Michael Ochieng Laro wheeled his wheelchair in glee as he carefully balanced a trophy in his right hand amid ululation from the crowd.
“This is a big day for us,” whispered one of Ochieng’s handlers guiding him through the crowd back to his seat.
The 44-year-old farmer who grows a variety of crops on five acres in Apondo, Nyando overcame his physical disability to earn from the soil.
“I’m happy that my efforts have been recognised at the national level,” offered Ochieng, the winner of the Physically Challenged Persons in Agriculture category at the recently concluded National Farmers Awards Scheme organised by Elgon Kenya Ltd and Ministry of Agriculture.
But winning didn’t come easy for the farmer and 23 others who were feted last week in Nairobi.
Ochieng said he has been farming for more than 20 years, growing climate-resilient crops like cassava, sorghum, watermelon and managu for his consumption and for sale.
“I do most of the farm work myself and my family and only hire people when planting, weeding or harvesting,” explained the farmer.
He has six oxen and a plough which he uses to till his farm. He also hires them out at a fee.
CONSULTS AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION OFFICERS
“I earned good money from sorghum, cassava and managu but the melons were affected at some point by floods. I am a full-time farmer and I use proceeds from farming to educate my children,” pointed out Ochieng, who also keeps 40 chickens of the indigenous variety.
He sells his produce to traders in Ahero market. He attributed his success to his closeness with agricultural extension officers in his area, saying that he consults them regularly.
To register for the competition, a farmer picks entry forms from the agricultural offices at their counties or download online, fill and return as advised, usually sometime in April.
Agricultural officers at the county level then go through the submissions, visit the farms and select the most outstanding for the next round.
“From the county level the results are passed to the national level from where experts at the Ministry of Agriculture take over the judging process. Therefore, the process is fair and independent,” explained Bimal Kantaria, the chief executive of Elgon Kenya Ltd.
Bimal urged farmers to embrace technologies such as drip irrigation kits, use of right seeds and greenhouses to improve productivity.
“It is quite ironical that in US, there are less than 5 per cent farmers feeding over 200 million people yet in Kenya, we have over 70 per cent of the people are farmers but cannot produce enough food for 45 million people,” he remarked.
Bimal further noted that his company would continue to support Farming Clinics in conjuction with Seeds of Gold.
Today, the clinic is being held in Njoro, Nakuru at the KALRO Centre.
“At Elgon Kenya, we have taken it our responsibility to improve productivity, the clinics and the awards are part of this undertaking.”
Kenya currently ranks among 50 countries where levels of hunger remain alarming, according to a Global Hunger Index by the International Food Policy Research Institute.
“In 1960 the total agricultural area was 4,300 meter square per head, in 2005 it shrunk to 2,200 and by 2030, this will shrink further to 1,800. This means we must embrace innovation,” said Gift Mbaya, Sub Hub Manager, Crop Protection and Public Health at BASF East Africa, a farm chemical solution provider.