We first met Ann and Denis Kamou* a few months ago while they attended a training workshop at a dairy model farm. We spoke tothem about their daily life and their struggles. During our conversation, Ann invited us to their family farm, because as she said, “to know our life, you need to see it”, and so we decided to visit the Kamous.
We leave Nairobi at dawn, as the Kamou farm is located several hours drive east of Nairobi. We want to avoid the infamous traffic jams. As we leave Nairobi, we pass several industrial areas, and we continue through several towns. By now, the mist over the landscape has been burnt away by the ascending sun. We enjoy the landscape, with its rolling hills and trees. About an hour before we arrive, we turn the car onto dirt roads. As the road gets smaller, our car throws up a cloud of dust around it, and as we get closer to the farm, the driver makes a phone call to Denis to let him know that we will be arriving soon.
After a 6 hour drive, we arrive. We see a wooden and concrete house surrounded by some sheds. As we get out of the car, Ann and Denis both step out of the house. They welcome us, and invite us to join them for tea and some food.
As we drink our tea, we talk about their farm. “We have three cows now. We keep them on 1 are of land”, Ann tells us, “And we plant maize and potatoes on 3 ares.” Denis turns his head and looks out the window and adds, “We’ve been lucky this year with the weather. The long rains were good, and the short rains were on time. Last year was ok also, but before that, the rains did not come for a few years in a row. We ran out of grass, the maize harvest was small, and the cows stopped producing milk. In the end, we even had to sell two of the four cows, because we were struggling and we had to survive. We still haven’t recover from that”, he sighs. “The weather is different compared to when we were young. The dry season is longer, and rain is more unpredictable.” Ann adds.
“During the long droughts, our dairy cooperative also struggled to produce milk. They encouraged members to go to the model farm, to attend workshops to learn how to stabilise production”, Denis speaks-up. “So I went to the model farm to see if we could learn”.
“They taught us about paddocking and growing fodder for the dry season. We also constructed a shed to shield the cows from the sun in the dry season. During the last dry seasons, the cow’s milk production was much better”, Denis states. “At the model farm they also taught us that for our situation, it would be better to increase production, profit and income with fewer cows rather than having more. “ The cooperative also developed other farmer skills. “They trained me to clean the udders, to prevent mastitis and bacterial growth in the milk. They also gave us new milk containers that are more hygienic and make milking and transporting easier”, says Denis.
The plot of potatoes at the Kamou's farm
The Kamou's three cows now graze in a paddocked area.
“We were also introduced to a bio-digester at the model farm, and saw it benefits for fertilising the fields.” Denis continues. Ann adds. “We would like to construct one on our farm before the end of the year, so, we recently applied for a favourable loan from the local government, and we should know in the coming weeks if we will get the loan.”
When we finish our food, Denis and Ann are eager to show us around their farm. They show us the cow shed and bring us to the potato and maize plot. They tell us they are able to do three or four harvests per year. Now with the rains, the fields are growing again and there is a lot of weeding to be done. They tell us they used to only plant maize, but with the unpredictable droughts and rains, they had several failed harvests. They started planting Irish potatoes. “The harvests have been good so far, we can have our share, and even sell some at the local market. Recently, we’ve been discussing if we should stop growing maize altogether and plant only potatoes”, says Ann as she nods her head and looks over the plot.
It is clear that they are proud of their farm, and we ask them about their plans for their future. “We would like all of our children to finish secondary school, but after that, I don’t know. We would love to send our son to university but with things as they are, that is going to be very hard”, says Denis. “We have some more years to make things work though”, concludes Ann, and when we ask what means by that, she claims, “with these changes, I’m more confident about our future. We are able to save up a bit now. So who knows what we can do.”
As the day progresses, we realise we’ve already taken too much of Kamous’ time, so we thank them for their warm welcome, and for talking to us today. As we’re about to get into the car, Ann calls out and makes us wait. She runs into the house, comes back out, and hands us some amazing Mandazi, Kenyan sweet pastries. “I almost forgot. Something for you all on the road. I made them especially this morning”. Wethank her kindly, and bid our farewell to the both of them. As we start our journey back to Nairobi under the afternoon sun, we look out the window and do our best not to eat all of the sweets at once.
*Ann and Denis are fictitious characters and do not exist in real life. They are constructed personas based on SNV’s experience and are used as an example to highlight the struggles many real-life farmers deal with on a daily basis.