For the past month we’ve been collecting yield information from our farmers; from each and every one who took the Momentum farm input loan for the long rain season 2014. We finally know how many bags of maize and sorghum each individual farmer harvested, and we can begin to evaluate the extent of the impact being a Momentum farmer has had on our community.
The long rain season 2014 in Siaya County, Kenya, was in many ways particular. The rain fell irregularly and in lesser amounts than what is to be expected from a long rain season. Unfortunately irregular rainfall is becoming more and more like a pattern in Kenya, which makes it increasingly difficult for small-scale farmers to plan their farming activities. Small-scale farmers do not have irrigation, water-harvesting mechanisms, or even sometimes access to water sources near their farms. When the rain refuses to follow the traditional patterns of the long rain season and short rain season farming becomes more and more of a gamble, and some farmers end up harvesting next to nothing. For some of our farmers the irregular rainfall of the long rain season 2014 was not the only challenge; a specific type of certified seed completely failed to germinate. The germination issue was not confined to Momentum farmers only, it was a national issue throughout Kenya during the long rain season. The producer of the seed was eventually ordered to rectify its mistake by providing all customers with new seeds. But of course, this took time. Momentum tried to act faster to help the farmers who had chosen that seed type, and replaced the seeds with new ones as soon as the problem became clear. However, by that time the lack of rain resulted in extremely poor germination even of the good seeds. When asked about the liability of the seed producer for loss of output on farms across Kenya our local Momentum staff looked at me and said: “No Mie! It does not work like that!”. And then they laughed at me, perhaps they though my notion of right and wrong a bit peculiar.
By all accounts the Momentum farmers have experienced progress. The average farmer harvested 7 bags of maize on 1 acre, where before the average farmer harvested 2.5 bags of maize on 1 acre. That’s a 280% improvement. Some individuals and some groups have made far better improvements, such as the Odheyo village group who increased their average yield of maize by 437%. I hope this stands to show that what Momentum is doing is working, and that is also testifies to how serious a lot of the farmers we work with are taking our teachings. As I am reminded almost every day by either the Momentum staff or one of our farmers; nothing comes from farming without hard work.
These are promising results from a first season. Some farmers have taken good strides out of poverty, but all still have a way to go. We have checked with out farmers how much of their output they are keeping for consumption and how much they will sell. Only very little will be sold, which for us as Momentum is a lesson in how far from being food secure people of this area are.
From talking to many of our farmers over the past month, one of the comments made most often was: Momentum mustn’t give up. You should keep on working with us until we can stand on our own two feet.
That is evidence of the good relations Momentum has built in this community, and the need for our continued presence here.
During the long rains there were more challenges than the ones I’ve mentioned above, what we can call more normal challenges. The beautiful but destructive striga weed took a toll on the harvests in a couple of our villages, and some of our farmers despite having pledged themselves to follow the improved farming techniques and having attended the training, decided not to abide by the teachings. For us the last challenge is a conundrum. My conversations with some of those farmers have revealed little as to why they decided to ignore everything they had learned during the training. One or two had a funny excuse such as: “My husband is not part of Momentum, and he refused to listen to me!” – but most could not give a straight answer. Fortunately for the particular lady her husband has now seen the difference between their yield and the yield from Momentum farms where things were done right. She has assured me that he will listen to her in all the land preparations and plantings to come.
Transferring knowledge to our farmers, making sure they understand how and why they should work their land is a process. Some seem to absorb and believe in the teachings from day one, but with others it will take more than one season for it to really sink in.
I will leave you with a picture of Kevin and Paolo working on the Momentum demonstration farm, in which I can assure you that they are following all the Momentum teachings down to the very last detail.