July 19, 2019 – Silvia Mburugu
Kiambu County, Kenya is renowned for a few types of trees and vegetables, but Mary Nduta Kiguru is transforming the regions traditional way of farming. Her success is life-changing. The mother of four joined nonprofit Trees for the Future’s (TREES) Forest Garden program and it has reshaped her family’s entire lifestyle.
Every farmer strives to make a high profit from their harvest, but Mary and her husband Peter Kiguru say they faced a myriad of constraints for years. These ranged from adverse weather issues, to inadequate pest and disease management, a shortage of clean quality seed materials for planting, and disorganized management of their one acre of land. This all resulted in long, grueling hours for little return on their crops.
Mary and Peter joined TREES three years ago and today are graduates of the Ikinu II project. Mary Nduta also became Lead Farmer in Ikinu II and says that their training changed everything. Before joining TREES, the family ate a nutrient-scarce diet, had very little income, and struggled to get by with their limited resources.
Mary shares their experience with their cows as a perfect example of the difference the training has made. Despite there being a ready market for cow’s milk in Ikinu, the family contemplated disposing of their livestock because the margins for milk were too low due to the high cost of running the farm and buying animal feed.
Mary says not only was the feed expensive, it was very poor quality nutritionally. With training from TREES, Mary learned how to grow and harvest tree fodder sustainably so that she could feed her animals without hurting her land.
“Through the training I learned about the magic fodder that increased my milk production tremendously, and I was also able to cope with the erratic weather conditions that initially rendered my efforts fruitless,” she said.
The program taught Mary to protect her land, diversify her crops, and optimize her available space. Mary learned that diversifying her crops made her family more immune to things like drought and disease. She also learned about the harms of inorganic fertilizer and pesticides and their negative effect on soil, land productivity, and biodiversity. By diversifying their crops and changing their fertilizer and pest management practices their farm today is unrecognizable from three years ago.
“I was also able to cope with the erratic weather conditions that initially rendered my efforts fruitless.”
The one acre of land is covered with more than 6,000 trees; including fruit trees like mangoes, papaws, avocados, tomato tree, bananas, mulberry; and dozens of fruits, vegetables, and legumes; including spinach, kale, tomatoes, cassava, maize, beans, and amaranth. Each crop brings a valuable health benefit to the family’s meals and many earn impressive profits at market.
In addition to the improved dairy and produce outputs, Mary has also seen a positive change in her chickens thanks to her nutrient-rich calliandra leaves. The chickens have gone from laying erratically to consistently and frequently laying larger eggs with healthy, yellow yolks – her customers have noticed the difference too!
Mary can’t hide her joy recounting how they used to have to go to town looking for additional income opportunities. They had always thought that being a farmer meant poverty, but now, being a farmer to them means reliable harvests year round, making a steady income, and living a healthy lifestyle.
As the world seeks to feed 10 billion people by 2050, TREES and farmers like Mary will be part of the agricultural transformation that will make it possible and sustainable.