On a cold morning in Kangari, Murang’a County, a couple are busy harvesting vegetables.

It’s a Friday, one of the days that John Karanja and his wife Esther Nyambura harvest their vegetables for marketing.

In the middle of their work, Esther’s phone keeps ringing. Her customers call to ask what time she will arrive at the nearby Kangari market for deliveries. She did not bring vegetables to the market on Tuesday as they had planned, prompting some of them to continue asking for a double supply.

Each week Esther sells vegetables worth around Sh 6,000 from her half acre farm. However, incomes are currently slightly lower, as the heavy rains that hit the area recently caused an increase in production.

This couple went against all odds to grow their vegetables organically.

They do not hesitate to inform their customers that they are opting for organic farming. It’s also a way to market their products, especially at a time when many people avoid chemical foods, mostly fresh produce.

Esther can’t remember exactly when she decided to go organic.

“It was when my daughter was about five and she’s working now,” she recalls.

The couple grow a variety of vegetables, including kale (sukumawiki), spinach, amaranth, and dark night carrots, among others.

Constant supply

To support the market, the couple plants a new harvest every two weeks. This, she says, guarantees supply throughout the year.

In addition, she also grows corn and beans organically.

Making compost manure for crops is a journey they find interesting, sometimes a little demanding but rewarding.

Karanja explains that they dry out vegetation like Napier grass, corn stalks, weeds, and tree branches and then pile them up.

The heap is then covered with wood ash and then topped with earth.

Some manure from their dairy cows is then added to this pile before covering it again with more soil, wood ash and manure.

This content is then covered with a few fresh banana leaves and left for 21 days before turning it over.

However, within 21 days, the farmer uses a dipstick to dig deep into the heap to check if the processing is going well.

“The stick should be warm to the touch. If the stick is cold then the manure is ready or something is wrong, ”explains Karanja.

The mixture should be inverted once every 21 days and is ready to use after 63 days.

Sustainable agriculture

It’s a technique this couple learned through the Kenya Organic Agriculture Center (OACK), a non-governmental organization that promotes sustainable agriculture and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

The organization’s extension agent, Duncan Ndirangu, says they work with over 1,000 smallholder farmers a year, with a total reach of over 10,000 farmers.

OACK, he adds, trains farmers on the need to use locally available materials to make compost manure and organic pesticides.

Plants like tithonia, Mexican marigold and pepper are used to make organic pesticides. This saves the farmer the cost of agrochemicals and the consumer the risk of consuming harmful chemicals.

“We are also working to improve diversity in agriculture so that farmers not only depend on traditional tea and coffee crops, but can have other agricultural businesses to increase their income,” Ndirangu said.

According to experts, organic farming has many advantages because it is not only beneficial for the environment and farmers, but also for the consumer.

Rosinah Mbenya, program manager at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) Kenya, says organic farming prevents rivers, for example, from being polluted by a flow of agrochemicals.

Pelum is an umbrella organization for grassroots organizations that promote ecological agriculture and the sustainable use of land that preserves the environment. Currently, the organization has 52 members in 42 counties.

In 2011, Rosina notes, the African Union (AU) adopted policies that support ecological organic farming. She urges Kenya to embrace organic farming for a healthier and richer population.

Mary Irungu, advocacy and communications manager at Pelum Kenya, urges the government to adopt policies that support organic farming.

“The government should also allocate a budget to promote organic farming so that more farmers are invited to adopt it,” she said.

Farmers, she adds, should not only focus on making money from farming, but they should also be mindful of the consumer, which includes their own families, and grow healthy crops.


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