Women farmers reaping benefit of improved finger millet cultivation in western Kenya

Ms Osuru with her family.

Women farmers reaping benefit of improved finger millet cultivation in western Kenya

The demand for finger millet in Kenya is on the increase and women are benefiting from this trend. “Ever since the scientists introduced us to the new varieties and showed us how to take good care of the crop, we have seen a big difference in production. In the past, we could harvest only 2-3 bags but now we harvest up to 10 bags per acre,” said Ms Jennifer Amwait Omuse, a farmer in Busia County, Western Kenya.

Ms Osuru with her family.

Ms Osuru with her family.

Before the implementation of finger millet improvement activities under the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia Project, the consumption and marketing of finger millet was on the decline especially due to low productivity of local varieties and lack of improved management options.

This is however changing as more and more farmers are adopting the improved high-yielding varieties and better crop management practices promoted by ICRISAT and partners in the region.

“In the past we would use the broadcasting method which made it very difficult to weed, but now we have been shown how to plant in rows and use small amounts of fertilizer. The new varieties and the better crop care have led to much higher harvests. We now plant twice a year as the new varieties take only three months to mature. We have enough food. Our children are in good health thanks to the nutritious foods made from finger millet,” she added.

Ms Omuse is one of the several farmers who showcased their finger millet farms during a field day organized by ICRISAT on 10 July in Teso South, Busia County in Western Kenya. The field day brought together 50 farmers from the area and seven farmer representatives from the Rift Valley in Kenya, under a farmer exchange visit program.

These successes and farmer feedback were highlighted during the field day where Drs Eric Manyasa, Sam Njoroge, Patrick Audi and Daniel Otwani from ICRISAT, Dr Paul Kimurto and Mr Bernard Towett from Egerton University and other project partners interacted with the farmers.

Finger millet is high in calcium, zinc and iron. This makes it a highly nutritious traditional cereal – particularly important for infants, children, expectant and nursing mothers and the sick. Its small seed size deters storage insect pests, and its grains can be stored for over 10 years without damage or loss.

Local women feed their children with uji, mandazi, chapati, and cakes made out of finger millet for breakfast. The food is also sold in the market enabling farmers to earn some extra income.

“The income from selling surplus finger millet grain and food products has helped us pay school fees for our children, build houses and pay medical bills of our families,” Ms Omuse adds.

Ms Margaret Ibere Osuru, Chairperson of the Njugu women’s group also showcased her finger millet farm.

“I have been using the new varieties and new farming methods for three years now. I was unable to provide education for my first two kids. But times have changed since I started finger millet farming using improved varieties U15 and P224,” Ms Margaret said.

Ms Hellen Atagu, another farmer adopting improved finger millet farming said, “I began by planting U15 and P224 finger millet varieties and earned about KSh 36,000 (US$ 500). I used that money to buy a cow and send my children to school. I now have a vision to form a cooperative of finger millet growers so as to empower fellow farmers in my area.”

The HOPE project is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR research program on Dryland Cereals.