I run. A 6 am routine that I have tried to stick to for the last 3 years. I run rural with no devices in my ears, as this is time I panel beat my ideas; hay marketing, machine repairs, drafting articles and the never ending issue of pesa.
There is joy in kicking dew, getting the heady smell of eucalyptus, looking at snow-capped Mt. Kenya peaks, running when it’s drizzling and hoping it is also raining on my grass.
A “jikaze Mama” shout out from elite runners – the flag waving ones just so you know, followed by a tip from their coaches, are my talisman for a good day.
Within the jikaze tariff (which says a lot about my speed) – I am fortunate that I can mix hills – the gentle and the killer – flats, forests, streams, big rivers and a bit of tarmac to make the 10 km cross section of rural agriculture.
My run gives me a reality of Kenyan rural agriculture, which I find lacking in our social media forums, newspaper agri pullouts and TV features – where hobbyists and single season farmers who are lucky with the market are sometimes overly celebrated.
Images are curated to perfection and desk bound wordsmiths romanticize farming with ATM’s lined along the foot paths. If only. I am not throwing stones – because I have participated on most of these forums.
Why should my 10 km agri-run matter to you? It is because regardless of the land tenure and devolution, we can’t expand national boundaries. And therefore, it is in our national interest that we get maximum productivity from every acre of land, not only for food security but so as to improve our social welfare – health, education, housing, transportation and rural recreation.
Are we doing this in our rural areas? And by rural I don’t mean what you see along the major tarmac roads, which is “prime rural”. I mean huko nyuma – this is where I run.
Run with me for some highlights.
The milk man and Shimba
Always at his gate with his 4.5 l milk tin waiting for the co-op milk collection truck. His demeanor screams “defeated”, even at 6 am. His nappier grass has overgrown to the height and thickness of the Grevillea trees that are along the farm borderlines. Give him an A+ for afforestation.
There is a small patch of Rhodes Grass, possibly from the 100 gms seeds sachet he bought in an agriculture show, with the marketing pitch that every dairy farmer must have his own hay. Should he?
Being a commercial Rhodes Grass farmer – I am afraid I may look like I am bashing the farmer out of envy but kwa roho safi, he is more likely to increase his milk yield if he planted a legume fodder e.g. lucerne or desmodium, which can increase the protein factor in his feed ration.
Oh and the 2020 word of the year “super spreader”- my milk man has used it since his Rhodes Grass started seeding, because it prolifically spreads seeds to the rest of his farm as well as his neighbor’s. This increases his weeding costs, without which his whole farm will be colonized by Rhodes Grass but now as a weed.
How comes he has missed out on the money and growth that is touted to be in the Kenya dairy sector? Has he stubbornly “refused” to add value to his milk? Or could it be that his deductions from the co-op means he can’t break even?
Has the fodder conservation message reached him? Most likely not, because with his meager milk earnings he can’t afford to pay for a consultant and the government /county agriculture extension services are not available.
I trudge on as Shimba his friendly dog – that’s the name for all dogs here and we are strong on the “h” – gives me a tail wag. I am happy that he stands by his master and doesn’t see the despair that is on his face.
Soda and data
I detest running on main roads (read tarmac). But I do an inevitable 200m connecting the small stream run to the killer hill.
On the tarmac the unmistakable red trailers carrying the bottled happiness of carbonated water and sugar are a regular sighting. What intrigues me with these trailers is the massive data that they are hauling. Fresh data that is collected, collated and modeled for demographics, regions, seasons as well as price. Drink.
Now let’s look at our agriculture data. With devolution it is in 47 secured bottles with little communication with each other. Some is also fire-walled by the sponsoring donor agencies and NGOs. There is a whiff of staleness, complexity in delivery and the data is drank on special occasions such as conferences and seminars way out of reach of farmers in my 10 km.
There is a lot of data that is left uncollected at the county cess barriers – where emphasis is on revenue collection but not on the important details like specific farms where the produce was sourced, whether it was irrigated or rain fed, seeds varieties used etc. While the revenue is valuable to the counties the uncaptured data is priceless in the way it can be used in shaping our agriculture policy.
The cattle dip
While the elite runners swoosh it in a jiffy, I use my jikaze tariff to the absolute limit because a 1 km long hill with a 75 m ascent is a legs killer. Believe me.
Up, up and there is the cattle dip where I take a break, reminiscing of the ritual of taking cows to the dip. The cows (and dogs) loved the experience and for me – and my generation – the layout of the dip was firmly sketched on our minds.
So rightfully I can ask: “Who builds a cattle dip on a narrow road reserve? Where is the holding area? Where is the drainage area – factor in 75m gradient with a stream below.”
The dip is not in use and it is not dilapidated- the walkway timber frames and the mabatis are in good condition – making me wonder if its closure was a foregone conclusion but it was nevertheless built by project funds that had to be used. But figure out the song, dance and speeches that were done on its “opening day”.
Was our livestock vector control better when we had efficiently run communal cattle dips or now where cows are sprayed at the farms? Over to the vets.
Whatever, on my run I get to see an elephant even though it is white. Sad.
Post Harvest losses
I am running along the small stream where water birds are fishing for their breakfast. It would be nice to linger around to to see the dives and precision of their hunts.
But the ever hanging stench of rotting cabbage, that is a permanent feature of the small plots makes me up my running tariff.
How can our rural agriculture thrive if the small holder farmers suffer back-to-back losses through lack of market for their produce?
There is the occasional good season that farmers get very good prices for cabbage – but this benefit mainly goes to farmers on large acreage who can buy quality seeds and inputs, usually on credit. They can also afford to pay for agronomist’s services, and through social media they can bypass marketing brokers, who pay pittance for produce.
These are things that are out of the reach from the leased plot cabbage farmer on my run, accounting for the cabbages that are left to rot in the farm. Pain.
The Coffee Run
My best part of the run is an enjoyable flat sprint where on clear days I get a good sighting of the Aberdare ranges.
Farms here are dotted with “trees” which, if they weren’t in my DNA as trees that took my generation to school, made families get better housing, build water tanks, and basically improve rural life – I wouldn’t know it is coffee.
There are a few yellow leaves forlornly clinging to the bone dry branches. Termites have built nests at the base of the stems and there are no berries, even the low grade mbuni.
How sacrilegious this would look to the small holder coffee farmers of years back? Then there was pride in having Grade 1 fat and juicy berries that “dropped the kilo”. The Grade 2, which were pockmarked with Coffee Berry Disease, would invite the wrath and finger wagging of the factory manager.
I am not persuaded that the small holder coffee farmers on my run no longer desire the things that my parents’ generation desired from their coffee earnings. And I don’t fall for the line that there is no money in coffee – because there is a big privately run coffee farm across the road with coffee in prime condition.
So what ails the small holder coffee sector? For answer ref the milk man and Shimba.
On and on I could tell you about bananas, fish ponds or abandoned green houses but you now have the drift of the agriculture status on my 10 km.
It is not all gloom on my run. There is the adrenaline rush of seeing boys giggle as they throw stones at bee hives – yes, they know I am behind them and they are aware of my speed! They also catapult rocks at monkeys and then safely tuck away the weapon in their school bags. How unfortunate that many kids in urban areas will never know the thrill of these mischiefs.
And on the days that I run with my grown-up kids with them saying; “Mama don’t worry I will loop you” – allowing us time to talk as we run, this is fun.
Wherever your rural is, whatever your running tarriff, lace up and do a 10 km- then we compare notes. May 2021 be a better year for the Kenyan agri sector.
For purchase of quality Rhodes Grass Hay, contact Anne, the blog writer: