In partnership with One Acre Fund, we are following Anne, a smallholder farmer from Kenya, for a whole growing season. From planting to harvest, we will check in every month to see what life is really like for a farmer in rural Kenya. Catch up with Part 1. Written by Hailey Tucker.
In Western Kenya, successful planting for the year is typically seen as a matter of materials, skill and knowledge. However, most farmers acknowledge that ultimately—regardless of expertise—plant germination can be won or lost by the rains.
For farmers who plant too early, there will not be enough consistent rain to help their crops grow. For farmers who wait long enough but get unlucky, their newly sown seeds will be washed away by heavy rains before the seedlings have a chance to take root.
Trying to pinpoint the prefect timing makes planting one of the most risk-laden choices a farmer can make.
It had been a few nights in a row when Anne had been too hot to sleep and too hot to even cover herself with any sort of blanket, when she knew it was time. Anne would lay awake on a sweat-moistened mattress and hear a strong wind rustling the trees outside.
“When the temperature stays high at night and the winds are blowing hard from West to East, I believe the rains are very near,” Anne says. “Then in the day, I observe the clouds. If there are dark clouds and they hang closer to the earth than the white clouds, then I know the rains are coming.”
After seeing the signs Anne has come to associate with pending rain, she decided to plant part of her millet for the season on March 22, and then finished the rest of the plot on March 25 after taking a few days off for her mother-in-law’s funeral.
The morning of planting, Anne and her husband Isaac gathered with their relatives to pray over their seeds and fertiliser. “I am a believer,” Anne says. “I am spiritual so before planting my family will pray.” Isaac, who is a pastor at the local church, leads the prayer.
After planting, Anne commented, “Preparing the finger millet land required a lot of commitment and labour because we had to break down the soil very fine and remove all the debris. All of the preparation was worthwhile though because then the planting became easy—even easier than maize.”
On March 23, the rains were heavy and with Anne’s field being situated on a slight slope, her first round of seeds took more water than was ideal. Looking at the field two weeks later, the furrows that once divided her lines of seed are barely visible, but patches of millet are still beginning to appear.
“The rains are a little different this year because they usually come in April,” Anne says. “They came in March this year instead and are also much heavier.”
The second half of her field received light rain most of the days immediately following planting, which is the best Anne could have asked for.
“I believe that these are good,” Anne says pointing to the second set of seedlings. “They are much better, I think they will germinate well.”
Have you got a question or message for Anne? Leave a comment and we’ll get them directly to her in Kenya, and try and answer them in the next instalment.
One Acre Fund serves 125,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi, helping them to increase their harvests and incomes. It provides farmers with a service bundle that includes seed and fertiliser, credit, training, and market facilitation, and enables farmers to double their income per planted acre. To learn more about their work, you can read Roger Thurow’s The Last Hunger Season.