security which is one of the big 4 agenda can also be achieved if government supports organic farmers at the grassroot level.
“We have diverse in indigenous seeds and the government should step in to assist organic farmers. This will also ensure food security” he said.
Appeal to Government
Despite the group struggling to ensure the indigenous seedlings are saved through organic farming and community seed banks, they still feel the pinch as they produce the seeds but they cannot sell them until they are certified.
Their appeal to the government is to ensure the organic farmers can sell their seeds as it is in neighboring countries Uganda and Tanzania.
Kenyan law still does not allow the farmers to package and sell the indigenous seeds despite being the owners and the seeds having been certified.
“We need support in the organic farming to ensure indigenous seeds/crops have a space in the markets. The county governments have funds and should support organic farmers.
Makongo Farmers Network at the moment has structural which include the Chair, Treasurer and Secretary and the group is optimistic that if given the required support, they will be able empower the nation as far as organic farming is concerned.
PHOTO/Pristone Mambili:Members of the Makongo Farmers Network in Kitangwanyi,Gilgil Sub county.