In 2010, after 2 years of supporting the food program at Achungo, Samaritan’s Purse encouraged us to undertake a project that might move us toward self-sufficiency. We had experimented a little with farming, so wrote a proposal for farming 11 acres which was then funded for the 2 planting seasons of 2010-2011 and has now been funded again for 2011-2012.
The planting seasons in SW Kenya, coinciding with the rainy seasons, are in August/September (“short rains”) and in March/April (“long rains”). The land is cleared as needed, then plowed with oxen and a plow with wooden handle and a metal blade (advanced from what we saw in Ethiopia where it was entirely wooden). We had advice from some farming experts from the U.S. who showed us to plant more densely than is common in the area, to weed and fertilize twice after planting (and the fertilizing that preceded planting), and to do some ditching so that the runoff during heavy rains doesn’t wash out the plants. With these methods, we expected a better crop than is common and hoped to produce enough to gradually move toward self-funding subsequent crops while covering the costs of our food program at Achungo.
The 11 acres are not near the school but near Director Michael Nyangi’s home, making use of a few acres of his own land at no cost and renting other land at often reduced cost based on his relationships with neighbors. About 1/2 of the acreage is in the hills on significant slopes and the other half in lower and more level land. The lower land retains water better and typically shows its advantage in the health, size and yield of the crops.
We’ve grown mostly maize because better cash crops could be at significant risk of theft since the plots are not guarded or near someone who could watch them. We grew some beans the first season but have not done so since as the bean plants are more susceptible to damage from heavy rain and loss of bloom to chickens, among other risks. Because we do not have adequate long-term storage for the maize, we sell much of it at the time of harvest when the price is at its lowest. As such, the farming program has supported the food program costs to a great extent, but without much remainder.