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Isaiah is a retired carpenter, and even though he is well past middle-aged, he still has 7 children in school. Like most people in Kager, he farms a few plots of land that produce corn, beans, peppers and kale. The harvest is barely sufficient to cover the costs of feeding his family and paying school fees.
When droughts come, as they have in Kenya the past few years, lack of irrigation and fertilizer means his crops don’t amount to much at all. Since Isaiah’s farm is his only source of income, too little rain can mean a crisis for his family.
That is the Isaiah you would have found living in Kager a year ago. This year, however, his story sounds very different.
Last October, Isaiah attended a community-wide forum to hear about a new farming initiative begun by Jubilee Village Project. Not only was JVP making fertilizers available at no cost to participating farmers, but they had also introduced a new crop to the village that had already shown a lot of potential – bulb onions.
Previously, a different variety of onions had been tried in Kager with poor results, but now Isaiah saw from JVP farmers that these onions could grow and do very well. Plus, onions are a staple in traditional food here, so there is a huge market for them. Always looking for ways to boost his income, Isaiah enthusiastically volunteered to be one of Kager’s new onion farmers.
After planting his first round using fertilizer and a hose for irrigation, Isaiah hasn’t looked back. With a lot hard work, careful attention, and daily watering, his first crop couldn’t be doing better! In fact, Isaiah is so encouraged by the progress that he has already planted a bed of more seedlings to fill another plot of land by July.
When I caught up with Isaiah in the late afternoon for an interview, he was busy weeding the field that had obviously become a source of much joy and pride to him. He gladly explained the rainy seasons and irrigation system to me, the markets he was planning to visit after the harvest, and even the dreams he had to expand his capacity with a water tank and generator.
Through his words and his smile I saw something that’s increasingly familiar in Kager – hope. This was a man filled with hope that he was going to be able to provide for his family and also to excel as a farmer.
I’ve seen that hope growing across the village as more and more farmers take part in JVP projects. Over 27 have begun using the fertilizer provided by JVP, and instead of relying on seed saved from the previous year’s harvest, they are now using hybrid seeds that are more drought and pest resistant. Some farmers I talked to reported that their harvests doubled or even tripled since making the change.
And this is just the beginning. As more people see the progress of JVP farmers, and enterprising people like Isaiah blaze the trail into new crops and farming technologies, food insecurity will soon be a thing of the past. Eventually, their profits will be high enough to allow them to buy the fertilizer and seeds independently of JVP’s sponsorship.
For Isaiah, onion farming is more than just turning over a new leaf, he is literally starting a new life, and it’s evident for everyone to see. When I asked him what his neighbors think about the success of the onions, he simply said, “they really marvel!” And from what I’ve seen, so do I!
About the Author: Jessica Shewan is a journalist with World Next Door. She graduated in 2009 from The University of Evansville with a bachelor's degree in History. She loves making new international friends and is passionate about seeing the global church pursue justice and peace!