Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 18, Part 2 - Interview with William, a Small Farmer

William Oluoch is a 22 year old farmer in Bondo District. It wasn't overtly said in our interview, but he is an orphan, likely due to AIDS. He supports his wife, Jane, his four children (the oldest is in 2nd grade), and his five siblings (7th grade, 8th grade, 10th grade, 11th grade, and a high school graduate), a total of eleven people. He's even put three of his siblings through high school, which is very expensive. He built his current home when he was 18. Much of the focus of our interview was on ox-plowing because he is very skilled in this dying art, and he learned it at such a young age.

William with his wife and children.

The interview was conducted in Luo, through a translator.

William farms four to five acres, growing predominantly maize, beans, and sorghum. He has 18 cows, of which 5 are female and the rest are male. He says, "I plow with the cattle so I can produce food and don't have to buy it."

JR: Do you ever have to go to the store to feed your family?

WO: In a good season, I grow enough and even enough to get a surplus to sell, so I can use the income for something else.

JR: How did you learn how to plow with an ox team?

WO: I used to accompany my parents to plow, so I observed them and learned how to do it.

JR: How old were you when you did that?

WO: Around 10.

JR: How many cows does it take to pull a plow?

WO: I use six.

JR: How long does it take to plow an acre?

WO: It takes four days.

JR: Have you ever done plowing a different way, like with a tractor?

WO: I have used a tractor.

JR: What do you think are the advantages of using your ox team?

WO: First of all, I have control when I'm working with the oxen. I can plow as I want. I can go deeper, or shallower, or evade obstacles. But with a tractor, I have no control. Someone comes and drives it all around. The tractor takes the very deep soil so the fertility is lost because the top soil is put too deep, so a place plowed by tractor tends to lose fertility quicker.

JR: How did you learn that?

WO: I learned that by observation. For example, if a field is continuously plowed with a tractor for two years, and another field is continuously plowed by oxen for two years, on the third year, you notice the crop on the tractor dug field will grow shorter and with less vitality while the one on the ox plowed field will grow consistent.

JR: How many years have you been the lead farmer on your land?

WO: Since I was 17 years old.

JR: Do you grow any other crops, like kale or cabbage? Or are there any wild or semi-wild crops that are included in your family's diet?

WO: There are other supporting crops I grow. Cowpeas, both for the leaves and for the beans. We also grow groundnuts and sesame.

JR: Do you sell any of those or just eat them?

WO: I sometimes sell groundnuts and sesame.

JR: How does your family earn money other than selling crops?

WO: There are two main ways I get supplemental income. One, I sometimes go to the lake and do a little fish trade. Second, I am a cattle trader. So I can get an animal from one of the villages and sell it at the market for a profit.

JR: Are your cows the local breed or grade or crosses, and why do you choose that breed?

WO: They are local. I got the locals because I don't have the capacity to upkeep a grade animal so it's manageable with the locals. I know how to take care of them. It's expensive to deal with the grade animals.

JR: Are you the primary caretaker of your animals or do other members of the family help?

WO: They help. My wife, especially when I am gone to do small business. My siblings and children also help.

JR: Can you tell me about your sheep and goats? How many of each do you have?

WO: 35 goats and 30 sheep.

JR: Are they to sell for income, or to feed your family, or both?

WO: The small animals I mainly use for income. I built this house using sheep and goats. I made the roof by selling goats and I used the money from selling sheep to buy the timber and to pay for the labor. I also use the money to help build rental properties. You see, there are already two buildings there. I have five units and all of them are occupied.


William's house

William with a baby

William lets the animals out of their shed.

JR: Do you ever leave any of your land fallow?

WO: I do. And I rotate where I grow my crops. When I leave a field fallow, I bring the farmyard manure to it. The field where I am growing crops this year was fallow last season.

JR: How long do you leave a field fallow?

WO: One year when I supplement with farmyard manure.

JR: Do you feel it maintains the fertility sufficiently.

WO: I get good results from that and the soil structure has improved. So the next time I introduce farmyard manure and it's plowed again together, you get better soil mix.

JR: Do you allow the animals to graze on the fallow land?

WO: Yes. When I've left it they can graze?

JR: Do you let them graze in a field after the harvest?

WO: Yes.

JR: Does your land provide enough pasture for your animals to graze or do you need more land for grazing?

WO: That alone is not enough so the cattle have to seek other pastures.

JR: Where do you take them?

WO: There is a few communal grazing spots still left but that is also not enough. I supplement with deals with other landowners, so I could plow for someone and they let my animals graze in a field, or I can pay someone. Some form of exchange.

JR: Does your family get milk from your animals?

WO: When they have calved, I also get milk.

JR: How much milk does each cow give each day?

WO: Because they are locals, the milk production is not super high. I get an average of one and a half liters to two liters per day.

JR: How does your family use the milk?

WO: I use the milk to make tea and also to cook vegetables, like mitoo. At that rate, I am able to get a surplus that I sell. If I sell one liter per day, I earn 900 shillings per month. I also use the surplus milk to make sour milk and then that process also leads to the production of ghee.

JR: Let's talk about hunting. How frequently do you go hunting?

WO: Three times a week.

JR: Who goes with you?

WO: We usually form a hunting pack with other members of the village.

JR: How many hunting dogs do you have?

WO: I go with four and the rest stay at home to guard the home.

JR: Can you tell me how you catch and kill an animal?

WO: When we go, we use the dogs. And usually I restrain one or two dogs, and two other dogs are left to ransack the bushes. When the animal is started and they start chasing it, I can control the ones I have in my hand. The restrained dogs are only released when the animal is in sight. Usually the dogs bring the animal down but we can also club the animal down. We don't use firearms but we use handheld weapons and clubs or a spear or a machete.

William and some of his dogs.

JR: Do you catch an animal every time?

WO: Sometimes we come back emptyhanded, but sometimes we get something. It's not a guarantee that you'll come back with a kill.

JR: How do the hunters distribute the meat among themselves?

WO: Usually when we make the kill, there is kind of some hunting rule. The minimal division is among three people. Let's say I kill the animal, and there is a second assistant, and there is a third. And it can extend to another fourth if it seems one of my friends in the pack will go home empty handed. But usually it relates to how the animal was brought down. Maybe my dogs brought the animal down, or I clubbed it. So there is usually three tiers to the contribution. The biggest contributor to the kill, and a second, and a third, and it can go to a fourth or a fifth depending on how the hunt is going.

JR: How often does your family eat meat from hunting?

WO: In a week, you could say something like two meals. In a meal, it could begin from about eight meals. It's not that we can do it every day.

JR: Have you ever purchased chemical fertilizer from the store?

WO: Yes.

JR: Do you think it works well?

WO: You can see some one-time results from using the chemical fertilizers. I prefer using the farmyard manure because when I use the chemical fertilizers, the land is spoiled so if you use it then you'll always have to use it.

JR: Under what circumstances would you buy it?

WO: I used it when I was farming a land that was really infertile so I put the fertilizer in each hole when the seed was going in.

JR: Was that a one-time event or is this a regular thing you do?

WO: I did it that one time, but the rest of the time I use farmyard manure.

JR: Do you ever notice pests or diseases harming your crops?

WO: There is diseases. An example is the stem borer that affects the maize. You just see the symptoms of the maize wilting and drying.

JR: How commonly is that a problem around here?

WO: It's a problem in the area. In a field, you usually see signs of that.

JR: Do you have a method of dealing with that?

WO: There is a spray that can be used on the maize.

JR: Do you know the name of it?

WO: No. It's at the local agro-vet shop.

JR: Do you use it?

WO: I haven't used it but I saw someone use it.

JR: Have you heard anything about GMOs?

WO: No.

JR: Do you do any form of water harvesting?

WO: I have plastic jerrycans [20 liter containers] that I store water in and a few 200 liter drums.

JR: How do you think the government or NGOs best help farmers like you in this area?

WO: One way is for NGOs or government to facilitate cooperative working or working in groups and the other way is I also see is some kind of marketing thing. We can grow a crop but once it's there we have a problem selling it. Some farmers have done a system where they grow and when the things are ready, they are helped to sell it. But I haven't been a beneficiary.

We ended with a quick discussion about credit. The banks here require you to have half the amount you want to borrow in your bank account. So if you want to borrow 100,000 shillings, you must have an account with 50,000 shillings first. William is saving his money to be able to take a loan, but wishes he could get credit easier. He wants to build a small slaughterhouse so he can open up a butcher shop.

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