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The Busia-Kisumu highway snakes past the vibrant Ugunja town. Almost a kilometer from the town, toward Kisumu, off the highway, there's Ulwan village in West Uholo Location. And in this village, a small-scale farmer, Mr. Stephen Onyango goes about his duties uninterrupted. Courtesy of Heifer International, Steve, as he's famously known by the locals, is a living example as to why farming, if taken seriously, can uplift one's economic status.
Steve's fortunes can be traced back to the year 2008 when he got training on better farming techniques from Heifer International, an organization he knew through his Songa Mbele (moving forward) women group.
“The training was done by Heifer International staff on individual farmers' farms,” he says. “After getting the knowledge, I started putting what I learned to work.”
The output he got surpassed his targets and since then, with the support of his wife, his farm output has been on the rise. The type of farming he practices is known as kitchen gardening, a system that aims at maintaining soil fertility while improving productivity on a small piece of land. This does not come out of idle talk but hard work and commitment.
Kitchen gardening is just a general term; there are various types of kitchen gardens. “There is the keyhole garden, Mandala garden, Double dug beds, Sack Mount garden and fertility trenches among others,” explains Steve. Coming up with fertile gardens calls for the farmer to assemble numerous wheelbarrows of composed manure and top fertile soil. For instance, a keyhole garden requires eight wheelbarrows of composed manure and the same quantity of top fertile soil.
The dominant crops on Steve's garden are vegetables. He grows kales, cowpeas, carrots, pepper, spinach and onions for subsistence and commercial purposes. He also grows maize and beans. The farming is organized on a meager piece of land, but the production speaks for itself.
The good output is capped by the ready market provided by consumers within the village and vegetable vendors from Ugunja market. Among other merits, Steve says that his farming has ensured food security in his home, income generation and because of food security, he can save some money and plan for further development projects. He adds that most farmers within and beyond the village are lazy and are reluctant to apply the techniques they have been taught, thus the frequent poor outputs.
“They should work hard and implement what they have learnt to improve the productivity,” he advises. To those using fertilizers, he says, “they are destroying their farms since fertilizers contain chemicals that erode the soil- organic manure is the best way to go.”
To him, coming this far is a bonus because of the myriad challenges he faces. He has no water system, for example a water tank/ tap in the compound. As such, the yield is extremely low during dry spells. Away from the water problem, thieves and crops being destroyed by neighbors' livestock make it difficult for him.
Despite all these odds, all is not lost. Individuals and groups keen on replicating what he does make for a long list of visitors he attends to on daily basis. Apart from food production, he rears exotic goats for milk production and local chickens for egg production. From Heifer international, he also learned of the “tip tap” technique. The tip tap is situated close to the latrines whereby one cleans hands while from the latrine. This ensures that for a farmer like him, disease outbreaks are kept at bay.