And why not small holder farming!

Ask Hon. Joshua Irungu, first Governor of Laikipia County…..
Many remember Joshua Wakahora Irungu as the first Governor of Laikipia, but to the residents of Laikipia County he is simply known as the tireless super-farmer who thrives on trying out new technologies on his farm and later shocking those around him with amazing results. With a background in Agriculture and Community development, he is completely sold on the concept that agriculture must evolve to mitigate the negative effects of climate change. He has therefore taken it upon himself to reach out to farmers and empower them through teaching modern practices of agriculture. In the process, he has surprised many of his visitors by demonstrating that you do not need to own tracts of land to effectively reap the benefits of agriculture.
Hon. Irungu has had extensive work experience with communities dating back to the late 90’s when he was posted to Laikipia County as staff in the Ministry of Agriculture. At the time almost all farmers in Laikipia grew maize, beans and wheat and had minimal exposure to alternative lucrative crops. Through his extension work he introduced alternative crops that had previously never been grown in the semi- arid county such as avocados, macadamia, mangoes and pineapples.

Not to be the person who preaches water and drinks wine, Hon. Irungu bought a two acre piece of land in Kinamaba, Laikipia County and successfully converted this piece of land into an agricultural enterprise that is the darling of any small holder famer wanting to learn. Owing to the interest his farm generated, Hon. Irungu was subsequently driven to reach out to more people through a farmer-to-farmer exchange programme at his farm to expose farmers to these technologies and support them to replicate what they had learned in their own farms. Over the years he has turned his piece of land into a model farm where farmers come from all over the country to learn about new farming methods and embrace new technologies. He is currently involved in growing high values tree crops that include citrus fruits, different varieties of mango trees, macadamia, passion fruits and tree tomatoes; cover crops like sweet potatoes, beans and lucerne; livestock keeping including dairy cows, dairy goats, sheep and poultry. Through careful planning of crop and livestock schedules, he ensures that his farm generates good income throughout the year, something all farmers aspire to achieve.

A major contribution to his success can be traced to his water conservation efforts. Hon. Irungu has put simple but effective water harvesting systems in place that ensure his model farm has sufficient water throughout the year. He has used rust-free gutters and a well-designed water transmitting system into reservoirs that have a total holding capacity of 1 million litres per rain season. Mr. Irungu has also developed a waste management system that separates wash water from surface run off that is used to clean and irrigate crops, animal waste that will be a fuel source for his bio digester and left over feed and pruning’s and other foliage that is converted into manure. His silage and fodder conservation system is able to supply feed for his livestock throughout the year. His selection process of his breeding stock is meticulous, and Hon. Irungu travels across the country to ensure that he gets the best.
Hon Irungu’s passion for farming was evident during his tenure as Governor of Laikipia as he always blocked his Monday schedules to personally receive farmers and conduct the farmer-to-farmer exchanges at his farm in Kinamba, much to the surprise of many. According to him, this was something he had done consistently from the late 90’s so he didn’t see why his new status should interfere with his passion. He has over the years hosted thousands of groups in his farm and has been a shining example to small scale farmers on how a relatively small piece of land can be converted into a commercial business enterprise through mixed farming, modern technologies and managing waste.

Hon. Joshua Irungu’s 5 tips for being a successful small scale farmer

  1. Have the right mindset-believe that it is possible to achieve good results within your means. It is not the size of land or the weight of the pocket that matters. It is how well you manage the resources you have and your willingness to adopt as quickly to the ever-evolving agricultural arena.
  2. Farmer-to-farmer exchange is key. The best way for a farmer to learn is to allow him to experience agriculture on the farm and have him/her practice it. When a farmer witnesses the successes of a fellow farmer, they embrace new technologies with much less resistance. According to Hon. Irungu, knowledge exchange through farmer experience is what will transform the agriculture sector in the Kenya. “Take that to the bank” he adds.
  3. Embrace agroforestry- according to Hon. Irungu, this is the best long term investment you will ever have. In his own words, “forget about shares and real estate……focus on agroforestry, then go on holiday”
  4. Be an early adopter-too much valuable time is lost doubting farming technologies.
  5. Learn to work together-when farmers living around each other embrace new farming methods together they benefit from the benefits of aggregating as well as route to market. The larger an order is, the better the chances of getting reliable buyers with better prices.

Early adopter profile:
Mr. Martin Kigano from Sipili- mentee of Hon. Joshua Irungu

“I met Joshua Irungu when he came to Sipili as a young and energetic agricultural officer. He seemed to speak a language we all did not understand because instead of teaching us to
improve what we already had, he asked us to grow new crops that had never been seen in our area. We thought his lack of experience and enthusiasm for his new job was the reason he was optimistic for our semi-arid county. Most of us seasoned farmers ignored him but when he bought a piece of land in nearby Kinamba, and started showing us practically how to farm new crops like citrus trees, avocado, macadamia and pineapples, we began to pay attention. Many farmers were still doubtful but through my many visits to his farm and the support and encouragement I got from him, I was the first in our area to start growing macadamia and oranges in my farm. Looking back, I know I made the best decision of my life because the initial 100 orange saplings and 10 macadamia saplings I planted give me very good returns every year. My first harvest coincided with my retirement from a long teaching career so I am very grateful that I now enjoy financial security and do not have to depend on anybody for money. I have since planted many more fruit trees in my farm. Hon Irungu also taught me to intercrop so I do that with beans, sweet potato vines and other nitrogen fixing crops. He is now mentoring me into dairy farming, and so far I have 10 grade cows. I am so glad I started early. Everyone around me eventually started citrus and macadamia farming when they saw my success, though they always say they wish they had done it earlier, especially when they see lorries coming to my farm to pick up produce.”

Rootooba reminds you!:

  • Fruit tree species with different harvest times are recommended for year-round consumption and sale.
  • The Vitamin C and Pro-vitamin A in the fruits address important nutritional needs of our bodies.
  • Agroforestry is a climate-smart practice that contributes to soil health and contributes to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Small holder farms can be optimized and used appropriately as viable agribusiness enterprises.