Farmers set to reap from heavy rains season, intensify green grams production Kitui county
Not long ago, expansive land in Kanyonyoo area overlooking the great Yatta Plateau in Kitui county was bare, characterised by a canopy of acacia trees as fertile black loom soil left to go to waste.
As we drove through the now farmlands with overgrown lush green grams recently, the scenery is completely different. It is comparable to large-scale farms in North Rift with tractors and farm workers traversing the region tending and harvesting ndengu (green grams, scientific name Vigna Radiata).
In the three farms we visited after turn-off along Kitui-Thika road at Katheani market, ndengu farmers estimate to harvest between 150 and 250 bags of ndengu, thrice what they got the previous season.
Kilonzi Ngunanga, one of the largest ndengu farmers in the county, has this season planted 150 acres in one of his two farms in Katoteni village, Kitui Rural sub-county, with ndengu. “Last season, I produced 120 bags but lack of local market forced me to source buyers from outside the country,’’ he says.
His neighbour, David Thuvi, has put 100 acres under green grams.“I will earn between Sh1.7 and Sh2 million from the legume as we have doubled acreage under the crop,’’ he says. Thuvi says unlike in previous seasons, the rains have not disappointed them and the crop has thrived. “Those who planted early and tended the crop well will smile all the way to the bank,” says Thuvi, the Member of County Assembly (MCA) for Kithumula-Kwa Mutonga Ward.
The MCA has employed 40 people since growing green grams, though lucrative, is labour intensive. “Farmers have embraced the Ndengu Revolution initiated by the county government, which ensures the residents who are ready to soil their hands have money in their pockets all-year round,’’ said Thuvi.
Adjacent to his farm is David Kyalo, who also expects to harvest at least 300 bags, a good return.
The story is similar in the neighbouring Maliku village, where scores of farmers expect a bumper harvest from ndengu, cow peas and pigeon peas.
Nyamai Muithya, who has 23 acres of green grams and 10 acres of different varieties of cow peas (nzuu), says this time round, he cannot fail to get between 60 and 80 bags of ndengu, up from the 30 bags he got the previous season. He says regardless of the weather pattern, farmers must get yields from smart crops— green grams, cowpeas and pigeon peas.
“We have reduced acreage under maize and beans to plant green grams and other crops that tolerate drought as the yields are better,’’ said Nyamai.
Despite farmers’ efforts to maximise green grams production, however, marketing remains a thorny issue as they reel from failure by the county government officials to link them to buyers who can buy the produce at Sh100 per kilogramme as promised during the launch of Ndengu Revolution by Governor Charity Ngilu.
“Green grams is a high valued crop. When the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and the county government partnered to launch the Ndengu Revolution Initiative, they promised farmers markets at least Sh100 per kilo only for farmers to sell it later at between Sh30 and Sh50,’’ observed Thuvi.
He says the Ndengu Revolution needs to be actualised in addition to coming up with a structured manifesto and policy since intensive farming of legumes can change the residents’ fortunes.
Thuvi, however, urges farmers not to wait for the county government to act as they are free to source for markets directly. “Kitui is an arid and semi-arid land and since conventional maize and beans farming has failed due to poor weather patterns, the locals need to be empowered and encouraged to grow smart crops, especially ndengu, sorghum, millet and cow peas,” he says.
County Executive for Agriculture, Water and Livestock Development, Emmanuel Kisangau, says farmers will earn Sh4 billion from the sale of ndengu this season, up from Sh3 billion last year.
The county government has used Sh190 million to buy ploughing equipment, seeds, pesticides and public awareness campaigns “We realised embracing smart crops farming, especially high-valued green grams, is the way to go to address high poverty levels in the households,’’ says Kisangau.
In the next four years, he hopes Kitui could be a grain basket like the North Rift in green grams production. Kisangau said the county government does not buy green grams, but its major role is to link the farmers to local and international markets. “The aim is to keep off brokers who have been buying ndengu at as low as Sh30 per kilo, and to reap huge profits from foreign markets,’’ he says.
He says when the government launched the Ndengu Revolution, it aimed at markets in Asian countries including India, China, Japan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia where Kenyan green grams has high demand. However, an Indian ban on pulses from Kenya dealt a blow to the project. “The ban is still in force and as India was our major buyer, we are looking into other buyers,’’ he says.
A local investor will soon be buying the pulses at Sh58 per kilo. Kisangau says the government plans to establish earth dams and water pans in green gram productions zones of Kitui.