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Food Sovereignty

Kamburu Gets a Second Chance

The small garden occupying about an eighth of an acre is a beautiful sight to look at. On one side of the garden are neat rows of cabbages planted next to a bumper crop of beans inter-planted with maize. One can tell that the maize was planted recently because at the extreme end of the garden is a more mature crop a few months to harvesting. The fact that there is not a single weed in sight is not what amazes all who come to see Mary’s garden but rather that despite her blindness, she has been able to achieve so much. Mary is a member of Kamburu Disabled Persons Self-Help Group that seeks to help persons with disabilities improve their lives. For Mary, being blind has not meant the end of the world – if anything; she is now the true embodiment of the adage that disability is truly not inability. “We have come from far,” explains Samuel Mbatia, chair of the group. “We started way back in 2005 as an informal group attempting to bring together people who are visually and physically challenged to see if we can make headway in lifting ourselves out of poverty.” In 2006 the group was registered and to-date has twenty members, three of who are men and the rest women. The Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) came later and has since then been supporting the group identify and implement small-scale enterprises. “We always wanted to expand the range of activities we were involved in and so when ICE came in, they gave us ideas that looked promising and workable.” One of them was the establishment of a tree nursery of indigenous trees. “We approached our area chief to help us with a piece of land to start-off this idea and he agreed.” This was back in 2007 on a piece of land less than an eighth of an acre. Today the group owns a nursery established on more than a quarter of an acre with seedlings including food crops and fruit trees. It has now become a demonstration garden where neighbours and people from afar come to learn how to revitalise their soils through ecological farming; revival of indigenous seeds and the knowledge about them and tree planting. “During the month of October, we sold more than seven thousand seedlings,” says Mbatia. Mbatia is very optimistic that the path his group has taken will lead them to greater heights of achievement. Together, and in a small but significant way, they are helping to remove the stigma associated with disability. That they too can be important in nation building is indeed in no doubt.

Food Sovereignty

When Small Makes Sence

It is apparent that the success a farmer gets from a certain crop is dependent on many other things besides just rain. In Masinga, the farmers have ascertained that apart from rain, fertilisation and cultivation, the method of land preparation also matters a lot. Techniques such as deep digging and double digging go a long way in ensuring a farmer gets the highest yield in a relatively small cultivated are. “Deep digging involves tilling the land a layer deeper than would normally be done,” explains Joseph Kioko. In deep digging the land is tilled twice the normal depth to loosen the soil and allow for better root penetration and even aeration. “You cannot achieve that kind of depth through harrowing. You need to till the land with a hoe,” adds Kioko. Double digging on the other hand involves preparing a small area measuring two by two feet where ten holes each two feet deep are made for planting maize. This can be made slightly bigger for kales and other greens. One might get the illusion that the farmers of Masinga are going back to old cumbersome ways of land preparation but considering the smallness of the land area utilised in the two land preparation methods and the yield obtained, one begins to see the economic sense in the whole approach. “The yield from this small area is higher and of a better quality than that obtained from a large harrowed area that is difficult to manage. We have now realised that we would rather till and manage a small area that stretch ourselves to a bigger area we can hardly afford to take care of. Tilling a small land area allows us to give it the very best of our attention. Using these approaches allows a farmer to concentrate efforts and resources in a small area hence producing superior yield. The farmers in Masinga have since been able to develop a seed bank with eleven seed varieties. “The small plots we develop can sustain our families and even afford us some surplus to sell to the local markets,” says Munguti Kavivya as he inspects a crop of millet planted on a deep dug plot.

Natural Resource Management

The Hill of Hope

Kivaa hill is not an ordinary hill to the people of Matuu as Mzee Munguti Kavivya, chairman of the sacred sites protection group says, “The hill represents the strides we have taken as a community to protect our fragile ecosystem.” “This hill”, he points out, “was the source of rich traditional remedies used by our fore fathers and their fathers before them.” But population pressure and other effects of civilisation saw the community encroach into the hill and clear land areas for settlement putting this rich ecosystem at the risk of extinction. “People cut down trees to clear land for cultivation and settlement,” he adds. This wanton destruction of the hill’s natural flora had far reaching effects on the people of Kivaa. “It first began with very erratic rainfall patterns we could not plan for and then one day, the rains just stopped. What was to follow was a long spell of drought and famine that nearly wiped the people of Kivaa off the face of the earth – the drought is one of the harshest and the longest in Kenya’s history. “When ICE came, we were desperate and hungry. We had no water and our source of herbal remedies was quickly fading away. ICE told us that the secret to our survival rested in the protection of the indigenous forest on the hill”. It was after realising the blunder that they had done that the old men of the village came together and with help from ICE, they started a concerted effort to protect what natural heritage was remaining and rebuild the hill’s lost glory. “We owned up to our mistake as a community and worked collectively to revive the forest,” says mzee Munguti. Strict rules and regulations governing the use of the hill were developed and each member of the community was tasked with the responsibility of ensuring these rules were followed. “Our government also helped us a lot because any time a person was caught breaking the set laws, our local chief was on hand to administer the law of the land to its full extent, says Munguti. Soon word spread that the hill should be left alone. Since then we have worked together to replant trees on the hill and our efforts are beginning to pay off. We are hoping that some day we can even transform this place to an eco-tourism site. Kivaa hill is now a treasure for the people of Kivaa. It occupies a sentimental place in their hearts and because of all the conservation efforts that have gone into it in the recent past, it will certainly continue to be a source of rich herbal remedies and the source of much needed rain.

Institutional Development

Sweetness of Self-Sufficiency

Janerose Kairuthi and Judith Mwendwa have one thing in common – they are both members of Jitegemee Agricultural Development Group which was established in 2009. The group is involved in the cultivation of indigenous food crops, rabbit rearing and dairy cattle farming. The one hundred member group has come from far. “My husband and I used to travel to far places like Isiolo to rent land for farming,” explains Judith. This was an expensive venture in terms of land rates, transport to and from the rented land and hired labour. “Yet many were the times we did not harvest anything even after all that work, she adds. With the introduction of indigenous food crops and better and efficient ways of land preparation by the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) life has never been the same for Janerose and Judith. “We are now self sufficient. We no longer have to go to the market for food,” explains Janerose. The group has learnt a variety of alternative uses for some of the indigenous crops they grow.\”We are making fresh natural juice from orange fleshed sweet potatoes,” Janerose adds. The juice is gaining popularity in the village among all ages. The group has also successfully made flour from pumpkins that can be used to bake a variety of snacks including the famous Swahili ‘chapatis’. “We have recently kicked-off a rabbit keeping enterprise after learning a lot about the business potential rabbits have from our counterparts in central Kenya during a recent exchange visit supported by ICE,” says Judith. A rabbit ready for the market can fetch as much as KES. 1,500.00. The group currently has about five indigenous rabbits in only a span of two weeks since the exposure tour and they intend to expand the number further. The extent to which the group can go to enhance the livelihoods of its members is limitless. Judith explains, “We have a drama club within the group that is normally invited to act out plays in public functions. Our plays are educative and generally highlight social issues affecting the community such as the challenges of food security and how to address them through the growing of indigenous food crops.” The group was recently invited by the Meru museum to perform at a function to promote the preservation of culture and practices of the local people. “Some of our performances have been featured on local vernacular radio stations such as Muuga FM and Mwaria Ma FM and we received a warm reception from the public,” adds Janerose. For these two ladies from Jitegemee group, it is now evident that life to them is not just about money and how much of it one makes, but it is very much also about quality of life. Through the use of efficient cultivation methods, use of natural manure as well as the use of indigenous unaltered planting material, it is possible to be food secure and to have surpluses to sell at the same time. “What is even more important is the fact that you and your household and the customers we sell to get to enjoy clean food,” adds Judith.

Institutional Development

Women on a Success Mission

Kiitho kya Mawithyululuko is an all-women umbrella body with 153 members engaged in bio-intensive organic farming, poultry keeping and basketry. But these women are not just any other group trying to irk a living out of small agricultural enterprises – a closer look reveals that they only grow indigenous food crops using natural methods of pest control and organic fertilisation. Even the poultry they keep is indigenous. “We believe that an organic approach to farming is the only way to guarantee a clean and healthy supply of quality foods to society,” says Francesca Mbulu, chairlady of the group. Besides producing food free from hormones and chemicals, the natural indigenous foods are less susceptible to attack by disease and pests. “Coccidiois is a major chicken disease here but normally our indigenous chicken are not heavily affected like the grade chicken,” says Josphat Kyalo, the group’s coordinator. “We also weave baskets”, adds Rose Nduku, the secretary of the umbrella body. The group recently got a big contract to make about thirty thousand units. “We have been making baskets the old way for a long time but now the market wants a higher quality of basket we can no longer keep up with. Recently we had an opportunity to be trained on new methods of basketry that meet international basket standards and now we are back on track. We can now access markets we would otherwise not penetrate – thanks to ICE,” says Francesca. The entire basket weaving process up to the dying stage uses natural materials. “The dyes we use are organic and meet international dye standards. We no longer use saliva to weave the sisal fibres to thread like we used to – this is considered unhygienic by international standards.” The group plans to expand to goat keeping in the future. “Because of the scarcity of feeds, we can no longer sustain large animals like cows. That is why we have opted to keep goats instead,” explains Nduku. These industrious women intend to rear the goats for milk and meat. “These will be indigenous of course!” adds the chair lady with a wide smile setting across her face.

Food Sovereignty

Sweet Potatoes Save a Village

James and Salome Wagara hail from Kamburu village in Central Kenya. The couple owns a small piece of land where they live and farm. Tea is a major crop here alongside dairy cattle keeping and chicken rearing. It has been tough these last few years for the Wagaras. “The rains have not been very reliable and our crops have failed – including tea!” Laments Salome. “When the rains failed, we began to irrigate our farms with water from the nearby rivers to salvage the little crop that was there.” But soon the rivers began to dry up. The nearby River Karigi disappeared completely. River Bathi further afield had some little water but it was too far away. “For the first time in a long time,” describes Salome, “I saw my neighbourhood disintegrate – friends became enemies as we fought over the limited water resources. It was bad.” Their tea crop and livestock were not spared either. There simply was no way of getting through the days. “Were it not for some few indigenous food crops we had planted, we surely would have starved,” says James. At their farm, James and Salome, with the help of a local NGO the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE), had managed to grow a variety of traditional crops such as sweet potatoes, arrow roots, bananas and a variety of greens like Amaranth. Most of these indigenous foods are known to be very hardy and can withstand harsh climatic conditions. These foodstuffs became the sustenance of this household. “…and the beauty of it all is that these crops require very little attention. With just organic manure you can always be assured of a bumper harvest,” said Salome. “In fact we do not even use any pesticides or fertilisers”, adds James. When they have surplus food, they sell it either in Githunguri which is about 10kms from Kamburu or at the famous Gikomba market in Nairobi. “When we feel we are being short-changed by the traders at Kamburu, we take our produce to Gikomba where we can fetch a better price for our produce. Indigenous vegetables are now a sought-after commodity in major retail outlets. They fetch more than six times the price of modern vegetables. “We can get up to KES 20.00 per bunch of Managu (amaranth) as compared to KES 3.00 per similar bunch of Kales,” explains James. In most cases, the farmers do not have to leave their farms to sell their produce. The high demand pushes the buyers to the farms. Since the re-introduction of indigenous food crops among households in this area, farmers like James and Salome are now guaranteed of a steady supply of food in the household and even extra income. If there is something the Wagaras do not regret ever doing over more than 20 years they have been together, it is taking the step to embrace indigenous vegetables. “I can now face the future with the boldness that my family shall never go hungry no matter what nature throws my way. Thanks to ICE,” says James.

Natural Resource Management

The New Face of Eastlands

Elijah Kamau teaches biology at Maina Wanjigi Secondary in the Eastlands area of Nairobi. Eastlands is home to almost seventy percent of the slums in Nairobi. Elijah is involved in a project sponsored by the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) to promote the planting and care of indigenous trees and crops in secondary schools particularly in the Eastlands area. “It has come to our realisation that there is proliferation of exotic trees in the city. If you look at the recent beautification campaigns by the city council of Nairobi, you will quickly see evidence of this in progress. The city is full of exotic trees,” laments Elijah. Proponents of exotic tree species claim the trees are fast-maturing compared to the indigenous ones. A fact Elijah does not of course agree with entirely. “If you look at an indigenous tree like the famous ‘Mugumo’ (Fig tree), it does take almost fifty years to mature but one has to look at the non-consumptive benefits from the tree that can be enjoyed as early as five years after planting the tree,” he adds. Some of the exotic trees are what Elijah calls allelophatic – they do not allow other plants to grow within their vicinity. “This is not good especially for inter-cropping and it results to a huge waste on the land resource,” he adds. The Eucalyptus spp on the other hand is known to interfere with the water cycle. “But when you look at a tree like Muringa (Cordia spp), the benefits are many. To start with, it is a good source of shade and other vegetation can thrive well around it making it a good candidate for landscaping,” adds Elijah. The school project now in its fourth year, has since expanded to four other schools in the area. “These are St. Teresa Girls, Kayole secondary, Ndururuno, Embakasi and Ruaraka high,” Elijah adds. The project has within this period realised over one thousand seedlings which have been distributed to various schools. “At Maina Wanjigi, we have managed to plant about 200 trees,” Elijah says. Some of the indigenous tree varieties used in the project include Podocarpus, Cordia, Grevillea, Markhamia and the legendary Meru Oak. “The Meru Oak has proved a bit challenging to sustain. It is quite a difficult variety to develop,” adds Elijah. The project uses the small parcels of land allocated to the high school candidates for their examinable agricultural projects as well as members of the school’s agricultural club. “Most of the time,” explains Elijah, “the parcels are not in use by the school so we thought this would be the ideal place to establish our tree nursery and do demonstrations. So far the initiative has been very successful and it has received a lot of goodwill from the school administration.” According to Elijah, people are not aware of the many other benefits indigenous trees have to offer besides their aesthetic appeal. “They are a vital ingredient in maintaining the water cycle alongside providing a rich source of food and herbal remedies,” he says. Elijah is quick to offer a warning, “the availability of planting material for these trees is a challenge and the little that is available may not be viable. We are working closely with ICE on this but we realise it may be quite a while before we can establish a sustainable supply to meet the rising demand.” Coupled with scarcity of planting material is the fact that Eastlands area has the dreaded black cotton soil which is not conducive for the proper growth of these trees. “We have to import red soil from elsewhere and this comes with its own challenges of increasing cost through high overheads on transport logistics not to mention the student culture and perception that trees are not the in-thing to be involved in,” Elijah laments. At Maina Wanjigi, the students have made significant strides in growing indigenous food crops on the school compound. “Our primary goal for the indigenous and traditional food crops component is to explore avenues of introducing these food crops into the school’s diet,” Elijah points out. The project has been experimenting with Githigu, a traditional maize variety common among the Kikuyu community of Kenya that is normally planted during the long rains. “The results were very encouraging and we have since followed that up with the introduction of green Amaranth, Sesbania Sesban and Lucern. “We have discovered that there is a tendency among most indigenous food crops to take up minerals much better than their exotic varieties and I think this explains why they are that nutritious. In partnership with the national museums of Kenya, we will embark on undertaking more research to characterise and better understand these food crops,” he adds. Elijah’s dream through this component is that he may one day witness everyone in the locality maintaining a kitchen garden of indigenous food crops. For now his main task is to ensure strategies for continuity are in place to take this initiative to the next level. He is glad that leaders and the world at large are beginning to take notice of the impact the environment has on livelihoods. He only hopes that there will be more to look forward to beyond Copenhagen 2009.

Institutional Development

Water Comes Closer Home

Ntakira water group was started in 2012 in February as an initiative by a group of women to provide access to clean piped water to the community. With an initial membership of only seventeen, this seemed like a daunting task considering other bigger groups in the locality with over two hundred members had failed. “This water issue involves numbers. The many you are, the less the cost of bringing water from the mountain to people’s houses,” explains Poly Kirimi, the group secretary. The group managed to build a water intake. But that is as far as they could go before The Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) stepped-in and boosted their efforts. “ICE found us at a dead end. We did not have the funds or the numbers to channel the water to see our project through to completion,” Poly says. ICE provided the group with about forty pvc pipes. “This was a great boost for us,” Poly continues. The group has since managed to cover about 3 Km of piping. We look forward to having our own regular supply of water and stop relying on water from Gikumbo that is unreliable and comes in shifts. Once the group completes the water project, they plan to embark on the cultivation of indigenous food crops.

Food Sovereignty

Family Unit Receives New Lease on Life

Magdaline Wambui Mitugo comes from a past full of emptiness and dependency. Now the chair-lady of a vibrant one hundred-member Kamburu Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) Women Group, she talks of their long journey from isolation and insignificance to a present now full of hope and prosperity. “If there is one thing we can be thankful of ICE for, it is because they salvaged our families and households.” The family unit was dying in Kamburu, threatened by ancient cultures that dictated what chores ‘belonged’ to the menfolk and those that were the preserve of the women. “We managed household affairs in total isolation. Our husbands never knew what we were doing neither did we know what they were up to – we were like perfect strangers living under the same roof,” explains Magdalene. This affected cohesion in the family and created a rift that impacted on any meaningful development that could take place in Kamburu. When ICE visited Kamburu, this aspect was glaringly obvious. “We realised before anything else could happen here, we had to mend the prevailing situation”, explains Martin, Programme Manager at ICE. But changing a people’s culture handed down from one generation to another over a long period of time was not going to be that easy as Martin explains, ” We had to identify an entry point that the community would warm up to and use this to get them to gradually realise the value of a man and woman working together in the family unit.” “We were introduced to the concept of kitchen gardens which suddenly removed us from the dependency syndrome we suffered for long”, explains Magdalene. For the women of Kamburu, the kitchen gardens freed them from a legacy of dependence on their husbands for daily subsistence as Magdalene explains. “With my kitchen garden, I no longer bothered my husband with money to buy food for that day – I could just get it from my garden. The gardens also set the pace for a new culture of healthy eating. “Since we mainly grow indigenous foods in our gardens, we have gradually stopped relying on bread for breakfast and instead prefer the richly nutritious sweet potatoes, arrow roots and the likes”. Soon the men of Kambura were more frequent in the ‘boma’ than before! “When you don’t pester your husband with small things like money for food, you give him breathing space and a piece of mind. He looks forward to coming home every day and you are always guaranteed of an audience with him,” explains Magdalene with a broad smile settling across her face. This new ‘breathing space’ provided a window of opportunity for couples to discuss other things like joint ownership of wealth and assets in the family and development finally came home to roost at Kamburu.

Food Sovereignty

Indigenous Foods Transforming Lifestyles

Rosemary Muthoni Kago is a living testimony that nature has solutions to the problems that befall its inhabitants. When Rosemary was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago, life for her seemed doomed. “I was told I had to eat a lot of foods with natural sugar to boost my sugar levels”, Rosemary says. For Patrick Kago, her husband of 45 years, the disease had dealt a cruel blow to his beloved. Rosemary used to trek nearly 20 Km to the market to buy these foods because she knew it meant life or death. “I never for once imagined that I could grow these very food stuffs in my backyard!” When the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) paid the residents of Kamburu, in Central Kenya, a visit back in 2006, the Kagos never anticipated that the new knowledge on indigenous food crops ICE would introduce here could reduce the toil and agony of a fatigued diabetic lady. “We were taught how to plant sweet potatoes and yams and so many other traditional foods and the amazing part was that we never needed to spray them with pesticides nor apply fertilisers!” Not only did Rosemary save immensely on cost, now she had the very item that sustained her health just next to her house. With a regular supply of sweet potatoes and other indigenous food crops, Rosemary was not only improving her nutritional status and that of her family, she also now had an additional source of income in her backyard – not 20 kilometres away! “I now sell codgets, cabbages and Amaranth leaves to my neighbours and traders who come all the way from Githunguri (about 5 Km from where the Kagos live) to buy from my farm. My prices are higher than others but that does not deter the buyers because they know my produce is organically farmed.” She adds, “Most people nowadays prefer organically farmed produce because they are more conscious about their health.\” Rosemary and Patrick have been doing so well with their newly found enterprise that they have dedicated half of their 10 acre farm to indigenous food crops. “A few years ago, we did not have a single traditional food crop in this compound, now imagine today half of our land is full of them and we have no regrets,” Mr Kago says.