On reaping big from drought, shortages

Friday October 04 2019
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Arubanas Mutua demonstrates how he pumps water from a pan in his farm in Machakos. The 34-year-old has a three-quarter acre tract of land where he practices mixed farming, with the pan providing sufficient water for the farming activities. PHOTO | LEOPOLD OBI | NMG


In Mwala, Machakos County, only farms close to water points are green. Crops in the rest, whose owners lack the means for irrigation, are wilted, having lost the fight to a harsh weather.

Across the road and far into the scattered woods, a few sheep, goats and cows tethered to trees scrape a nearly bare ground for the last straws of dried grass.

In Malumani, however, Arubanas Mutua’s three cows effortlessly supply the village with many litres of milk despite the dry weather that has destroyed pasture.

Just before the December 2018 short rains, Mutua planted napier grass on a quarter-acre piece of land, then bought several bales of stovers and grass from locals that he used to make hay.

And now while many farmers in the semi-arid region lack fodder for their livestock, Mutua is having a field day even as the drought rages.

During rainy seasons, many farmers in the area cut their grass. Mutua buys and stores as much grass as he can.


“The cows produce 20 litres of milk every day. I supply seven litres to a neighbouring school and sell the rest to villagers,” Mutua said, adding that a litre goes for Sh70.

The 34-year-old has a three-quarter acre tract where he practices mixed farming. In one corner of the farm is a pan whose water Mutua uses to irrigate sukuma wiki and tomatoes in a greenhouse. Near the water pan and the greenhouse is a fish pond while a cow and poultry pen stand just a few metres away.

For the father of three, mixed farming improves his source of income while cushioning him from possible loss should any of his several ventures fail. Mutua started as a poultry farmer in 2011, with a Kenbro cockerel and three hens.

In just months, the number of his birds had grown to 50.

While in the poultry business, Mutua noticed that most of his neighbours paid a fortune to get milk, especially during dry seasons. He took the decision to add a dairy cow to his farm.

“I sold the 50 birds at Sh700 each and bought a six-month-old calf from a dairy farm in Githunguri, Kiambu County, for I had long harboured the dream of engaging in the milk business,” Mutua told Seeds Of Gold.

He kept expanding his poultry venture as the calf grew. Mutua now has more than 100 birds.

Since he was rearing Kenbro chickens, which typically do not brood, Mutua found incubating the eggs from the many birds a huge challenge.

Initially, he would give the eggs to brooding kienyeji hens, but as the birds increased in number, this method became tedious and wasteful.


In 2015, he bought a 42-egg-capacity incubator and began hatching the chicks. Months ago, he added a 92-egg-capacity incubator.

“I had 400 birds by December last year but sold most of them. The remaining ones act as a production stock. My intention is to start hatching and selling chicks,” Mutua said.

He improved his knowledge of farming by attending workshops, training and seminars. A number of these workshops were organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and World Vision, an international NGO.

World Vision usually trains locals in Machakos, Kitui, Makueni and several other counties on dryland farming. Climate change adaptation measures like cultivation and storage of pasture, building water pans and integrated farming are some of the lessons Mutua picked up from the seminars.

“We have been trained on the benefits of irrigation and early planting. Most of us never knew that dried chicken droppings can be fed to cattle and fish,” Mutua said when Seeds of Gold visited his farm recently. “Interestingly, fresh cow dung can also be given to chickens as feed,”

With the new ideas, Mutua built a pan to harvest rainwater and surface runoff. But the water pan can only hold 5,000 litres and the farmer believes a bigger one will help him multiply his crop and animal yields.

He also bought a greenhouse, a drip irrigation kit and a manual water pump. When water is pumped from the pan, it goes into a hoisted plastic tank from where it flows by gravity into the greenhouse.

“I started fish farming early this year. Unfortunately, the pond has dried up due to little rains,” he said, adding that he hopes to improve the business after getting some training.

Emmanuel Fondo, an agricultural expert and dryland development project manager, says water harvesting and integrated farming approaches are important in addressing the devastating effects of global warming.

He says dryland development, which targets more than 11,000 farmers in Machakos County, also focuses on pasture regeneration and the rehabilitation of wasted lands through the growing of grass and indigenous trees.

The project is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, World Agroforestry Centre and World Vision-Kenya. A half a kilogramme of the seeds costs about Sh500.

Farmers can find high-quality grass seeds at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation station in Kiboko, adds Fondo.

“The seeds can be replanted four times. They are planted through seed-ball technology where they are put in a nutrition bond then covered with charcoal dust before being dispersed on the field to await rainfall,” he said.