‘Things were going well, but now they’ve turned’

David and One Acre Fund field officer Anne Khaemba catch up with each other before David’s farmer group receives their farming supplies. Photo: Hailey Tucker

In our second partnership with One Acre Fund, we’ll be following David and Zipporah, smallholder farmers 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 family making a living from agriculture in rural Kenya. Read part 1part 2 and part 3

“Things were going well, but now they’ve turned,” David says.

David and Zipporah saw their new business of buying and selling maize, along with the capital they had saved for it, disappear within a week.  Unfortunately, this is a common experience for smallholder farmers in rural east Africa, who often have to deal with sudden financial shocks.

“Our red cow was not eating for two days, so we knew it was sick,” Zipporah says. “It was breathing heavily and fast, so we paid a vet to come and look at it.”

The vet diagnosed the cow with East Coast Fever—a disease spread by ticks, that is fatal for livestock if left untreated. It cost them ($2.30 USD) in vet’s fees and another 2,200 Kenyan shillings ($25 USD) for the treatment.

“The red cow is important to us,” David says. “So, we had to purchase the medicine. The medicine is dosed based on size of the cow, and our cow is big, so we had to buy 20 ml.”

“At the moment, it’s hard for us because we don’t have anywhere to get the money to start the business again,” Zipporah says. “I feel we’ll have to wait until we harvest this year now to earn enough money to invest again. Our biggest concern is buying food at the moment, so any money we earn, we need to buy food.”

Good news
The good news is that they have recently received seed and fertilizer on credit through One Acre Fund, and in the last week, they have begun planting.

This video clip shows David preparing his land for planting, using a hoe and string.

“We are happy because we received our inputs, and almost a week or so later, the rains started; so it was just in time. We’re also happy because we received all of the inputs without having to buy them with a lump sum of cash,” Zipporah says

David and Zipporah received 2.5 kg of hybrid maize seed, 1 kg of millet, and 25 kg of planting fertilizer. They will then receive another round of fertilizer, and a solar light from One Acre Fund later this month. To date, they have paid 2,700 Kenyan shillings ($31 USD) toward their 9,500Ksh ($109 USD) total loan, and they have until early September to complete their payments.

“Without being able to buy our inputs on credit, we would have only been able to purchase seed or planting fertilizer right now, but none of the other items,” Zipporah says.

Government support for agriculture
The couple expresses a strong desire for smallholder farmers to receive more support from the Kenyan government.

“We think the government isn’t helping us in any way because the projects they bring require us to pay cash up front to receive any service, and we cannot afford to pay all of the costs at once. The government does very little to help us uplift ourselves,” Zipporah says.

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David and One Acre Fund field officer Anne Khaemba catch up with each other before David’s farmer group receives their farming supplies. Photo: Hailey Tucker

The only government-funded project David and Zipporah have encountered in their time living in Milani, Kenya, was a banana cultivation program last year. They were very interested because they had heard the plants and training would be provided on credit.

“We enrolled and attended trainings, but then suddenly, we were asked to pay 100Ksh ($1.15 USD) per plant,” David says. “We hadn’t been told that before, and it was too expensive for us, so we had to drop out of the program. They said we needed to have cash upfront, and we didn’t have it.”

“I feel a cow project would be good for us because it wouldn’t depend on the rain,” Zipporah says, describing her ideal form of government support. “We’d get more benefits from a cow if we got one on a loan than even from farm inputs.

In farming you can spend a lot of money on the inputs and a lot of time on the labor, but still harvest very little if the rain is not reliable. With livestock, this wouldn’t be a problem. We could control the outcome.”

ONE is campaigning for African leaders  to keep the promises they made in the 2003 Maputo Agreement to invest 10% of national budgets in agriculture, and support smallholder farmers like David and Zipporah. Find out more here.

One Acre Fund serves 135,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania, helping them to increase their harvests and incomes. It provides farmers with a service bundle that includes seed and fertilizer, 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.