Lessons from an early adopter of sorghum technologies in Kitui, Eastern Kenya

As a gender researcher working in dryland agricultural research, one of the outcomes we strive for is equity in improvement of farm level outcomes for men and women farmers. This is dependent on rural men and women farmers adopting new technologies like improved seed types, good agronomic practices (early planting and the efficient use of manure/fertilizers, accessing enhanced linkage to markets for surplus produce). I have had opportunities to discuss with colleagues and I also notice in literature, that the question of ‘what makes rural women farmers adopt innovations especially in smallholder systems of sub Saharan Africa is a key area of interest. It was therefore a great experience to meet a woman farmer, working with the ‘The Development of a Robust Commercially Sustainable Sorghum for Multiple Uses (SMU) Value Chain in Kenya and Tanzania’ project in Kitui County, since 2014, who can be classified as an early adopter and a role model. Her name is Francisca Loko, 53 years old, a wife and a mother of four girls.

Why do I classify her as an early adopter? Loko’s story starts in 2014, when she was invited to a field day organized by the SMU project in her rural home in Kitui County. That one visit turned her life around. She learnt about good agronomic practices in sorghum production, use of improved sorghum seeds and the potential of commercializing sorghum products. Immediately, she decided to put 2 acres of her land under sorghum, with the aim that the produce would ‘take her out of poverty’. In that first season, she harvested  8 bags of 100 kg each. She was able to sell her produce at USD 0.4 per kg, making a total of USD 320 in her first sale. For the first time, she made money from her farm; and from that sale, there was no turning back. Loko soon learnt how to add value to her sorghum produce through value addition trainings facilitated by the SMU project; she learnt how to bake cakes from sorghum flour. “I bake cakes for birthday parties and weddings in myvillage. Each weekend, I earn  between USD 100-200 from the sales,” saysa proud Loko.