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HomeWealthStuart Barden: The Successful Australian Farming In 3,000 Acre Land In Machakos

Stuart Barden: The Successful Australian Farming In 3,000 Acre Land In Machakos

Stuart Barden is an Australian farmer currently based in Athi River, Machakos County where he runs Ausquest Farm.

The farmer left a 31,000-acre family farm in Australia and moved to Kenya, where he carved a 3,000-acre farm out of shrubs and bushes.

Some might wonder what influenced his decision to move to Kenya and why he thought farming in Machakos County was a goof idea.

Here is Barden’s story as told by WoK.

The Journey

In 2009, Barden travelled the world after winning a Nuffield Scholarship, looking at farming opportunities in low-rainfall areas of the world.

During the tour, they happened to visit Kenya and head to Machakos County where they visited several farms.

However, he noticed that the region had the potential to grow crops consistently since it receives an average of 500 millimetres of rain a year.

Barden also noted that he settled for the region because he had realized the perks of farming on cotton soils.

“Our family came here because we could really see the great potential that’s in this black cotton soil. We wanted to mark be able to show people how valuable low rainfall areas can be,” he said.

Two years after visiting the region, Barden returned and leased 3,000 acres from a 22,000-acre wildlife conservancy.

The Aussie farmer then hired 220 local residents to clear 2,200 acres of bush as he looked into getting into farming.

In the first year, Barden held several field days showing how his cropping methods using zero till and controlled traffic farming preserve rainfall and improve water infiltration.

“On that soil type and environment, it won’t work without zero till. It may work without controlled traffic farming, but it probably won’t, but the zero till is a no brainer. Without that, the system won’t work

“Our smallholder neighbours, half the time, are starving to death. We’ve seen what that system will do and that’s not much,” he said.

Barden explained that he left Australia as the race to become a bigger and more efficient crops producer was in beginning to wear him down.

“We were going ahead, but it was taking its toll, particularly on my encouragement. In Australia, sometimes we felt we were going so flat out trying to do every cutting edge thing we could

“We realized there is a fork in the road and we need to go left,” he said.

Barden grows wheat, chickpea and green grams.

They produce an average of 1.7 tonnes per hectare of Desi chickpeas, 1.9 tonnes per hectare of Kabuli chickpeas and 1.6 tonnes per hectare of green grams.

He also shares knowledge freely so that others don’t repeat the mistakes they make and can take the successes away as well.

“We’ve had around over 10,000 physical visitors anf that’s why we’re launching our YouTube channel and website so that we can have a platform to share more information because we’re physically limited,” Barden said.

His secret lies in the no-till technology and crop rotation, which ensure enough water underground, richer soil and more efficient use of fertiliser.

“I have not tilled this land for seven years. Moreover, it has residue of sorghum and chickpeas, which is digested back into the soil. The more organic matter you can have in your soil the more water it can hold

“We do use fungicides on our crops at times. These past short rains were a challenge as conditions were ideal for various diseases,” he added.

Helping the community

In October 2022, Barden donated Ksh 1.2 million school fees bursary that benefited some 300 needy children from Machakos County.

He said the gesture was one of his many ways of giving back to the community and improving livelihoods through education.

“I’m just a man, one man. Nothing special about me. There is something special when people come together, they can be able to achieve great things

“Everything we have comes from God. What’s the best wishes? We have given blessings to you, I’m delighted,” Barden said.