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. Written by Hailey Tucker.
It’s a quick motion. Grab. Snap. Next. Grab. Snap. Next.
As Anne Wafula and a small group of her family and neighbours move through her field, their conversations and jokes come so fluidly, it is easy to forget they are making quick work of harvesting a quarter-acre of millet.
Their fingers nimbly move through dozens of stalks a minute, grabbing each head of grain, pressing just below it firmly with a sharp blade and lightly snapping the head off before they reach for the next.
Grab. Snap. Next.
“I am very happy about my harvest,” Anne says. “This millet looks better than the millet I used to grow years back, before I joined One Acre Fund. After harvesting, drying and collecting the grains, I am expecting to have more than 80 kg from this harvest.”
Long ago when Anne used to plant millet, she says the same land would only produce 20-30 kg of grain.
“At first I was worried about the millet seeds that received too much rain, but now, as I am harvesting, I see the millet still performed very well. I can no longer tell the difference between those I planted earlier and those I planted later,” Anne says.
Drought has been affecting Anne’s maize crop, which has given her another reason to be thankful for her millet. She is concerned not much of her maize will still be strong by the time it is mature enough to harvest. Because millet matures quickly, it was unaffected by the recent weeks of drought.
After harvesting the millet from her field, Anne will need to process it before it can be eaten. It will be stored in sacks for three days to allow any still-green grains to mature. Then she will spread the grains on a tarpaulin to dry in the sun for four to seven days. After that, she will beat the stalks with a stick to knock loose the individual seeds. Only after the beating will the millet be ready to be roasted, ground into flour, and cooked.
“Honestly, the only part I enjoy is when I finally get to prepare a meal with it at the end,” Anne says laughing. “It is tradition in this area that with the first millet we eat from our harvest, we will slaughter a chicken to have a special meal. We believe that having this special meal means there are many more good meals to follow. I get to feel proud, and my family will be proud of me.”
With her expected 80 kg of millet, Anne plans to keep half for her family to eat and to sell the rest.
“With the 40 kg I keep, I think it can last my family for more than six months if we eat it twice a week,” Anne says. “With the 40 kg I sell, I will pay the school fees for my children and make home improvements like buying new plates and cups. The cups we have are not in good shape. Some leak. I want to buy metal cups because even with children around, they will not get broken. The plastic ones I have bought before always break.”
Except for her maize, Anne’s other crops are also growing well. With One Acre Fund, Anne planted sweet potatoes and cassava, a root vegetable known for its starch that is used to make tapioca.
Anne purchased live cuttings of both the sweet potato vines and cassava pieces along with her millet seed and fertiliser through her One Acre Fund loan, which she has slowly been repaying since November. The ability to purchase the seed and fertiliser on credit allowed Anne to plant more of each crop and a larger variety of crops than she would have been able to afford without.
“I am working hard to have enough food in my home,” Anne says.
Here are a few more answers to the questions you submitted to Anne in May.
Irenee Keyser Ramirez: Does the community share in the harvest or does everyone provide for their own family only?
Anne: With this harvest, there are some who don’t have millet to harvest, so if they help me in harvesting mine, I will give them some millet out of appreciation. I also will share with my extended family that live nearby. It is common for people to share within their community if they can.
Francoise Welch: Anne how many hours do you work each day?
Anne: On average, I spend four hours working in my field and about two hours doing chores around the house.
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.