FARM-Africa is one of the partners we have been working with in Africa for some time. In 2006 we supported the final stages of one of their projects working in Northern Tanzania, helping 260 farmers to access seeds and improve their skills at growing fruit and vegetables. The results were very encouraging, (and you can read more about them here), so in 2007 we agreed to fund a second project of theirs, this time in Southern Sudan (you can read more about this here)
Then there was with a third project, which we started funding in 2010 for two years. It offers real opportunities for farmers working in a very dry area of Kenya to improve their farming techniques, but it will also transfer learning from the initial project we supported in Tanzania. We really like being able to invest in great ideas that are developed and then used elsewhere too.
Now, since March 2011, we are supporting a fourth project, back to Tanzania for this one in northern Tanzania which aims to contribute to the long-term improvement in the condition of the Nou Forest; a vital natural resource for many communities in the region. The project aims to contribute to the sustainable reduction in poverty of forest-based households through addressing the cause-and-effect relationship between poverty and forest degradation in Tanzania.
Two thirds of the Kenyan population rely on farming to survive, but droughts are increasing in frequency and many struggle to grow sufficient food to feed their families, let alone have surplus to sell for income. Whilst around 57% of the households in Tanzania cannot meet their basic food and non-food needs and poverty is concentrated in rural areas where households are heavily dependent on environmental resources such as forests for their income
FARM-Africa has been working with very poor rural communities in Africa since 1985. Their aim is to transform the lives and futures of African farmers - to help them grow more food, raise healthy livestock, and manage their natural resources both profitably and sustainably.
FARM-Africa’s Dryland Farming Project aims to rapidly improve household food security for farming families in Kitui and Mwingi districts of Eastern Kenya. The project will increase agricultural production by training farmers on improved techniques and methods of growing crops and vegetables in dry areas.
Kitui and Mwingi districts of Eastern Province are classified as arid and semi arid lands, receiving inadequate and erratic rainfall of 400-700 millimetres per year. Over 60% of the population of Kitui and Mwingi districts live in absolute poverty. The average distance to water points is 10km during the dry season and these are shared by a number of communities. Most land holdings are small, and currently barely yield sufficient food for a household’s needs.
Whilst Kitui and Mwingi have always been dryland areas, in recent years rainfall has become less predictable and droughts more frequent. Consecutive years of drought between 2000 and 2005 virtually destroyed vegetation ground cover, which resulted in severe erosion of topsoil. The area was also badly affected by drought in 2009, with Mwingi district receiving an average of only 10% of the expected short rains, resulting in 95-98% crop failure and 56% of the population classed as highly food insecure. Traditional farming practices are no longer effective, so new techniques are needed to improve crop yields in dryland areas.
The overall objective of FARM-Africa’s Dryland Farming Project is to improve household food security for small scale farming families through the use of improved sustainable cropping systems and dryland farming practices. It is a new programme of work which started in January 2010. It takes the experience gained in the project we previously funded in Tanzania and is adapting it to improve things in this area.
This large project will run for just 2 years and we are supporting part of the work focusing on training 1,000 lead farmers in 42 farmer groups on growing drought tolerant crop varieties. They are being provided with seeds and planting materials in 14 Farmer Field Schools.
The 1,000 lead farmers are also being provided with demonstration tools and equipment to promote soil nutrient recycling and trained and supported to share this knowledge with 6,000 adopter farmers
Water points and soil nutrients need to be conserved so 10,000 tree seedlings are being purchased and planted too, in order to protect them from erosion.
FARM-Africa’s Participatory Forest Management Project in northern Tanzania aims to contribute to the long-term improvement in the condition of the Nou Forest which is a vital natural resource for many communities in the region.
Several communities live in, and around, the Nou Forest. Villagers are typically subsistence farmers who depend on agriculture and livestock-keeping for their livelihood and struggle to produce sufficient to feed their families. The Nou Forest is a vital natural resource for these local communities and as a water catchment area for many more communities in the region, but is suffering from over-utilisation and encroachment as a growing population of families convert forest land for settlements, cultivation and grazing.
The project, which started in 2009 and will run to the end of December 2012, directly targets 1,120 households in 23 villages in and around the Nou Forest (some 6,720 people). FARM-Africa is working directly with these communities to ensure that the knowledge, skills and experience from the project is embedded within local structures.
The overall objective of the Project is to improve forest condition and forest-based livelihoods. Significant progress has been achieved in the first two years of the project mapping forest boundaries and resources (trees and plants); some rivers which used to be dry are now flowing; and Forest Enterprise Groups have selected a range of alternative livelihood enterprises to trial e.g. beekeeping and mushroom farming where groups have started to see regular income from their activities. To achieve long-lasting impact the project will continue to work with 13 primary target communities in 2011 and 2012; supporting the replication of project.
In their last report FARM-Africa confirmed that things have really moved forward:
- 42 Farmer Groups have been established and each group has selected a leader (or “champion farmer”).
- 1,000 lead farmers have been recruited
- All 42 Champion Farmers (22 women and 20 men) have also received training on soil and water conservation.
- 5,674 adopter farmers have been recruited to date (4,219 women and 1,455 men).
- 14 Farmer Field Schools have been established by the project; five in Kitui and nine in Mwingi district. These are a group-based learning approach that brings farmers together in a central place/farm for learning purposes. In regular sessions on topics such as planting and harvesting, groups of neighbouring farmers learn by doing, observing and discussing the different approaches. The factors considered in selecting the sites for the Farmer Field Schools included accessibility by road, centrality to participating farmers and proximity to a water source
- Eight farmer field days have been undertaken, attended by 4,070 farmers (2,669 women and 1,401 men). The theme of the field days was adopting appropriate dryland farming techniques and growing drought-tolerant crops to improve food security
- So far, the project has identified, recruited and trained 12 Water Management Committees, responsible for maintaining and managing the water point, including charging users a small fee. This income is then used to cover the costs of repairs or routine maintenance
- The seven water points currently operational are serving 6,500 households enabling farmers to access clean water without having to walk long distances.
- The adoption of drought-tolerant crops has been more rapid than originally expected, with some project farmers in Nuu and Ngomeni having 75% of their cultivated land under drought-tolerant crops.
Unfortunately things do not always go smoothly as whilst rainfall has been adequate in Kitui district, Mwingi is much drier and has been particularly arid since the October – December 2010 rains failed and there is a general shortage of drought-tolerant crop seeds among the major Kenyan seed suppliers. This is due to the poor October-December rains which significantly increased demand for improved seeds
Agnes Syombua Kilnozi lives in Mutusya village, Ngomeni division, Mwingi district with her 8 children. She and her husband have a 7 acre plot but couldn’t grow enough to meet the needs of their large family so her husband left home to find employment at a town some 150 Kms away.
Agnes searched & eventually found water on her land at a depth of 39 feet from which she drew water manually with buckets and started to grow onions, kale, amaranths (a local green vegetable) and spinach. She joined FARM-Africa’s Dryland Farming project and has received a drip irrigation kit (rubber piping) and training in using drip irrigation which has reduced the time she spends watering her vegetables and the amount of water she uses. She has also been able to borrow tools such as a wheelbarrow, mattock and jembes (hoes) from her farmer group. Agnes also received training in how to set up vegetable seed beds and nurseries and she is now providing vegetable seedlings to the other 8 project groups in Ngomeni division.
Agnes has benefitted a lot from increasing her vegetable cultivation. Villagers come to her farm to buy vegetables and she also sells a significant amount at a nearby market in Kamusiliu providing her with regular income. The income she gets is enabling her to pay school fees for her children, buy clothes and other food. With the help of the project Agnes has also started planting mangoes and papaya. She plans to invest some of her income from vegetable and fruit sales into a pump so that she can increase the amount of her land she has under irrigation and grow more fruit and vegetables.