'Everything Is Possible': Lessons for Success from a Kenyan Farmer

By Elizabeth Oywaya

November 22, 2022

A woman smiles as she holds a bunch of green leafy vegetables in her hands while standing in her homestead kitchen garden.
Christine Okode harvesting sukuma wiki, a leafy green, from her homestead kitchen garden. She also cultivates tomatoes, mangoes, avocados and papayas on her farm. Photo by Allan Gichigi/Heifer International.

Christine Okode has a vision that drives her every day. “[I] want a modern farm [where] people can come and learn,” she shared. “An agroecology-oriented farm [where] there is no wastage. That is my dream.”

Christine lives with her family in Kisumu County, Kenya, where she maintains a small homestead garden and runs a poultry farm and an agrovet center that provides farmers with seeds, fertilizers and medicines for livestock. As she manages each of these operations — harvesting fruits and vegetables from her garden, feeding her chickens and helping farmers produce healthy crops and livestock — she finds herself navigating several challenges. And overcoming each takes her one step closer to her dream every day.

Below, she shares learnings she has picked up on her journey as a smallholder farmer trumping the odds.

Learn to Grow

A woman cleaning the insides of her small poultry farm with a rake. The chickens are drinking water from dispensers in the background.
Christine using a rake to clean her poultry house to reduce the risk of disease. Maintaining hygiene and ensuring biosecurity at farms helps producers prevent disease outbreaks and raise healthy livestock. Photo by Allan Gichigi/Heifer International.

Christine’s family used to rear chickens conventionally, keeping a small number of birds with limited knowledge on how to keep them healthy or use them for income. If they lost their flock to disease, Christine said, they would have to start over.

This is the plight of millions of small-scale poultry farmers across the globe. Poultry is the smallest livestock investment a village household can make, with the birds and eggs providing a flexible source of income and nutrition to families. However, disease, lack of education on rearing techniques and unorganized markets impede farmers from turning their livelihood into a sustainable source of income.

Heifer’s Hatching Hope program, a joint initiative with Cargill, supports such smallholder farmers to raise poultry as a means of earning income and improving the nutrition of their families and communities. When Christine joined the project to be trained as an extension worker, she experienced the transformative benefits of learning firsthand.

Through the training, Christine learned effective poultry production techniques, such as vaccinating birds, preparing poultry feed and the importance of biosecurity on farms. Later, as an extension worker, she passed this learning on to other producers in her community.

“When it comes to biosecurity, we have the disinfectant that we use, … we spray the whole house,” Christine shared, referring to how the techniques helped her prevent disease outbreaks among birds and improve her flock size. “At the moment, I have 340 birds.”

Embrace Technology and Innovation 

A woman feeding vegetable waste to worms placed inside large trays filled with soil.
Christine raises red Italian worms in her vermicompost, which helps her turn organic waste from her farm into manure for her kitchen garden. Photo by Allan Gichigi/Heifer International.

As Christine scales her businesses and diversifies her sources of income, technology and innovative solutions introduced by Heifer provide her with efficient ways to improve productivity, save resources and reduce daily labor.

She switched from traditional pan and jar water drinkers, which require regular cleaning, sanitizing and frequent refilling, to automated water dispensers that supply water directly from the tank to the chickens. The process minimizes the waste of water, promotes hygiene and reduces the daily chore of refilling and cleaning drinking equipment. “The time that you will take to wash the drinkers twice a day is enough for you to do [something] that is bringing [more] income to the family,” she shared.

Christine practices vermicomposting, a method of decomposing waste with the help of selected worms, which helps her recycle farm waste and turn organic matter from her kitchen garden and poultry farm into foliar feed for her kitchen garden. She also uses hydroponics, the process of cultivating plants in nutrient-enriched water, which allows her to grow maize and sorghum for poultry feed in small trays on her farm. The tender stalks of the young plants, along with worms, become rich sources of protein and minerals that improve the health and immunity of birds and reduce Christine’s dependency on commercial feeds.

“Those are some of the technologies that we need to work on to empower the women in the community,” Christine shared, stressing how these solutions help women reduce daily toil and improve productivity. “Ladies need to embrace this.”

Build a Community 

A woman selling a pan and jar poultry water drinker to a customer visiting her agrovet center.
As an animal health care worker and the owner of an agrovet center, Christine provides knowledge and supplies to other poultry producers and extension service providers, to help them improve production and build thriving businesses. Photo by Allan Gichigi/Heifer International.

Most smallholder farmers, who often work alone on small pieces of land with limited access to high-quality supplies and market connections, often struggle to find a fair market for their produce. Building a community of educated, active producers and credible buyers helps farmers build sustainable and profitable businesses and resilient communities.

Through her agrovet center, Dic Dic, Christine supplies feed, medicines and vaccines to poultry farmers and other animal health service providers in her community. The project increased demand for these services in the region and, through the project’s trainings, Christine built more relationships with farmers on the foundation of trust and interdependency.

“The farmers that I used to work with… [back] then, they were farmers. I was training them. But currently, they're my customers,” she said, explaining how she earns income while the farmers benefit from the animal health care services she provides.

Semeki, a producer organization supported by Hatching Hope, provides Christine and other producers in her community with a similar platform for reciprocity and solidarity. Farmer cooperatives like Semeki band individual farmers together to pursue shared goals and access knowledge, skills, inputs, services and finance to overcome barriers and build thriving farming businesses.

Such farmers’ groups also provide a platform to address deeper social issues affecting smallholder farmers, especially women. “We need also to talk about [the] gender issue,” Christine said, explaining how most women carry multiple responsibilities of attending to domestic work, childcare needs and farm labor, often with inadequate support from their families.

“This is not something for one person, it is a family project,” she added. “We need to join hands."

Aspire and Act 

A woman studies a financial record book while sitting in her shop where she sells seeds, fertilizers and health care products for livestock and poultry.
Project-led business development and financial management training helps farmers and entrepreneurs like Christine plan business goals, keep records, track performance and adjust their business strategy, when required. Photo by Allan Gichigi/Heifer International.

Christine shares that her vision of building her farm — a site to educate farmers on sustainable agriculture and provide all the necessary supplies and services to help them grow their own businesses — is achievable because she carries strength, wisdom and hope within herself.

“It is true, it is a lot of work and it requires time. But one thing I would like to encourage … begin with what you have,” Christine shared, expressing how small steps helped her grow into a thriving farmer and a determined individual.

“Work towards it and you will achieve it,” she added. “Nothing is impossible. Everything is possible.”