Crops shine a healthy dark green as they grow tall, bear flowers, shed pollen and are forming grain on Nuru farmer fields in Kenya and Ethiopia. Harvest season is on the horizon and the outlook is bright. This mid-season update reviews the activities of Nuru International’s Agriculture Program and provides an overview of the state of different crops that farmers are growing as part of Nuru’s intervention.

In Kuria West, Kenya, farmers are growing maize, brown sorghum, finger millet and grevillea trees with Nuru Kenya’s Agriculture Program during the long rains (January to June) cropping season. The bulk of planning for the 2014 season started early in 2013 and continued throughout the year. Late in 2013, farmer recruitment, initial trainings and meetings culminated in issuing agriculture inputs on loan to 4,318 farmers in December 2013 and January 2014. Farmers then planted maize, brown sorghum, and finger millet, and prepared nurseries for the grevillea trees in the succeeding months. Crops are now growing tall, flowering and putting on grain.

Nuru farmers in Kenya expect the bulk of brown sorghum and finger millet harvests around July, and the bulk of maize harvest around September. The exact timing and amounts of each harvest varies based on a number of environmental, plant and farmer related factors. Grevillea tree seedlings, once reaching the desired size and proportions, will be outplanted to the fields later in the year. There, the trees will serve their desired purpose, whether that is timber, firewood, forage for cattle, erosion control, shade, wind break or all of the above.

In Boreda, Ethiopia, farmers are primarily cultivating maize and haricot beans with Nuru Ethiopia’s Agriculture Program in the first year of the program’s implementation. Sub-sets of farmers are additionally cultivating taro root, and upland rice, as part of smaller scale initiatives of the Agriculture Program. Planning for this first season started on the ground in 2013 and even well before then. In late 2013, farmers were recruited and organized themselves into agricultural cooperatives. Approximately 500 farmers were issued loans in early 2014. Farmers then planted and tended their crops according to the methods promoted by Nuru Ethiopia’s Agriculture Program.

Nuru farmers in Ethiopia expect the bulk of haricot bean harvest around July and maize harvest during September and October. The subset of farmers who additionally planted taro root and rice expect to harvest around the end of the year.

The outlook is optimistic at this juncture. However, the season has not been without its challenges. One of the challenges I want to highlight from this season has been promoting behavior change related to agricultural practices.

For example, in Kenya the Agriculture Program instituted a crop diversification approach to make farmers and the organization more resilient and successful. However, this required extraordinary effort to encourage adoption of the diversified crop package and in applying best agriculture practices to growing these crops.

Similar behavior change challenges were experienced in Ethiopia. The Agriculture Program trained farmers to plant in rows using a planting string to obtain the right plant spacing for the best yields. The planting string technique takes more time and effort than the traditional planting methods of broadcasting seed or planting seed in the furrow that is left after a pair of oxen passes a plow through the soil. Through extra training, extension and applied practice in the field, farmers learned and adopted the best agricultural practice of proper plant spacing, which has been shown to drastically increase yields and facilitate crop husbandry activities, all while using far less land.

Over the coming months, Nuru farmers in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue to work with the Agriculture Program to tend their crops and bring them to harvest. Farmers will repay the loan on their inputs, store a great deal of their harvest for food and sell a portion to become savings with Nuru’s CED program, for school fees and to pay for other household necessities. And as farmers continue planting for the coming seasons, they will continue to learn and adopt the best agricultural practices that the Agriculture Program works so hard to instill. One farmer at a time, Nuru International’s Agriculture Program will help farmers lift themselves out of extreme poverty.