James and Salome Wagara hail from Kamburu village in Central Kenya. The couple owns a small piece of land where they live and farm. Tea is a major crop here alongside dairy cattle keeping and chicken rearing. It has been tough these last few years for the Wagaras. “The rains have not been very reliable and our crops have failed – including tea!” Laments Salome.
“When the rains failed, we began to irrigate our farms with water from the nearby rivers to salvage the little crop that was there.” But soon the rivers began to dry up. The nearby River Karigi disappeared completely. River Bathi further afield had some little water but it was too far away.
“For the first time in a long time,” describes Salome, “I saw my neighbourhood disintegrate – friends became enemies as we fought over the limited water resources. It was bad.” Their tea crop and livestock were not spared either. There simply was no way of getting through the days. “Were it not for some few indigenous food crops we had planted, we surely would have starved,” says James.
At their farm, James and Salome, with the help of a local NGO the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE), had managed to grow a variety of traditional crops such as sweet potatoes, arrow roots, bananas and a variety of greens like Amaranth. Most of these indigenous foods are known to be very hardy and can withstand harsh climatic conditions. These foodstuffs became the sustenance of this household. “…and the beauty of it all is that these crops require very little attention. With just organic manure you can always be assured of a bumper harvest,” said Salome.
“In fact we do not even use any pesticides or fertilisers”, adds James. When they have surplus food, they sell it either in Githunguri which is about 10kms from Kamburu or at the famous Gikomba market in Nairobi. “When we feel we are being short-changed by the traders at Kamburu, we take our produce to Gikomba where we can fetch a better price for our produce. Indigenous vegetables are now a sought-after commodity in major retail outlets. They fetch more than six times the price of modern vegetables. “We can get up to KES 20.00 per bunch of Managu (amaranth) as compared to KES 3.00 per similar bunch of Kales,” explains James.
In most cases, the farmers do not have to leave their farms to sell their produce. The high demand pushes the buyers to the farms. Since the re-introduction of indigenous food crops among households in this area, farmers like James and Salome are now guaranteed of a steady supply of food in the household and even extra income. If there is something the Wagaras do not regret ever doing over more than 20 years they have been together, it is taking the step to embrace indigenous vegetables. “I can now face the future with the boldness that my family shall never go hungry no matter what nature throws my way. Thanks to ICE,” says James.