Kenya: Turkana Farmers Embrace Groundnuts Production to Boost Income, Nutrition
It’s 11am on a Tuesday at the Nanyee Irrigation Scheme and even the cruel sun beating down on the 230-acre farm isn’t enough to force Ms Agnes Esinyen to go back home or take shelter under the acacia and mathenge canopy.
“I’m motivated by the newly introduced groundnuts that are at the pegging stage,” Ms Esinyen tells the Nation as she weeds her green crops.
She was first taught how to grow, weed and harvest them with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme, Egerton University and the Turkana County government.
She says that the crop she planted in late September is the newest on the farm next to the River Turkwel.
The farm was established in 1982 as part of a discontinued project but in 2019, it was rehabilitated by the World Food Programme.
Like more than 500 other farmers across the county who have now embraced two improved groundnut varieties developed by Egerton University – Ndovu (EUGN 1) that is large-seeded with high oil content and Mwangaza (EUGN 2), red in color – she said that they had lacked a highly nutritious crop for effective crop rotation.
Since planting the groundnuts, she has not seen the fall armyworms that voraciously destroyed her maize before she shifted to groundnuts.
“Before I grabbed the opportunity to plant groundnuts, I used to travel to Lodwar to buy them as they were some of the nutritious foods we were advised to feed our children. I feel relieved to have them in my farm,” Ms Esinyen said.
In the village, she is not only a farmer but also a trained community-based facilitator who has now trained 90 farmers.
She said there is a ready local market for the crops, with a kilo of unshelled groundnuts being sold for Sh90.
Ms Margaret Akitela, another farmer, said the soil is virgin and they don’t apply any fertiliser.
Ms Akitela noted that because groundnuts are leguminous, they release in the soil high-quality organic matter that facilitates soil nutrients by partnering with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to reduce weeds and enrich the soil.
Mr Michael Ngutu, an agronomist, said they already have a private investor who, under a contract with farmers in Turkana, is seeking to buy 6,000 tonnes annually.
Mr Ngutu said that Insta Products EPZ Limited’s main challenge in the groundnuts value chain countrywide is getting the right quality of seeds and that is why the company is forced to import from Argentina.
“At the moment, FAO has engaged and supported 500 farmers in terms of training. We expect to scale up the project so that in the next four years we have a sustainable 18,000-hectare groundnut farm project with 15,000 farmers directly involved to make Turkana the leading producer county in Kenya,” he said.
He said that Insta Products EPZ seeks to spend Sh23 billion in buying groundnuts from Turkana.
With funding from the European Union and the IKEA Foundation, FAO is investing Sh315 million in the groundnuts project after confirmation that they can grow in the county.
“Through a partnership with Egerton University and Kenya Seed Company we are preparing farmers to produce for that market. The university will act as our research institute to ensure we get the best aflatoxin-free seeds and the best quality training for our targeted farmers,” Mr Ngutu said.
FAO representative to Kenya, Mrs Carla Mucavi, said Egerton University will ensure the project is sustainable through breeding of certified seeds.
She confirmed that some farmers planted 10 acres of groundnuts during the long rains season in 2021 and harvested about seven metric tonnes that were sold in markets and consumed at the household level. Egerton also bought 250kg as seeds.
“The project is not only an investment towards ensuring food security in Turkana but will also enhance nutrition as well as ensure farmers get income to improve their livelihoods,” she said.
She said that in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the project will also be implemented at the Kakuma and Kalobeyei refugee camps.
Locals vowed to embrace the project so that by the end of four years they will have built a formidable relationship with the investor to continue supplying groundnuts.
Mr Francis Ekiru, an expert at FAO’s Farmer Fields School, said they will bank on field schools that are supported by the Turkana County government to mobilise more locals to learn practically and participate in agricultural activities through research and large-scale production of various crops.
“The schools are critical in facilitating trials and field-level production of the crops,” Mr Ekiru said.
“Just like groundnuts, we have already succeeded in piloting orange fleshed sweet potatoes that have done very well in selected irrigation schemes through increased knowledge and skills, as well as change in farmers’ mindsets on farming.”