Janerose Kairuthi and Judith Mwendwa have one thing in common – they are both members of Jitegemee Agricultural Development Group which was established in 2009. The group is involved in the cultivation of indigenous food crops, rabbit rearing and dairy cattle farming. The one hundred member group has come from far.
“My husband and I used to travel to far places like Isiolo to rent land for farming,” explains Judith. This was an expensive venture in terms of land rates, transport to and from the rented land and hired labour. “Yet many were the times we did not harvest anything even after all that work, she adds. With the introduction of indigenous food crops and better and efficient ways of land preparation by the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) life has never been the same for Janerose and Judith.
“We are now self sufficient. We no longer have to go to the market for food,” explains Janerose. The group has learnt a variety of alternative uses for some of the indigenous crops they grow.”We are making fresh natural juice from orange fleshed sweet potatoes,” Janerose adds. The juice is gaining popularity in the village among all ages. The group has also successfully made flour from pumpkins that can be used to bake a variety of snacks including the famous Swahili ‘chapatis’.
“We have recently kicked-off a rabbit keeping enterprise after learning a lot about the business potential rabbits have from our counterparts in central Kenya during a recent exchange visit supported by ICE,” says Judith. A rabbit ready for the market can fetch as much as KES. 1,500.00. The group currently has about five indigenous rabbits in only a span of two weeks since the exposure tour and they intend to expand the number further. The extent to which the group can go to enhance the livelihoods of its members is limitless. Judith explains, “We have a drama club within the group that is normally invited to act out plays in public functions. Our plays are educative and generally highlight social issues affecting the community such as the challenges of food security and how to address them through the growing of indigenous food crops.”
The group was recently invited by the Meru museum to perform at a function to promote the preservation of culture and practices of the local people. “Some of our performances have been featured on local vernacular radio stations such as Muuga FM and Mwaria Ma FM and we received a warm reception from the public,” adds Janerose. For these two ladies from Jitegemee group, it is now evident that life to them is not just about money and how much of it one makes, but it is very much also about quality of life. Through the use of efficient cultivation methods, use of natural manure as well as the use of indigenous unaltered planting material, it is possible to be food secure and to have surpluses to sell at the same time. “What is even more important is the fact that you and your household and the customers we sell to get to enjoy clean food,” adds Judith.