Makueni Agribusiness Ventures is a 10-member farmer group that participated in an AVCD funded good agricultural practices (GAPs) and modern farming training lead by ICRISAT. The group has a vision of undertaking agribusiness collectively through collective marketing and input supply to their members and community. ICRISAT trained the members in community seed production and supported them with foundation seed. These farmers used the foundation seed to produce community seed during the short rain season. Through the project, they learnt about the need for sustainable seed systems through community seed banks.
“Through the training, we were introduced to the high yielding green gram, sorghum, finger millet and pigeon pea certified seeds,” shared Mr Ndiso, the group’s chairman. “Before, we grew maize and beans, our staple food, that didn’t do well during dry sessions. ICRISAT taught us the economics of agriculture and the importance of planting marketable crops”.
ICRISAT and partners maintain that these crops are not only drought tolerant but are also nutritious, climate-smart and have multiple uses to benefit farmers. Sorghum and millets, for example, are rich in micronutrients and have a low glycemic index. Drought-tolerant crops have low water footprint, low levels of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers hence smaller carbon footprint. In order to further reduce the use of inorganic fertilisers and improve soil health sustainably, AVCD trains farmers on intercropping and crop rotation of drought-tolerant legumes and cereals.
During the 2019 short rain season, Makueni Agribusiness Ventures increased their investment potential by pulling resources to plant a variety of drought-tolerant crops on 24 ha (60 acres) in Emali, Makueni. Through the county government, extension services provide technical support and quality control management for the group. Additionally, to motivate the youth, the county government encourages them to approach farming as a business. In reinforcing the County government call for the agribusiness approach to farming, AVCD is promoting niche opportunities in the DTCs value chain like provision of labour-saving technology services like mechanical threshing, value addition and ICT. Drought-tolerant crops like green grams and cowpeas mature in three months and have high returns thus provide a lucrative opportunity to entice the youth into agriculture.
“AVCD approached us in a different way, we are their partners. They taught us how to be self-reliant by giving us the tool and skills to manage our farms profitably,” comments Betty Mbondo, a member of Makueni Ventures. The AVCD project is supporting the group to formalize their business registration to ensure sustainability to contribute to their journey to self-reliance.
Additionally, the group is involved in an ICT forum that assists in aggregation and marketing of drought-tolerant groups nationally. Despite their value, drought-tolerant crops, particularly millets and sorghum, have been steadily losing their share of contribution to calories in Kenya to maize, rice and wheat. According to experts, the primary reasons for the low demand of these cereals are low productivity, poor image and lack of product development.