Anybody who sets out to farm will want to get good yields for consumption and commercial purposes as well. However, their dreams are often hindered by problems such as lack of enough water occasioned by the local climate, poor farming techniques, lack of a good workforce, lack of environment-friendly fertilizers, and so on.
By embracing the Zai pits farming technology, two women groups in Kiliki, Matungulu sub-county of Machakos County have found a way of dealing with the problems above to get more crop yields from their farms.
Janet Ndunge, who is the chair lady of the Kumbu Young mothers women group and the secretary of the Wikwatyo wa Aka women group says that they started using the Zai pit farming technology in 2013 after attending a farming workshop by the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE).
“Ever since we started using Zai pits, we have seen an increase in our harvests as compared to the conventional methods of farming,” she said.
Zai pits are wide, deep planting pits that act as microcatchment and can be used for rehabilitating soil when used with manure. West African countries have used them for over twenty-five years, and East Africans are only starting to use them.
According to Anthony Muthiani Kioko, an extension officer, this farming technology was introduced to the area three years ago, and the reception was great.
The technology entails digging square holes with a 30 cm depth (1ft) and the whole which measures 75 x 75 x 30 (cm) can hold up to nine plants. The planting process is done in phases where the first layer is the manure source from the compound or livestock in the compound. The plants are then planted on top and covered with the soil.
You can increase or reduce the manure according to the fertility of the soil you are using. There is no need for artificial fertilizers.
“There are many benefits to this type of farming, and they include water retention, root penetration, being environmental –friendly and high yields,” said Kioko.
If you have one acre of land, you can have 1778 Zai pits which translate into a plant population of 16000 maize stalks. One pit may give yields of one bag to one and a half bags of maize.
The quiet and airy village of Kiliki is found at the foot of the famous and imposing Kilimambogo Hill. While the area has natural water sources, it also experiences drought, and this can make farming quite difficult.
“We get one sack of maize from each hole, and when there is drought there will still be a harvest,” Said Ndunge.
Granted, the Zai pits method of farming can be quite labor intensive, especially when it comes to digging the holes. This is where the various women groups come in. The groups of women work together to dig the holes in each member’s farm and ensure that all the farms are ready for planting by the time they are done.
They also own parcels of land collectively and here; they also plant maize and other crops such as black beans, beans, green grams and so on. The money realized from the communal land is shared among the members equally.
Apart from helping each other to make the Zai pits, the women groups also have seed banks with a variety of seeds that are availed to them whenever they need them. Another of the benefits of belonging to such groups is that it is easier to market your produce as a group as compared to marketing as an individual.
Farmers need technical support, and it is simpler to get the help you need when you need it, the support comes in the form of training, workshops and solving some of the problems that the farmers might have. Some of the technical assistance for farmers in this area comes from organizations such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries, ICE and Greenpeace.
“What Greenpeace does here is to help facilitate the farmers, but it is there moment, process and they are the biggest stakeholders. They identify the problems and come up with solutions which then inform policy,” said Siddharth Sreenivas, Food for Life Campaigner at Greenpeace