Our farmers have been planting cowpeas (referred to by its local name “kunde”) as part of the KOMAZA package since 2008. Distribution of cowpea seeds was incorporated into the Farmer MOU, with KOMAZA agreeing to give farmers 0.75 kilograms of seed for the first three seasons of a his or her participation in the program. Upon harvesting, farmers are asked to return 3 kilograms of seed to KOMAZA to cover logistical costs, as we are aiming to make KOMAZA operations financially self-sustaining. Any excess harvest can be kept for consumption by the family or sale at the local market. After three seasons of tree growth (or less), often the canopy is too thick to allow for intercropping of cowpea between the eucalyptus trees.
Cowpea was selected for distribution to KOMAZA farmers for five reasons:
- Intercropping a short-term crop with trees will encourage the farmer to visit and tend to the shamba (especially weeding)
- KOMAZA farmers are already familiar with kunde, meaning the sensitization and adaptation of the crop’s production will require minimal effort
- Consumption of kunde products (seeds and leaves) is nutritional and can offset household expenditures on food
- Surplus kunde can be sold for supplementary short-term income
- Cowpea is a nitrogen-fixing crop that improves soil nutrients
During the short rains 2011 (October), cowpea seed was distributed to 1811 KOMAZA farmers. The contractually-obligated 0.75 kilograms were given to farmers who had paid the nominal program fee; some farmers received seeds on credit with returned yields to be used in lieu of cash payment. A handful of farmers remained with unplanted seeds from last season, while others requested additional seed (with increased yield returns to KOMAZA) to plant on unused land.
We established 19 collection points in 13 locations, where post-harvesting processing, quality control and proper storage techniques will be managed by our Field Extension Network. This large-scale seed collection was a prime opportunity for KOMAZA to develop processes and systems to optimize a farm-to-market agricultural value chain. Elements of the systems development include: technical trainings on post-harvest handling to ensure high quality output; data collection tools to increase accountability and mitigate quality control challenges; M&E tools for more efficient and timely field-to-office information flow; bulking and transportation logistics for semi-perishable agricultural product; sourcing buyers and optimizing timing of product inflow to the market.
As we wrap-up the collection process, it is clear that the program was a success for a multitude of reasons. Most importantly, the Field Extension Network did an excellent job working closely with our farmers to return 3576 kilograms of high-quality seed to KOMAZA. The seed has been approved by a wholesale buyer in Nairobi, as well as deemed salable by local buyers on the coast. Our Kunde Progress Tracker tool was utilized efficiently by the Field Managers, providing weekly updates on the progress of the collection at the farmer and collection point levels. We also learned valuable lessons in planning, seed distribution policy and timing, and farmer buy-in for quality assurance. We look forward to applying the successes and learning points of the Short Rains 2011 Kunde Collection to future Cowpea Program operations.