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How cows, chickens, goats, bees, crops… thrive on my quarter-acre

Friday April 24 2020
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Samson Tanui on his family farm in Kesses, Uasin Gishu County. He uses the permaculture system to produce food on his quarter acre. PHOTO | ISAIAH ESIPISU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ISAIAH ESIPISU

Inside a makeshift structure that looks like a greenhouse on Samson Tanui’s farm in Uasin Gishu County are plastic containers of various colours hanging from wooden posts and hosting flowers.

Not far from the structure is a garden with big-leafed collard greens (sukuma wiki) plants and several sacks from which spinach and other crops are flourishing.

Tanui, whose farm is in Kesses, near Moi University, uses the permaculture system to produce food on his quarter acre.

The system involves using inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce food and protect the environment. When he started in 2017, he was doing it for subsistence and soon had surplus produce that he sold.

The system of farming has now come in handy as the country battles Covid-19, ensuring that he not only has sufficient food for his family, but also sells to his neighbours.

“When I designed the permaculture garden, I did not envision a situation where people would be restricted to stay at their homes as it is happening today because of the coronavirus,” says Tanui, whose small farm is known as S&J Garden, the initials of his first name Samson and his wife’s Juliet.

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For the past three years, Juliet says, the family has not bought vegetables as she gets all her supplies from their different gardens.

Mangoes, bananas, grafted oranges, pumpkins, pawpaws and passion fruits are the other crops the couple grow, as well as amaranth, tomatoes, capsicum, chilli and African nightshade.

They have also grown maize in a greenhouse for easy manipulation of climatic conditions, arrowroots and sweet potatoes.

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The crops are grown using intensive farming techniques that include in-sack, hanging, pipe and basin gardens and makeshift greenhouses. Water is supplied through drip irrigation.

Interestingly, on the same farm, they also keep dairy cattle, goats, rabbits and indigenous chickens. They also have an apiary.

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In Tanui's farm, he gets manure from cattle, goats and chickens that he keeps, for crop cultivation. The animals eat the leaves of some of the crops while he sells the flowers to buy more animal feeds. Bees from his apiary use pollen from the flowering plants to make honey aiding in pollination in return. PHOTOS | ISAIAH ESIPISU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“I have 120 layers, one dairy cattle, three rabbits, two dairy goats, three pigeons, five top-bar beehives, 12 stems of grafted oranges, four stems of grafted mangoes, six apple plants, eight tree tomato stems, a line of passion fruits with six stems, several maize stems in a greenhouse and five tissue culture banana plants,” Tanui offers.

The couple have not only a constant supply of vegetables and fruits but also eggs, fruits, milk, meat, honey and tubers.

“All these crops and animals are interrelated. I get manure from the cattle, goats and chickens for use on the farm. The animals eat the leaves of some of the crops and I sell the flowers to buy more animal feeds. The bees use pollen grains from flowering plants to make honey, and in return, they aid in pollination,” he says.

“He has challenged all of us,” says Abraham Maiyo, who operates an agrovet shop in Kesses town.

“We belong to the same farmer group and most of the members had not bothered to invest in this kind of farming system. But with the experience of the coronavirus disease, nearly all the 23 group members are keen to set up similar gardens on their farms,” says Maiyo.

Since the government restricted movement of people, food prices have skyrocketed in many parts of the country. The situation may even worsen if a lockdown is imposed to curb the spread of the disease.

Therefore, families using such innovative farming techniques to produce their own food will not suffer much.

More cash for Tanui comes from on-site practical lessons that he offers for interested local farmers free of charge every Saturday and at a fee of Sh200 per tour for those from different areas such as Kakamega and Nandi hills.

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