Farmers sow seeds of hope

From Global development | The Guardian Tue Nov 27 2012, 19:01:28

Poor soil, diseases and extreme weather make agriculture difficult in Kenya, and finding a market for crops can also be a struggle. Sawsan Bastawy explains how smallholders are working together to save their livelihoods

Making a living is hard for many Kenyan farmers, but in the town of Nanyuki they are feeling the benefits of technology, increased co-operation and the extraordinary efforts of a few ordinary people.

When Solomon Muthee finishes addressing a meeting of the Double K self-help group for farmers, the room becomes quiet. All eyes are on the dusty church floor, silent and respectful. When Muthee, chairman of Double K, began his speech, wearing a dark suit and a warm smile despite the intense heat, his companions could easily anticipate the story he would tell. Like a broken record, his story is familiar to many farmers in Nanyuki, on the emerald green foothills of Mount Kenya in the central part of the country.

It often starts with poor soil conditions or bad seeds, devastating pests and diseases, and extreme weather. If the farmers produce a yield worth selling, issues might arise about transport, particularly where road conditions are poor. Lack of available markets or buyers on the other end is also problematic. The story ends with severe debts owed to banks, suppliers of necessities like fertilisers, and even to the schools that the village children must leave when their parents cannot pay the tuition fees.

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