A taste of farm life for budding agronomists

By: RACHEL KIBUI

Cecily Karimi is dressed in white gumboots and a matching dust coat as she goes around her carrot farm in Nakuru.

Walking with her side by side as they examine the crop is Brian Chunge. One may think that mother and son are assessing their farm. But these are a farmer and her agronomist.

“They are ready for the market,” Chunge tells Cecily, adding, “With half-an-acre of carrots, you will be able to comfortably supply your clients without shortage.”

Chunge is a fourth year student at Egerton University studying for a degree in Agriculture and Human Ecology Extension Studies.

He has been attached to Cecily’s farm named Jacarada for eight weeks as part of the university’s Farm Attachment Programme, which aims at boosting extension services to farmers and knowledge and practical skills among agri-students.

Cecily has been hosting the students since 2013.

“When the first two came in 2013, I was barely making Sh50,000 from this farm but I listened to their advice and applied some of the things I learnt from them,” says the farmer,

Then, she was growing sukuma wiki (collard green), beetroots and spinach.

“I had never thought of growing anything else, but the students introduced me to carrots, lettuce and cucumbers.”

Besides, she learnt from the students the value of crop rotation. Initially, she would farm the same crops each season, but she now rotates carrots with beans and French beans, which help in fixing nitrogen into the soil.

Cecily used to have a large number of employees until Chunge came.

“Mum (as Chunge refers to Cecily) used to ask about 15 people to go to the farm without assigning them any specific duties,’ recalls Chunge.

At the end of the day, he adds, they used to be paid for idling on the farm. She has since reduced the number of casual labourers to five.

Her employees, further, used to handle carelessly equipment that led to destruction of drip irrigation pipes, something that would cost her a lot of money to repair.

“But Chunge advised me to surcharge those who destroy the pipes and other equipment. This way, they are able to take care of my equipment,’ she says.

Before the student came to his farm, Cecily says she used to harvest one 110kg bag of carrots.

“But I now harvest four to five bags. I also never used to plant beans but I have planted the highly productive Chelalang and I expect to harvest four 90kg bags,” says Cecily, who has also planted cucumbers for the first time.

She says she has now learnt that she should spray her crops early in the morning or late in the evening.

“If I spray during daytime, the insects will fly away and I will be doing it in vain.”

In Eldama Ravine, William Boit has become an exceptional farmer growing tissue-culture bananas.

He had never thought of it until James Mwangi, an agricultural student from Egerton was assigned to his farm for attachment.

“The student came when my passion fruits had succumbed to fruit rot.”

It was Mwangi who advised Boit to replace his one-acre of passion fruits with tissue-culture bananas in August last year.

Mwangi even took Boit to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) where he bought banana seedlings.

“He told me that bananas have good returns because they are not a common crop grown in the area, yet there is increased demand,” says Boit, noting Mwangi helped him plant 200 seedlings and he has since multiplied to 500.

Egerton University’s Director of the Board of Undergraduate Studies, Prof Nancy Mungai, says the programme exposes students to real farming and farmers to professionalism.

Farms are selected with the help of the Agriculture ministry and referrals by other farmers. All farms are visited by university lecturers before students are attached.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION