By Andrew Masinde
After 10 years serving as an LC5 councillor of Bukwo district, Reuben Chelimo quit politics to put the agricultural skills he acquired from his parents into practice.
Chelimo grew up in a family where farming was the main source of livelihood. “My parents were subsistence farmers, who used to grow crops like maize, beans, millet and sunflower. That is how they raised money to pay our school fees, although we never went far with education,” he says.
Chelimo says the clashes between the Pokot and the Sabiny ethnic groups made education in their area difficult. “The 1985 clash in particular ended our journey in education. Pokot warriors attacked Bukwo and we could no longer go to school, so our father decided that we resort to farming,” Chelimo explains.
As a child, Chelimo remembers his parents advising him to embrace farming since it was one of the few businesses that guaranteed profits throughout the year. Chelimo remembers his father taking him to the garden every morning to dig before going to school. His main task then was to weed the gardens. The experience prepared Chelimo for his lifetime job. Today, his kinsmen consider him one of the most successful farmers in Bukwo.
He uses farmyard manure to get good matooke
How he started
Born in 1964 to John Chelimo and Monica Kapyus of Mokoyo Cell B in Bukwo district, Chelimo, the firstborn, married at an early age having dropped out of school. In the Sabiny culture, when a boy marries, he is given a piece of land to start fending for his family. So, Chelimo’s parents gave him an acre of land. “I planted maize and beans to feed the family and sold some (the maize and beans),” he says.
However, as Chelimo’s family grew, so did the demands. He started leasing land from neighbours on a one-year basis to grow more food. “I leased five acres and grew maize and beans. I harvested about 10 bags of maize and 12 bags of beans (weighing 100kg each). My wife advised me to sell most of the produce and leave little for food,” he recounts. He earned sh300,000, which he used to buy two acres of land. “This was the beginning of my success. I expanded my farming activities and I continued leasing land for farming. I planted bananas, onions, yams and tomatoes.”
Chelimo says in 2011, a local organisation called AFROKAI that promotes barley production, came to Bukwo looking for residents interested in growing the cereal and he heeded the call. “People were initially hesitant, but my decision to take it up has paid off. In 2011, I leased land, planted barley and I got over 4,000 tonnes from which I earned sh3.8m. I used the money to purchase more land,” Chelimo says.
Chelimo is a mojor supplier of tomatoes in the region
Managing the farm
Chelimo says he buys barley seeds from certified seed companies. He then prepares the garden and plants the seeds. Barley grows well in soils with good moisture and good aeration. Chelimo plants the barley in the wet season and waits for it to sprout. “Barley is one of the fastest growing grains, sometimes sprouting in 24 hours, but the timeframe from planting to harvest is between 40 to 55 days,” Chelimo explains. Since he grows barley on a large scale, Chelimo uses herbicides to control weeds. To get good yields, he applies farmyard manure from cattle, goats and chicken waste. He also employs irrigation to grow crops in the dry seasons.
“I produce vegetables all year round because I have water in my compound,” Chelimo says. He explains that barley can be used for malting (brewing beer), as well as food for animals and humans.
Marketing and benefits
Chelimo says Nile Breweries have greatly contributed to his success because they buy all the barley he grows at a good price. Unlike other people who are decrying high food prices, Chelimo has food stores in his home. “There is no food item I buy because I produce everything I need in my garden. I harvest over 300 bags of beans and between 400 to 500 bags (weighing 100kg each) of maize every year,” he explains.
From the sale of his produce, Chelimo has constructed a permanent house. He has also educated his children and been able to return to school and graduate with a diploma. Chelimo has bought more land and now has over 30 acres.
Chelimo says Bukwo is a hard-to-reach place, which makes marketing his produce challenging. “There is no local market, so the only option is to transport the produce to Kapchorwa. Unfortunately, the road becomes impassable when it rains,” he says. He adds that sometimes they have to take the produce to Kenya, which is also expensive.
Chelimo advises the youth to embrace agriculture instead of languishing in towns looking for white-collar jobs. “The youth should return to the village and utilise the idle land for agriculture. I have become wealthy because of farming,” he says. Chelimo calls upon the Government to support farmers, especially by teaching them modern farming skills.
“Government programmes like the National Agriculture Advisory Services would have been more beneficial to farmers if they taught them modern farming skills and technologies, instead of simply giving the inputs,” he says. Chelimo also calls upon people in formal employment to embrace farming as an income-generating activity.