Mariam Ngule, a resident of Maktau, Taita Taveta County, could go for more than a week without food due to perennial drought and human-wildlife conflict.
The elephants would invade farms around the villages and destroy crops, adding to misery created by unpredictable weather conditions that left crops withered.
The 40-year-old woman with a quarter-acre says she had never harvested any crops due to elephants invasion and perennial drought thus making her to depend on relief food.
However, things changed in November 2017 after she was introduced to mushroom growing.
The mother of five is among 47 women from the county who have benefited from Sh100 million project that was rolled out by USAID and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the Governor Granton Samboja-administration.
“We make Sh100,000 by selling the produce to local hotels and others to Nairobi. We have been growing mushrooms for over a year. Residents should take part in this climate-smart crop farming,” she says.
Ngule adds the crop needs no land or soil, and can be planted in a room the size of a bedroom.
FAO rolled out the project to support mushroom farming in the county as an alternative cash crop to boost farmers’ earnings and alleviate poverty.
FAO agricultural officer Paul Kisiangani says the three-year project aims at increasing smallholder farmers’ productivity and profitability considering that the county is prone to drought that results to poor crop harvest.
“The purpose of the project is to support farmers who are already accessing water for irrigation to increase their production through capacity development and training,” he said
INCREASE THEIR INCOME
In areas such as Njukini, Mrabani and Challa, the agency has organised farmers into producer marketing groups so that they can be able to access better markets for their produce.
Kisiangani says the organisation has recommended the growing of oyster type of mushroom since it is a high value crop compared to others.
“Farmers have been getting poor harvest in maize so we have to find an alternative crop that can boost their income,” he says.
Mushroom is a good source of wealth since a kilo of dry mushroom fetch between Sh400-Sh600 in the market.
Besides providing technical training to the farmers, farming equipment and seedlings for the crop, the organisation is also helping farmers to identify ready markets for the crop.
The women are optimistic that mushroom farming will increase their income saying maize harvesting has been very poor for the last three years.
Cleotildah Mganga, another farmer, says wild animal’s invasion and poor rains have affected proper maize harvest in the area.
Mganga says they are optimistic the new project will transform their lives through provision of alternative source of income.
The women note they supply some of the harvests to local hotels within the county thus giving them adequate income to meet daily family needs.
The local tourist hotels have given them a guaranteed market thus providing them with ready distribution points for quick money. Mushrooms contain fibre and antioxidants, especially selenium, which protects the body against infections and are also said to have anti cancer and cholesterol lowering properties.