While many Kenyans aspire to achieve their dreams through white-collar jobs, to Joshua Okundi, farming was the best option.
However, the 52-year-old comes from a part of Homa Bay county where for a long time, farming was not feasible.
Though blessed with arable land, Kanjira village, Karachuonyo, was long plagued by lack of water, discouraging farming.
Then came the Sh5.6 billion Kimira-Oluch irrigation project, which provides water through dykes. The project, supported by the African Development Bank and the national government, targets 3,500 farmers.
A feasibility study conducted by the Lake Basin Development Authority showed the area has the potential to produce hundreds of tonnes of maize, rice, vegetables and other horticultural crops.
Joshua Okundi shows his dairy farm in Karachuonyo to EAC PS Susan Koech
But initially, the water project wasted away due to being underutilised, with many residents channelling the water to domestic use. Now Okundi’s success story is among those changing the narrative.
Before becoming a farmer, Okundi used to run a retail shop. Low profits from the enterprise drove him to ditch it and venture into farming.
“I realised that business was time-consuming but with little profit at the end. I could make a net income of only Sh10,000 maximum, but with farming, I’m able to get a gross monthly income of Sh300,000. This is booming for me,” he says.
PS Susan Koech (C) and MP Adipo Okuome at the kales farm of Bob Modi in Karachuonyo
The farmer employs about eight youths. “Each labourer is paid Sh10,000, and I spend over Sh45,000 in buying farm inputs,” he says.
His net monthly income is about Sh170,000, which he saves in banks.
Okundi expects to gain more from fish farming and dairy. He uses the water from the project to grow Napier grass for his dairy cows and run fishponds.
“I have a few weeks to start harvesting tilapia fish. I will also be milking cows and enjoying profits,” he says.
Okundi, who has been a farmer for close to seven years, says there is great potential in farming, and urges residents to take up the career.
He has segmented his three acres into different agricultural activities, and serves as an example to many residents who may disregard the irrigation project.
“Apart from receiving customers who come to buy my produce, a number of visitors also come to borrow farming ideas,” Okundi says.
FOCUS ON BANANAS
Currently, his attention is focused on banana production, where he uses tissue culture technology due to what he says is lucrative profits from banana production.
He has planted over 150 batches of tissue culture banana species and is targeting about Sh150,000 from banana sales.
Okundi says the tissue culture banana species take on average one year to reach maturity. Some of the species he produces include Chinese Cavendish, Williams, Grand Naine, Nusu Ngombe, Fhia and sweet banana.
Other crops he has been cultivating are pumpkins, kales, tomatoes, mangoes, lemon and paw-paw fruits.
In his pumpkin production, Okundi says he earned Sh30,000 from the sales in the last planting season.
The farmer says the water project has greatly improved his farming output. Apart from water supply, it has equipped him with a vast technical know-how.
“Let this project stay. It has highly enabled me practise farming continually. I have gained farming skills through workshops I attend,” he says.
Okundi says farming has had far-reaching benefits in his life. “Paying school fees is not a hectic task as it was in previous years. I also have no difficulty in meeting daily bread for my family,” he says.
Joshua Okundi's fish ponds
Okundi urges residents to start with whatever little resources they have, as they expect to grow gradually in their agricultural production.
“I started farming from an absolutely humble background. Let other farmers not wait to start on a large scale, but begin with whatever little they have,” he says.
The energetic farmer says he envisions a bright future for farming. “To me farming is a preferred lifelong career because I have realised there is untapped money from the soil. No single day passes without me pocketing money,” he says.
He encourages young people to venture into farming instead of waiting for office jobs, adding that most youths have a negative perception that farming is a career for ‘unlearned’ people.
Okundi appeals to the Homa Bay government to start looking for market for farmers, so people who join the trade are not frustrated.
“Marketing farm produce in foreign markets still remains a big challenge. There shouldn’t be a situation where farmers count losses when produce goes bad due to lack of market,” he says.
A number of villagers, led by Rose Apodo, say they are now able to get horticultural crops with ease.
Apodo, who buys and sells fruits and vegetables in local markets, urges Okundi and other farmers to continue.
“We used to spend much money in purchasing and transporting horticultural goods from the neighbouring Kisii county. But now they are readily available,” she says.
Kochia MCA Ojala Nyang’i says Okundi has inspired many people to see that they can eradicate poverty through farming.
“The areas covered by the project are now thriving. Okundi’s success shows how this project can transform the lives of the community should they embrace it,” Nyang’i says.
The MCA says he will be mobilising residents to clean water canals should they get silted.
“The project must be protected to ensure its continuity and sustainability,” he says.
CALL FOR RICE FARMING
Project manager Nelson Korir says more than 1,500 farmers are currently using the water for agricultural purposes.
“There is great potential of many people joining farming above the number [3,500] we targeted,” Korir says.
The manager says phase 1, which was done in Karachuonyo constituency, is complete, while phase 2 in Rangwe will be finalised before the handing over to Homa Bay government by June 30.
The project, which was started in 2009, draws water from non-seasonal rivers, such as Awach-Kibuon in Karachuonyo and River Tende in Rangwe.
Speaking during a tour of the project on January 21, Korir said it is 90 per cent complete. Ongoing are the civil works, which include fixing valves on canals that lead water to farms and cementing them to avoid percolation before the official handover.
“The project covers a total of 1,474ha. We’re finalising it before it’s taken up by the Homa Bay government,” Korir said.
Evans Atera, who works with Lake Basin Development Authority, urged farmers to diversify into rice production, saying the agency is ready to source market for the produce.
Atera said the national government had allocated Sh100 million towards purchasing rice from local farmers.
“This is a way in which the government gets markets to farmers, hence it’s important for farmers to embark on growing different crops,” Atera said.
He said the water project would transform many lives if utilised appropriately.
“Kimira-Oluch is a special project for residents in the Western Kenya region aimed at positively changing lives,” he said.
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