A new piece of kit in the form of a backpack could help small farmers in Kenya increase yields, profits and agricultural know-how in a sustainable way.
The backpacks, weighing 15-42 kg, contain things which help farmers bring a crop to harvest, including tools, a training manual and, in some versions, a collapsible water tank. They are designed for small plots of land and are currently being used in the Mau Forest region.
“The nine month supply for a half acre [0.2 hectares] of land I bought, includes seeds, a plant nutrition system and water drip and it is light enough to be transported on my back” Rosemary Muthomi, one of the users of the system in Meru Green, told IRIN.
Small-scale farms are widespread in Kenya, where the great majority of the population depends on agriculture or fishing. But much of the farming takes place only on a subsistence level on small plots or `shambas’, and even in such households, food insecurity is common.
An April 2010 report by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said that although short rains at the end of 2009 improved food security in several areas of Kenya, “ recurrent seasons of failed or poor rains, sustained high food prices, environmental degradation, disease outbreaks, and flooding led to deteriorating food security conditions throughout Kenya, straining coping mechanisms, exacerbating pre-existing chronic poverty, and contributing to increased inter-ethnic conflict regarding access to limited land and water resources.”
The Backpack Farm Agricultural Programme (BPF), brainchild of Rachel Zedeck and launched in late 2009, also aims to encourage small-scale farmers to form cooperatives so as to increase production and improve marketing.
“Our idea was to enable users to immediately start growing their own food. But the final goal is to ensure small-scale farmers increase their harvests and improve their quality of life and also to give them the technology, at a fraction of commercial costs, for opening up to markets.”
“As well as drought-resistant seeds of local crop varieties, we provide fertilizers that do not damage soil and water tables, a cost effective drip irrigation system, and training on green water management [rainwater collection] techniques,” she added.
The high cost of most ecologically friendly farm products has limited their use to around 10 percent of Kenyan farmers, according to John W. Njoroge, director of the Kenyan Institute of Organic Farming.
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