Elizabeth Achieng Omiti is a 52-year-old DIG-trained farmer in Migori County, Kenya. She is a widow, a mother of three daughters and two sons. She is also the sole provider for five grandchildren who were left with her by their mother several years ago. Before DIG came to the area, Elizabeth was growing sugarcane and maize exclusively. She struggled daily to put food on her table, and pay her grandchildren’s school fees. Sugarcane was what her husband had always farmed, so it was the tradition she continued. But, sugarcane takes 18 months to grow and provides little to no nutritional benefit.
While there is a reliable market for the harvested cane, it’s impossible to anticipate what price the cane will sell for once it matures. Because Elizabeth never went to school, she never learned to do a cost analysis of her efforts. Understanding the cost vs. gain or what else she could grow in those 18 months was not something she ever considered. She just kept doing what her husband always did, never knowing if she turned a profit. The challenges were real; during the long months before the harvest, Elizabeth had no reliable income and eventually the money would always run out.
Through a partnership with the Youth and Child Rural Empowerment Network (YACREN), Elizabeth was invited to go through DIG’s agriculture training. She and several other women from the Rang’ala self-help group participated in DIG’s Mobile Farmer Field School program where they were trained on a variety of organic agriculture techniques and gardening for nutrition. After graduation, the group remained motivated and strong and was invited to participate in DIG’s Producer Group program. Through this initiative, participants are encouraged to transform portions of their small farms into budding businesses. They each choose a marketable vegetable to grow and sell; Elizabeth selected bulb onions. She sectioned off a piece of her land and went about the 4.5-month journey of tending to her crop from seed to harvest.
In Kenya, it costs roughly $30 for 2 lbs of bulb onion seeds, enough to plant an acre, and each acre can yield 12 tons of harvest. Having a long shelf life (up to 3 months), bulb onions would also give Elizabeth additional time to find an optimal market for her yield.
In November alone, Elizabeth’s small plot of onions brought her $180, and even more in December. When she compared her earnings to what she had been making from her sugarcane and maize efforts, she said, “I would never have been able to make this money if I had planted sugarcane or maize on this same piece of land. I now get money from the daily sale of my onions, and we never go without necessities like soap or food as we did before.”
With her newly earned money, Elizabeth has been renovating her house, giving her grandchildren a safe and decent place to live. She’s paying school fees reliably, which means her grandchildren no longer face gaps in their education. And, thanks to their home vegetable garden, they are now eating eight times the variety of produce than they did before. With her grandchildren helping her maintain garden records, Elizabeth is instilling important life skills in future generations, but what’s most exciting is seeing this 52-year-old woman light up with ideas for the future. Her newfound entrepreneurial spirit has breathed new hope and excitement into her family, and none of them will look at a piece of farmland in the same way again.