Tailored success in Nyando: Wycliffe's fresh start and success in farming

The harvesting season has come and Wycliffe examines the yield on a plant of an improved variety of pigeon peas, which he cultivates on his farm. Photo: S. Kilungu (CCAFS)

Amid the all-too-common tales of failing crops, erratic planting seasons and extreme weather events, this young farmer shares his success story.

"Dear Optimist, Pessimist, and Realist. While you guys were busy arguing over the glass of water, I drank it. Sincerely, the Opportunist."

This popular quote of unknown authorship encourages some people to seize available opportunities around them. A young farmer in Nyando is doing precisely that. Wycliffe Otieno is reaping a good harvest after effective adoption of climate-smart technologies on his three-quarter acre farm.

Wycliffe has only been a farmer for the last four years, prior to which he worked in the ‘Jua Kali sector’ (a term used to refer to odd jobs with meagre pay) in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. He has also worked driving a 'Matatu' (one of the in Kenya typical share taxis) in Thika, Central Kenya before making the bold decision to come back home and practice farming instead.

In an interview, the 30 year-old champion farmer shares how he juggled two jobs while studying tailoring and how he finally came back home after finishing this education. He is now a full-time farmer who does tailoring in his spare time. Wycliffe explains: “The amount of money I acquire from farming is enough to sustain my young family, but I also enjoy tailoring so I do it for fun and also make an extra coin from it.” He was not sure about coming home to farm but once he got started and focused on this activity, he realised that he could become a successful farmer. 

Climate-smart innovations on his farm

Wycliffe’s resolve to work hard has been channeled to his farm. The farm has an array of agronomic practices that guarantee a year-round supply of produce for commercial purposes and household consumption. He has planted 300 pawpaw trees that are intercropped with cowpeas, pigeon peas and cassava. The pawpaw trees earn him 50 USD (Ksh 5000) per month after sale to locals and other vendors who trade in the nearby Sondu market, the trees also provide compost manure for his farm. 

The paw paw treas on Wycliffe's farm add to his family's income. Intercropping with various pea varieties and cassava helps him keep that income relatively steady year-round. Photo: S. Kilungu (CCAFS)

The changing climate has affected the type of crops grown in the area, farmers have to switch from traditional crops and pick better adapted crops. Wycliffe is fast on picking up ideas that see him become a better farmer; for example, he stopped growing the maize crop after learning Nyando’s climate had changed and is no longer profitable grow maize. He now grows cowpea and pigeon peas and alternates with Sorghum which are better adapted to the type of climate that Nyando is experiencing. Farmers in the area are being encouraged by the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) in partnership with CCAFS EA to move to better adapted crops that will see them improve incomes.

Wycliffe attributes his success to the Friends of Katuk Odeyo (FOKO) Community Based Organization (C.B.O) trainings, experiences shared by other farmers and the availability of farming inputs at a subsidized price: “FOKO has been very resourceful and important for my growth and productivity as a farmer. I have seen a lot of growth in my own knowhow which I could use to improve my farm".

Once the rains come Wycliffe will plant new seedlings on his farm to keep up with the sort of crop diversity which has enabled him to make a living off farming. Photo: S. Kilungu (CCAFS)

Sustainable land management

The frequency of droughts, floods and unpredictable rainfall have increased, impacting Nyando’s food security status negatively. Soil erosion is rampant in the two annual rain seasons which has led to the degradation of about 40 percent of the Nyando landscape. He has solved this issue successfully by digging up terraces that reduce the impact of run-off water during the rain season. The terraces are reinforced by Napier grass which is planted along to reduce the effects of speeding water, once matured the grass is used to feed his Dairy cow that produces milk for the family.  

On this farm there is no room for wastage of resources, next to the home there is a hand dug pond for water collection (from his roof using well connected pipes). The water collected is used to water tomato and kale plantations that provide food for the young family.

Future plans

“I have reaped so much from farming and I intend to increase my output in the near future, I want to lease land next to the river. With land next to the river, I am assured of an unlimited water supply that will boost my output” Wycliffe Otieno tells me as he explains what he intends to do with the knowledge he has acquired so far.

After seeing the agronomic benefits of sustainable land management through fruit trees and terracing on his farm, Wycliffe has started a mango tree nursery to help increase the amount of trees on his farm and also make some money from the trade within his community. He has been helping fellow farmers, the mango tree seedlings retail at 0.5 USD for normal and 1.5 USD for the grafted seedlings.

CCAFS East Africa is working with climate-smart champion farmers like Wycliffe Otieno to improve the livelihoods and incomes of smallholders through climate-smart agriculture.

Solomon Kilungu is a communication assistant at the CCAFS East Africa regional program.