Meet Amina Affey the pioneer farmer in Garissa
Since independence, Garissa county has never been considered a hotbed of farming partly due to the climate and preference for livestock keeping. That is why for years, Amina Affey passed by what is now her farm, but never looked twice.
The Garissa resident never gave the land a second thought except curse the rapid growth of Mathenge weed that had colonised it, chocking out any other life. The weed was introduced in the country in the 1980s to prevent soil erosion, but became a nightmare after spreading, making large tracts of land useless.
For her, even the traditional cattle rearing was slowly becoming a futile undertaking mainly due to persistent droughts in the area that have decimated thousands of livestock. Consequently, she was contented with being a shopkeeper taking home Sh1,000 a day.
Now, her fortunes have changed thanks to the land that she never thought would amount to anything, water from River Tana and a Sh100,000 loan from Equity Bank. “I never thought I would ever become a farmer, but now I am and I would never give it up for anything,” she says.
She is one among the first that seized the opportunity when she took to growing bananas in 2013. “Growing bananas does not take much effort, but it does require one to get a few things right before getting started.
As one of the most important things for every farmer to know is that bananas can survive extreme heat in places such North Eastern, but with a lot of water,” she says.
Affey says she did her research before she took her jembe to chart a new economic path to supplement income from her shop. The savings from the shop enabled her to acquire land, but she had to first get rid of Mathenge.
The weed was introduced in Baringo, Tana River, Turkana districts and other arid and semi arid areas due to its extensive root system, which was intended to reverse soil erosion and deforestation. For Affey’s journey to be a success, she used some of the loan money to clear the weed.
At first, it was hard to completely eliminate the weed, but once that was done, she installed drip irrigation pipes. “It was quite a challenge to start planting on the farm because my piece of land is demarcated by canals that crisscross my four acre farm,” says Affey.
The other challenge was how to tender to her crops since she had never been to a farm. Despite all the challenges, her efforts bore fruits since planted banana stems and later diversified into tomato and pepper farming. Her four-acre land boasts of over 3,500 banana stems.
She highlights her major challenge as fluctuation of prices, especially on her tomatoes. “I have to say I am doing well because I harvest five crates of tomatoes a day. Last season, prices were better and I earned Sh50,000, but this season the prices really went down to a kilo going for Sh15,” says Affey.
Motivated by the unquenchable food demand in Garissa and huge demand for bananas, women in the area are seizing the same opportunity and following her steps into mixed farming in order to provide for their families.
From this, Affey developed a women association group that she chairs to bring together like-minded women keen to take up businesses to support their family income. She says Iftin Women’s group has enabled its members to take up other businesses that range from selling clothes, groceries and shop keeping.
For farming and mobilising other women to do the same, Affey is considered a rebel. “This has been a tough journey because my community does not look at the positive side of women venturing into business. I am happy that more women are rising up to supplement their husband’s income,” she says.