Meet Purity Gachanga a farmer from Embu, Kenya

Peter Gachie and Yvonne Otieno

Do trees on farms work? Well ask Purity Gachanga. Purity hails from Manyatta division of Embu North district,Kenya, where her family inherited 4 acres of land. The Gachagas have 11 children, 6 boys and 5 girls and the whole family relies on the farm for food and other needs. The main sources of income are dairy cattle and goats and coffee farming. Her long journey of success started in 1972, after marriage when she started clearing bushes for growing food crops. Her first cow was paid for in installments since the family could not raise the amount required at once.

Purity joined a women’s Chama (An informal savings and microcredit system) and attended farming study tours and events organized by the World Agroforestry Centre and Kenya Agricultural Research Insitute (KARI) extension agents where she learnt and practised livestock rearing and growing of fodder trees.

And yes, to Purity, all trees in the farm are useful. Through interaction with researchers and extension providers, Purity has been able to integrate crop, livestock and tree farming systems capable of maintaining household food security under sustainable natural resource management.

Purity participated in a study in early 90s that concluded that 3 kgs of fresh Calliandra fodder has the same effect in milk production as 1kg of commercial dairy meal. In addition, milk from cows fed on Calliandra is tastier and creamier.

In the study, Purity and other farmers learnt that fodder trees should be mixed with basal feeds such as nappier grass of the ratio in 1:3. The trees are usually planted as fences or hedgerows, 2 rows in a zigzag manner to economize on space. The Calliandra hedge should be maintained or pruned to waist or 1.5 – 2 m high). Purity took these lessons to heart and started growing fodder trees.

Some of the fodder trees grown in her farm include Calliandra calothyrsusLeucaena leucocephalaLeuceana trichandraSesbania sesbanMorus albaDesmondium Spp. and a variety of grass species  that feed her cows.

On average, she now gets 20 litres of milk from each of her 3 mature cows and 2 litres of milk from each of her 14 goats every day. A litre of cow’s milk sells at Ksh 30 while a litre of goat’s milk sells at Ksh 90. According to Purity, a good cow not fed with dairy meal nor fodder trees produces an average of 10 litres daily.

The family also has several chicken and rabbits while different species of food crops are also grown in the farm for home consumption or sale.

Fuelwood, the major source of energy for cooking in Purity’s farm is obtained from trees prunings. Lately, using simple technologies and materials (polythene tube and pipes), Purity has put up a biogas unit that is generating gas out of animal waste for use in the .She is therefore saving quite a substantial amount of money since she no longer has to purchase cooking gas or fuel wood.

Purity has also incorporated several tree species including Eucalyptus spp., P. africana, C. africana, G. robusta, Podocarpus spp., M. lutea, and O.capensis which are grown for timber. Fruit trees such as avocadoes, loquats, pawpaw, bananas and macadamia are also grown for sale and domestic consumption.

Conscious of her family’s health, Purity has also grown some medicinal trees such as Warbugia ugandensis, Jatropha spp, Prunus africana, Caesalpinia volkensiiLantana camara and Azandrachta indica  amongst other species. The family also has several beehives which periodically produce 7-10 kg honey, for domestic use as well as preparation of herbal medicine.

Also spotted in Puritys farm were some tree species such as Tithonia diversifolia, Tephrosia vogeli, T. candida, Crotoralia grahamiana, Sesbania sesban, Desmonium spp, Markhamia lutea, Grevillea robusta and Cordia africana.Most of these species are leguminous hence able to fix nitrogen on soil and when their leaves fall on the ground decompose to organic matter thus improving soil fertility. Manure from livestock fed on fodder trees was said to have a higher nutrient value. Using the income from sale of farm produce, the family has also built permanent house (stone house) and connected electricity and piped water, among other basic needs.

Purity is an example of a successful small scale mixed farmer who over the years adopted technologies from research and other institutions. Her farm serves as a demonstration site and in late February, she hosted a group of 29 farmers from Kyeni, Mweru and Mariani.The aim of the tour to Purity’s farm was to give farmers exposure on the best approaches to adopting and managing crops-livestock-trees farming systems that they are evaluating and promoting in their farms. The tour was jointly organized by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Embu) and the World Agroforestry Centre scientists.

The farmers are part of two projects Enhancing Total On-farm Productivity for Conservation Agriculture-based Smallholder Farmers in Eastern Africa’ supported International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) and Sustainable Intensification of Maize-legume cropping systems for food security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) funded by Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research’s (ACIAR).

The World Agroforestry Centre is jointly implementing the IFAD project with KARI in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).