This father went from “blind farming” to being a role model in Kenya’s fields. Here’s how it happened.
BY DEEPA SHANKARAN
Robert Mutai can’t forget the day his eldest son failed the national certificate exam and lost his chance to attend high school.
The 51-year-old Kenyan farmer blamed himself—he knew from experience how hard it is to study on an empty stomach.
As a boy growing up in rural Kipsongol in Kenya, Robert watched his parents borrow and beg for food when the maize on their land ran low. Despite his father’s best efforts to keep them fed, Robert and his nine brothers and sisters often went to sleep hungry.
Robert learned to work the land beside his father. But the traditional farming methods that failed his parents would later cause the crops on his own homestead plot to wither.
“It was blind farming,” he says. “You just prayed for something to come.”
Robert planted with little knowledge of what crops would succeed in which season, or how to protect them from drought and disease. He began to dread going home to his barren plot in the evenings. He knew his wife would be working by the light of a paraffin lantern, putting their five children to bed without dinner.
“I didn’t know how to face them,” he says. “If you don’t provide, you don’t feel like a father.”
When his son failed his exam, Robert realized that the cycle was about to repeat. “I didn’t want my family to suffer anymore,” he says.
But then the right opportunity came.
In the spring of 2016, WE Villages launched agricultural trainings in Kipsongol as part of its sustainable development program. Robert signed up immediately, eager for a chance to learn new techniques. He and his fellow trainees discovered the secrets of short season farming, drip irrigation and greenhouses.
“It was the first time I had heard about modern farming,” he says.
Robert’s group founded the Kipsongol community farm, working together on a one-acre field in the heart of the village. As they applied their new skills, this communal land and their own small homestead plots slowly grew crowded with potatoes, cabbage, kale, onions and tomatoes.
One year later, Kipsongol’s landscape—and Robert’s own image of himself—have undergone a remarkable change.
With profits from the sale of surplus crop, the farming co-op created a savings pot where members can access loans for business ventures. When Robert invested in a poultry farm and bought a dairy cow, his group took note of his business savvy and elected him as the farm’s manager.
These days, when Robert heads back home, he’s smiling even before he sees his house. His eldest son recently retook the national certificate exam and passed. While they wait for the high school year to start, Robert is teaching him to farm; combining modern techniques with the work ethic he learned from his father.
“If my father could see me now, I know he would be proud,” he says. “Being a parent, you want to see your children grow in different ways. It’s the best thing in life.”
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