Rainmaker battles ‘cereal’ killer

Leonida Andewa, a mother of seven, is transforming a community hitherto ravaged by the effects of Striga. Her village is a few kilometres from Luanda Town, Vihiga County in Western Kenya.

supportThe widow, a former primary school teacher, has been farming since 1975. Implicitly, she’s an opinion-shaper, not only among women-folk but even within the highly patriarchal society of West Bunyore Sub-location, whose residents are famously known to be traditional rainmakers.

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 Leonida Andewa, a farmer in Vihiga County at her farm during the interview.

And because of her position in the society African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) officials and the Ministry of Agriculture extension officers selected her to headline the revolutionary Imazapyr Resistant (IR) technology that is used to control the destructive Striga weed in maize farmlands. AATF has partnered with seed producers to make available IR seeds to farmers.

Leonida has what area agricultural experts describe as ‘a model farm’ – two adjunct plots that extension agents or researchers use to study and highlight to the public the effects of opposing technologies, in this case the IR seeds and the kienyeji (seeds recycled from previous harvest).

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Leonida Andewa during the interview.

“I receive on average 30 visitors a month, who come here to look at my crop. They admire the way I go about my farming. They replicate on their farms what they witness here.”

Maize is a critical component of food security in Vihiga. Agriculture provides 61 per cent of all employment. Yet farming is still backward; about 98.7% of farming is subsistence. Use of fertilizer and certified seeds is just 25%.

The inapt farming practice is witnessed in the output – Vihiga County managed to harvest just 329,280 bags (29.6 million kilos) of maize in 2012 – not enough to feed its 570,000 residents. (Kenya’s per capita maize consumption is 88 kilos)

Leonida wants to change this. She believes Vihiga can be a self-sufficient county in matters of food. “If we fight Striga and employ good farming practices, we can become a maize surplus county.”

At times, Leonida’s 4-acre farm is turned into a field day, an annual forum where farmers and agricultural officers showcase their best practices and learn new farming techniques. Field days – apart from radio programs, on-farm demonstrations, chief’s baraza (public rallies), pamphlets and brochures, and agricultural extension agents – are the key sources of farming information in the rural areas.

Naturally, the fact that she is a woman was empirical in her choice to headline the new technology. In parts of western Kenya, women have been relegated to the periphery yet they provide 65% of farm-work. They own just one per cent of the land and resultant farm income. Thus, any technology that sidelines women is futile. “It must begin with the woman. We are open, and we provide the bulk of farm-work.”

Leonida sums up IR’s benefit, thus “There has been drastic change in the yields”.

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