A Childhood Passion
by Diana Gitonga
Since my childhood, farming was the only way of living in our society for the majority of families. It was the only way one could get food, clothing and education. I had a responsibility as a first born not only to farm but also to teach my siblings farming.
Smallholder Farming Manager, Bayer Kenya
Sometimes it was communal farming whereby we organized groups of children and came up with a rotational schedule to work in each farm. My parents worked hard in the farm and we were used as a source of labor especially in the evenings after school, weekends and during our long holidays.
We performed different roles depending on the seasons, for example we tilled the land during summer; during planting we spread manure and seeded; weeded after crop germination, and during crop growth. Many farmers practiced mixed farming and inter-cropping on crops like potatoes, beans, maize, coffee, tea among others. Mixed farming was mostly practiced in the village because people believed they were not supposed to buy food but get it from their farms, also money was not enough. The small land parcels led to the common trend of intercropping. We also practiced dairy farming to get milk.
Sometimes things would not go well because crops would be affected by diseases and pests, resulting in little or no harvest. The sales of the little harvest could really frustrate the poor farmers because of the middle men, who undercut prices at the farm level leaving farmers with so little money sometimes they were not able to meet their basic needs. This really hurt me, as the first born of a family which really depended on farming. Small yield resulted in lower income for the family and would mean difficulties particularly to pay school fees or worst we couldn’t attend school at all until the next harvest. This situation inspired me to try developing solutions so that my family and other farmers would have good harvests and be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Still in school I was trying to get answers. I would mix ash and water to use as pesticide….; other times I would advise my parents and the farming group to apply rabbit urine to the affected crop as a pesticide, a practice I was taught by my grandmother. This earned me a nickname “dagitari wa munda,” which means “farm doctor” in my mother tongue – hahaha, can you imagine!!! When I started high school, we had to choose subjects to study, while most students dropped agriculture, I had made up my mind to pursue it as I was eager to get more insights on how to support my family and neighbor farmers during the holidays. I passed the High School exam; as a matter of fact I received the highest grades in agriculture and chemistry, and was admitted to the University in the Education Faculty.
I wanted to change course and follow my passion for agriculture. However, my father pushed me to take education partly because he thought my leadership skills could make me a good teacher and also because, after passing my exams, I had volunteered to teach the nearest high school while I waited for the beginning of the university term. I still remember that summer I was consumed with the thought to raise my family’s living standard through supporting their farming activities. Without knowing much at that time, I kept mentioning to my parents and neighbors that farming could be a business. I joined university as an Education student following my father’s advice, yet after two weeks I realized farming was in my system and dropped Education to take Horticulture.
I got my degree in Agriculture and was able to find work doing what I’m so passionate about since childhood: working with smallholder farmers like my parents and neighbors. Every time I visit a small scale farmer, I remember my childhood nickname – farm doctor – and can’t help but smile. Since joining Bayer my resolve to support farmers has increased over time and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to work with these farmers. Smallholder farmers unwavering hope and faith in the future only encourages me to engage them further to take farming to the next level, where they will be the source of food for the communities where they live and even beyond the confines of our geography.
Like any other country with high numbers of smallholder farmers, Kenya experiences diverse issues that are being addressed at different levels by local and national governments together with the private sector and might take time to be resolved. I am not where I started, ash and urine are no longer in my advisory dictionary, studying and work have taught me many things and I’m happy I am following my dream: Working at Bayer to bring tailored solutions to smallholder farmers and capacity building programs through trainings, which allow better disease control and pest management. I feel I’m making a difference and remain connected to my roots, joining hands to ensure the business of small farmers – my family – continues to prosper.