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Hannah Kahotu, a smallholder farmer in Njambini at the foot of the Aberdare Ranges, grew potatoes and vegetables for over 20 years, but without much to show for her hard work.
Sitting over 2,000m above sea level, Njambini can be extremely cold with frequent frosty seasons. With the extreme cold, comes horrendous frost bites capable of decimating an entire crop field. Yet for Hannah, when it was not a frost bite attack then it was the pests.
Pushed to her wits’ end by recurrent farm losses, the 67-year-old farmer turned to heavy chemical use to manage both the notorious pests and the unforgiving frost bites. While her yields remained poor, Hannah would learn later that her problems were far beyond the pests or the erratic weather.
“We used to plant any seeds in our farms without caring much whether they were certified or not. When it was time for harvesting, the yield would be very low,” said Hannah whose farm has become a model for sustainable farming.
On her three-acre farm, different varieties of crops -- potatoes, kales, African nightshade (managu), carrots, cabbages, spring onions and tree tomatoes -- stick side by side on tiny quarter-acre plots, all teeming with good health.
In 2018, Hannah recalls, WWF-Kenya introduced the Green Horticulture at Lake Naivasha (GOALAN) project which trained 146 smallholder farmers in the Lake Naivasha Basin on sustainable production and consumption practices.
The project funded by the European Union under Switch Africa Green Phase II project trained the farmers on climate smart and sustainable farming practices, integrated pest management, record keeping, enterprise farming, financial credit access, market linkages and post-harvest management.
With the new farming techniques, the farmers yields have increased and so have their incomes. Further, they produce safe food while also taking care of the environment.
“We were also provided with certified seeds, water tanks and drip irrigation kits,” said Hannah, who received a bag of certified potato and cabbage seeds, and a 5000-litre-water tank.
With the use of clean, certified seeds, compost manure and the right crop spacing among other agronomic practices such as crop rotation, Hannah found her yields increasing.
From the training, Hannah learned that while her incessant and heavy use of pesticides did not guarantee a good harvest, it was a direct health risk to her own health, those of her consumers who included her family.
“In a plot where I could only manage a bag of potatoes, I now get five bags. My husband and I no longer have to press our children to send us money because we can comfortably support ourselves,” said Hannah.
“I have also opened a small shop in Naivasha where I sell my produce. I also encourage my children to buy vegetables that have been safely produced,” she added.
Gabriel Mwangi, a 29-year-old farmer in Moi-Ndabi village on the lower catchment on Lake Naivasha, was also once a frustrated farmer just like Hannah. Having graduated fresh from the university with a bachelor's degree in Information Sciences, Gabriel shuttled from one office to another for two years hunting for a job.
His home village is a water-scarce lowland that suffers periodic drought and frost bites, making farming difficult.
“When I joined the GOALAN project, I learnt about soil testing, compost manure and efficient water use. I was one of the lucky farmers who were given a greenhouse, certified seeds, a water tank, drip irrigation kits and a solar-powered water pump by WWF-Kenya,” he explained, adding he now confidently grows tomatoes throughout the year despite the unforgiving drought.
Over the last two years, Gabriel has been an outstanding young farmer, growing 420 tomato plants in a greenhouse at their family farm in Moi-Ndabi.
He sells the tomatoes at Sh70 kilogram. Greenhouse farming, like any other venture, isn’t a walk in the park particularly due to pest and disease infestation. But the farmer has been employing a number of techniques to tackle the pests by using sticky traps, repellent crops, crop rotation and prosper spacing.
“The project also linked us with the market and established for us a solar-powered retail shop on Naivasha highway where we sell our produce,” explained Gabriel.
Dr William Ojwang, WWF-Kenya's Kenya Rift Lakes Programme Manager, said they began linking farmers to different markets, within the Lake Naivasha Basin and beyond the basin.
The 146 farmers trained under the GOALAN project banded together, forming the Lake Naivasha Basin Sustainable Horticultural Farmers group.
Further, they also underwent rigorous food safety production training and made history this year as the first farmers’ group in Kenya to be awarded KS1758 certification, a Ministry of Agriculture standard of quality for food safety.
WWF-Kenya Naivasha Landscape Programs Coordinator Caroline Njiru said the GOALAN Project is a good case study of making the horticulture sector sustainable.
“GOALAN project is a win for both people and nature. We are conserving biodiversity or reducing biodiversity loss and at the same time we are improving the livelihoods of the farmers as they continue to produce with a minimal negative effect on the environment,” said Ms. Njiru.