The last time any significant amount of rainfall hit the ground in the semi-arid lower Mwatate sub-county was two years ago, a shift that has left countless families facing drought and unfathomable hunger.
For one man, among thousands who continue to face the surmounting tide of hunger, the lack of rainfall in as much as it spelled doom across lands in Kenya, highlands, and lowlands alike, was an opportunity to embrace the unknown and brave the odds to fend for his young family.
Alphonse Omondi Odero, a resident of Peleleza estate at Mwatate town, has become an inspiration among those who know him and those who meet him busy tending to his quarter-acre farm separated from the colonial time Voi-Taveta-Arusha railway by a deep gulley.
KNA found him watering his sprouting Sukuma plants as his four-year-old daughter played at one corner of the farm, careful not to step on any of the well-spaced green kales.
For a moment, we stood there without him noticing us as he made several trips to the shallow well, pulled a bucket of water, and went on with his job with a smile of satisfaction.
“The weather changed for worse two years ago and I could no longer get casual jobs from large farm holders. I was facing a defining moment of my life and the hungry faces of my young kids compelled me to do something. This is what I’ve been doing ever since and I can’t regret walking down this path,” said Odero.
A scanning look around the farm, one realises the precise spacing of the kales from one plant to the next and the rich green Sukuma wiki that would have one salivating for a veggie treat.
Odero is a busy man in the evenings as it is the time he waters his plants before a stream of customers camp at the periphery of his shamba waiting for their bunches of fresh kales.
“Every evening is busy for me. I begin watering the plants around 4:30 PM and my customers begin showing up at 5:30 PM. I leave when the last one of them has a bunch of kales in his hands,” he said.
Kale farming has been a lifesaving venture for the father of two, who has no one other source of income.
From his confessions, Odero makes enough to feed his family, pay school fees for his two children in lower primary, and save a little for a rainy day. “I live off this farm for all my family needs, including the school fees for my two kids in lower primary. I make enough for a modest living and always have some change for a bad day,” added Odero.
The demand for his kales is so high that some customers leave without anything and he promises them a priority treat the following day. On a harvesting day, Odero is guaranteed to take home not less than Sh500.
“The demand is high for my vegetables and some of my customers go back home without anything. I give them priority the following day. It’s a good business as I take home not less than ksh500 when I harvest,” Odero said.
One unique thing about Odero’s farming is that he no longer depends on the faltering rains. He has dug a two-meter deep well that has water sieving from under the muddy ground.
The well has water all year around and has been a lifeline to Alphonse’s small-scale vegetable farming. If he had the resources, Alphonse said he would hire a modern borehole driller to access more water for a bigger farm and domestic use in the neighbourhood.
“I no longer depend on the rains. My small well here serves me best come shine come rain. But if I had the resources, I would have the well done to modern standards to expand my farm as well supply domestic water to the neighborhood,” stated Odero.
Odero’s vegetables have earned him a household name as customers praise the quality of his products as opposed to what they buy from the market. “His kales are tender, tasty, and do not cause our stomachs to rumble after eating them like those we get from the market,” said Emily Mzera, a long-time return customer for Odero.
On his secret, Odero said that he does not use pesticides for his vegetables other than making sure they get adequate water every day.
“It’s not magic that my kales literally fly away from my garden. I do not use pesticides and only ensure they get enough water every day. That’s the trick,” said Odero.
Odero is an example of a Kenyan taking the matter into his hands to make his household food secure and earning a living out of it. “I believe that it’s what I do for myself that matters instead of expecting the government to help me. I think if everyone put in a small effort to be food secure, no Kenyan would die of hunger,” said Odero,