By Duncan Mboyah
Green grams growing has proved its prowess in changing people’s lives in semi arid Eastern Kenya where it has taken over from maize as both cash and food crop.
In a new effort of growing the crop that was introduced two years ago in the region has proven successful as it has given farmers greater returns on investment than their preferred maize crop that they have grown over the years with poor returns.
“I have made a bumper harvest this year and has paid my own dowry as my jobless husband has been unable to pay dowry to my parents,” Elizabeth Mutuku, a green gram farmer in Ngunu village, Muvau location in Makueni County said in an interview in her home.
Mutuku, a mother of four, has been growing green grams since 2013 but has never harvested more than one bag of the crop.
“I harvested five bags of the crop and sold three bags at Kshs. 100 per kilogram that I used in paying for my outstanding dowry payments,” she notes.
She said that she used the remaining amount in buying grade cattle, constructed a chicken pen besides buying her primary school going children school items.
Mutuku has been growing maize over the years and occasionally intercropped with beans and green grams for domestic consumption but has been realizing low harvest until a program Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) was introduced in the region.
The program that is spearheaded by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as a drought tolerant crop component in a three year program (2013 -2018) has led to the increased production of green gram for the last few years.
The 29 years old Mutuku now plans to lease additional land to her one acre piece of land to enable her buy grade chicken with the money that she expect to realize during the coming 2019 harvest and also start saving money for her children’s school fees that are still in primary school.
“I want to start saving school fees from green gram farming in readiness for my son who will be sitting the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) next year,” she reveals.
Catherine Mbili has bought a dairy cow, built animal feed store, bought 40 chicken layers and paying school fees for her two college going children with green grams farming in the past two years.
“The program was introduced to us at a time when I was contemplating dropping farming all together due to perennial losses from maize and millet growing,” Mbili says.
Mbili who is an official of Twone Mbee Mukolekya women group, a group that composed of green gram farmers in Makueni County, dropped maize growing in late 1990s due to climate change effects for pigeon peas, cowpeas, millet and green grams.
She says that since joining the AVCD program in 2014, she has been realizing good harvest but this year’s harvest exceeded the previous years.
“I harvested 16 bags of green grams that I have sold out to pay college fees for my children who are pursuing plant mechanics and community development courses,” she notes.
The 45 years old Mbili is now planning to add another feed lot, add another grade cow, increase her chicken stock from the current 40 – 200 and start growing aloe vera with this year’s harvest.
She reveals that all the 24 members of the group have realized a great socio-economic in their lives since the introduction of an organized growing of green grams in the region.
“Green grams growing is proving to be both a profitable cash and food crop for us due to its value compared to traditional crops like maize that we have grown in the past decades with little socio-economic impacts,” Ziporah Mbuukavyu says.
Mbuukavyu grew green grams in her one acre farm and realized good harvest compared to her previous harvests.
“We got bumper harvest that led to low pricing as buyers from outside the region came for the cereal in large numbers expecting to purchase the commodity at a throw away price,” she adds.
She notes that the trainings they undergo courtesy of ICRISAT extension workers on soil management and early planting is credited for the harvest this year.
“I stopped selling the green grams that I had bought from farmers due to low price,” Onesmus Mutie a green grams wholesaler at Ngunu trading centre says.
Mutie notes that from this year’s harvest, buyers of green grams are unlikely to increase as many farmers have taken into growing the cereal.
He calls for a well organized external market through a cooperative society to help farmers get value for their work otherwise many farmers will not benefit much.
For Joseph Kimeu, a cereals retailer at Kathonzweni market for the past 10 years, this is the first time that few green grams consumers have been purchasing the commodity.
“I have been making good profit in the past three years but this year seems the worst ever. I have to wait until October to sell out my current stock,” he adds.
Kimeu reveals that he used to sell green grams at between Kshs 50 – Kshs 70 per kilogram but this year’s sale has dropped to Kshs. 40 a kilogram.
He says that due to the fact that the cereals is grown by many farmers since it is the only cash and food crop in the region, farmers require science based management approaches after harvesting season.
“The cereal is easily infested by pests if it is not stored well hence the need to improve its storage methods to help save the harvest,” he adds.
Following the bumper harvest, market forums were convened in Kitui and Makueni recently to negotiate on green gram prices, quantity in supply and demand, delivery period as well as propose marketing strategies to stabilize prices and enhance the margins for farmers and other market intermediaries.
The meetings that were attended by farmers, leaders of farmer organizations, County government officials and politicians, buyers, financial institutions and distributors of hermatic bags agreed that the National government purchase the surplus green gram from the counties and sell for school feeding program, food relief, military, police and National Youth Training colleges.
The meetings also urged the youth, women and farmer organizations to engage in value addition activities in order to enhance their market margins.
The county government officials agreed to establish county government-driven seed production and distribution systems for drought tolerant crops to foster sustainability of production and marketing systems.
Dr. Romano Kiome, Chief of Party, AVCD Program congratulated the county governments and ICRISAT for the role they have played in to seeing the increased production of green gram for last few seasons.
“We are trying to arrest the situation which seems to be moving from being a green gram celebration towards a green gram crisis in Kenya,” he says.
Dr. Kiome notes that the over production of the cereal is proof that indeed it is possible for people to produce enough food for themselves and surplus for income.
He says that AVCD is applying technologies and innovations for selected value chains in order to competitively and sustainably increase productivity, contributing to inclusive agricultural growth, nutrition and food security in the country.
Dr. Moses Siambi, ICRISAT’s Eastern and Southern Africa Regional and Research Program Director notes that the program that is funded at USD 4.5 million is aimed at promoting cereals and legumes that are not only climate smart but are also nutritious and offer an alternative to farmers in the drylands that have very few other options.
“In addition to developing the whole value chain from seeds to consumption, we have been working to improve household nutrition by diversifying diets, increasing household incomes from marketable surplus and mitigating the effects of climate change by ensuring that farmers and their families have access to nutritious foods even in bad seasons,” he says during an interview in his office.
He says that the program team and stakeholders worked to ensure production of breeder and foundation seed of the new varieties to establish diverse seed delivery channels to ensure rapid and wide access to seed by smallholder farmers, especially women and the youth.
“We started with 125,000 households who were given seeds with improved agronomic practices, taught post harvest handling and linked with the markets through farmers groups,” Dr. Siambi reveals.
He says that the promotions that were done through the media, promoting the utilization and consumption of the cereal, propelled the adoption by the farmers.
“The over production this year is not a crisis since Kenya is a net importer of 43,000 tons of green grams from Tanzania in meeting its domestic need that is 143,000 tons every year.
He recommends a policy direction to encourage Kenyans to consume cereals with good proteins to help keep off disease.
“There is need for the consumption shift to encourage populations to consume green grams with ugali and other reciepies as opposed to chapatti and rice, that are foreign cosines,” he adds.
Dr. Siambi says that it is unfortunate that Kenyans have been made to think that green grams can only be eaten with chapatti and rice.
“Once Kenyans start consuming the cereal with ugali, the production of the crop will increase tenfold for local and foreign markets,” he notes.
He says that the focus is now shifting to storage, post harvest handling, packaging, increased household consumption and the development of a business plan.
“The government needs to equip farmers on finance business plan to enable them draft ways of making profit as opposed to falling prey to brokers,” he adds.
Dr. Siambi calls on the government to ensure that farmers retain surplus cereals for domestic use as opposed to selling to help reduce cases of stunting that is common in the region.