The first thing that strikes any visitor to the Thiiti Mothers group as odd is that there are men in the group! “The group was founded in 1989 by mothers who were then agitating against female genital mutilation but later they decided to strategically include us in the group to increase their lobbying power and voice,” Hassan Kiragu, a group member, explains.
The group is made up of 20 members, 5 of who are men. “We had an opportunity through the ICE and RIDEP partnership to go on an exposure tour where we learnt about rain water harvesting as a way of overcoming the effects of climate change,” says Hassan.
“Before we received start-up chicken for our poultry project, we were first trained on their management including disease identification, especially New Castle Disease. We can operate incubators and brooders, we are conversant with the selection of eggs for incubation, we know what to look for in a good egg and we can formulate our own feed using local material,” he adds.
The group has received additional training on composting, the establishment of kitchen gardens, grafting and the use of Zai Pits. “In fact 90% of our members are using Zai Pits in their farms.
The farmers have also been able to diversify into other crops such as Ndengu (green grams) and Mwere (Millet) as they also engage in their own research to identify and focus on those varieties that do well in the area,” he says. Others are keeping poultry and rabbits and farming vegetables and fruits. “We are grateful to the ICE/RIDEP partnership for all the support they have given us this far and we want to assure them that even though some of the technologies might seem labour intensive and costly like the Zai Pits, we know they are ultimately worth every effort we invest in them,” Hassan indicates.
“We hope development partners can now consider providing us with a long-term solution to the problem of water scarcity, especially now that we are diversifying into other ventures such as fruit farming. We are forced to walk long distances in search of water and even then it is not enough for all our needs because the vessels we use can only do so much,” Hassan laments.
The farmers, through their own local research, have realised that some tree varieties introduced such as Mikimas (Gravellia) are susceptible to Muthwa (termites) attacks. “This tree has a lot of promise if only we can get a solution to the termite menace,” adds Murithi, another group member.
“We have also discovered that the most suitable tree for our rocky terrain is the Mwarubaini (neem tree) which is doing quite well around here,” adds Reverend Patrick Mwiti of Kamatungu Methodist Church. Nevertheless, we are encouraged by the survival rate of most trees we have planted through the ECOREC project,” Rev Patrick adds. He estimates that 65% of the trees have survived in the community despite the generally rocky terrain of the area.
Chief John Muchiri from Marimanti location believes most of these challenges can be overcome through strategic partnerships. “It is difficult to achieve much in isolation, but through partnerships like the one we have, we can overcome most of the climate change challenges. We have, for instance, just finished sensitising the community through our ‘Nyumba Kumi’ campaign on an upcoming activity aimed at planting trees on the riparian of river Kathita which will rejuvenate the river and the environment around,” Chief Muchiri adds. Reverend Mwiti, who is also the school chaplain, agrees with this. He has had a strong working relationship with RIDEP for the last 2 years partly because of the church’s passion for uplifting the standards of local people but also because he has a personal interest in conservation work. “In 2014 we managed to plant over 2000 trees in our local schools in Marimanti location,” he adds.
Reverend Mwiti, who is also the school chaplain, agrees with this. He has had a strong working relationship with RIDEP for the last 2 years partly because of the church’s passion for uplifting the standards of local people but also because he has a personal interest in conservation work.
The church has recently invested in a poultry project which was inspired by poultry training under Enhancing Communities Resilience to Effects of Climate Change (ECoReC) project . The initiative looks set to be a model for farmers keen to keep chicken as a business. Rev. Patrick says the challenges the church faces are very similar to the ones farmers are facing. “Our main problem is water scarcity. “Our farmers have not yet fully embraced the concept of trees conservation even though most are aware that cutting down trees creates environmental problems,” he observes.
Trees are a source of quick cash when they are sold as timber or firewood. When faced with a financial dilemma in the household, cutting down trees offers a quick fix. “I believe if all stakeholders including the farmers, church, government and partners like ICE and RIDEP put their minds together a workable solution can be found,” he adds.
Going forward Rev. Patrick hopes that the project can scale up its activities in Kamatungu to cover a bigger area, “and if possible include a component of water,” he recommends. “There is need for more training to emphasise the need for farmers to revert back to their indigenous food crops like millet and green grams which seem to do well in this harsh weather”.
Members of Maendeleo B Chicken group have already taken a bold step towards solving the water problem – they have dug and constructed their own water pan. Within a period of seven months after the completion of the pan, the transformation is remarkable. “We have been able to diversify our farming activities into vegetable farming, bee keeping and tree planting,” says Cathreen Kabiru Mwinzi, a group member.
Their cost of living has also received a reprieve because they are now spending less on things like soap since the water from the pan is not hard. “We do not have to use expensive detergents to break the hardness of the borehole water because water from the pan is soft,” James Musyoki, another group member, explains.
“We have identified some design flaws in our pan which we are working to rectify,” says Cathreen, the farmer turned local engineer. After designing the water pan they discovered it was filling on one side too sooner than the other hence making it unable to accommodate its full capacity in water. It was filling up with silt too quickly as well. We need to deepen the upper side of the pan to compensate for the slope and allow for its even filling while at the same time work on improving the water filtering system to minimise soil getting into the pan,” Cathreen explains.
Meanwhile Gakiminte Orphan Support group, a few kilometres from Mitunguu town, is approaching the water problem differently. They have managed to purchase 20 units of 200 litre water tanks for their 24 members and they plan to purchase the remaining 4 by May 2015. Originally instituted as a financial support group for single mothers, the group has diversified its activities to include water harvesting after a series of training seminars by ICE/RIDEP partnership on a range of mitigating strategies against the effects of climate change. “Besides water harvesting, we are now going into value addition. We are producing our own Hibiscus juice and we will soon begin making passion juice which is more marketable,” Kinyua says. The aim of the group is to establish a fully-fledged agribusiness.
“We are already sourcing for early maturing, high quality seeds to kick-off that project,” he adds. Kinyua is already reaping the fruits of this initiative. In his farm he has over 300 paw paw trees whose harvest fetches him twenty four thousand shillings every week. “I have planted the sunrise variety that matures fast and gives me two crops in a year,” he adds. He is grateful that he has partners walking with him to ensure his dream of being an entrepreneur in agribusiness is realised.