Caleb Omolo, PRI-Kenya, Rongo – 21st of January 2016

After leaving the guys at Mbita we met up with the team from PRI-Kenya and had dinner in the evening with Alais who is a Massai Warrior. Poor Alais had an evening of question after question where we learnt a lot about the Massai culture. It has a very strong community based around sharing, so strong in fact that you are not allowed to eat by yourself or either wash by yourself. Also poligamy is allowed.

In the morning we met up with Caleb (he is standing next to a coffee plant)

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Caleb is a permaculture trainer and is working on this project in Rongo. The project has been going about 6 months and has another two years to run by which time they hope to have 600 farmers practising permaculture. It is called the Sustainable Village Resources program. They are training farmers to do permaculture around coffee growing. Coffee used to be the main crop around here until sugar cane came to the area. Now the sugar cane industry is exploiting the farmers so they are looking to grow coffee again. Coffee is a plant that likes growing in shade and you get a premium for shaded coffee. This is why it makes a good plant for permaculture. The idea is to market the coffee as a group. The group will take a 10% cut and the farmer will get 90%.

Caleb showed us around his food forest.In this forest he grows coffee, vetiva grass ( good for soil erosion, hat weaving and mulching)image

Also he grows tephonia (good for composting, high in P),Atinacea (anti-malarial), climbing bean, tall sorghum, castor oil tree, bananas, pumpkins, potatoes and the list goes on.

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He also got Gordon and I to plant a coffee plant each

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He companion crops bananas with pumpkins and sweet potatoes and this is called the banana circle.

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He doesn’t grow maize as it is low in nutritional value. Also he says Striga is a sign of degraded soil. Also Caleb has an orphanage on his farm for 12 children. The forest helps him feed the children

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After visiting Calebs farm we went to see a farmer called Joseph.

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Josephs forest has only been in for 6 months. He has planted pigeon pea as it is an N fixer and pumpkins to try to regenerate the soil. Once the soil improves he will chop down the pigeon pea and plant something else. He has been planting coffee and hopes to harvest by August. Also avocado. He grows chilli peppers which he can use as a spray if insects become a problem.

As with most farms we have visited we don’t leave empty handed. Gordon was presented with the biggest Papaya I have ever seen.

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Thanks to everyone at Rongo for their generosity and time.

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Dennis Siroh, Rusinga Island, Kenya -19th January 2016

Yesterday we had a long drive, about 500km, to Rusinga Island in Western Kenya. It was according to google maps going to take about 7 hours but in reality took 12 hours. Google maps didn’t take into account the unexpected two stops by the police, the 500 speed bumps and traffic jams in towns. Welcome to Africa! We did though see some great sites. we went through the Great Rift Valley

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We also went through the highlands where there was large areas of tea plantations

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One of the reasons we drove this long distance was to see Dennis Siroh and the great work he is doing on Rusinga

 

Rusinga Island has been degraded by human activities over the last 30 yrs. The islands population has gone from 5,000 to 35,000 in 30 yrs. This has lead to deforestation as people have cut down tres to smoke fish and there is no livestock fencing so the cattle and goats have eaten the regrowth down.

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The hill in the background has few trees left and this has also lead to less rainfall on the island. The island traditionally been fishing based but lake Victoria has been over fished, so there is less fish caught. The common crops are also just maize and beans which are only in the ground for 3 months and can fail. This has lead to the project that Denis is involved in with the Organic Farmers of Rusinga Island and Permaculture Research Institute Kenya. The idea of the project is to encourage permaculture principles on small farms so they can feed themselves and have surplus to sell. Below is Dennis’s small holding:

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The idea of permaculture is to have high diversity if plants which all have a use and to make the best use of the rainfall. Some of the crops Dennis grows are Papaya, Sweet potato, cow pea, bananas, Moringa just to name a few. Moringa is the most interesting crop. It is a tree that is nitrogen fixing, produces, fodder, timber, leaves are medicinal and the oils are sold for cosmetics. LUSH the UK cosmetic company have grant aided some set up costs and also buy the oil from the Moringa seeds for their products. The leaves of the tree are also dried and made into a powder

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This powder helps the immune system and helps slow down the effects of HIV, which is a problem here. From Dennis’s half acre plot he feeds seven people and has surplus food

The next person we saw was Julie

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Julie is the star grower. She feeds her large family and by the sounds of it a lot of the village. Today she was harvesting 3 different crops: Moringa, cassava and beans. This plot has only been in for 2 yrs and Julie on average only spends 1-2 hrs per day working in there. We left with Papaya and cassava for lunch.

Next we went to see Doreen

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Doreen is also one of the founding growers. Doreen was growing bananas and pumpkins together

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Bananas are heavy feeders in terms of water and nutrients. Pumpkins provide shade to conserve water also you can eat the pumpkin leaves and the pumpkins. Speaking to Doreen and Julie they told us that they meet every 2 weeks to share ideas with the group and they also save money as a group and lend it out to people for investing in new ideas and inputs.

We then visited the project offices where there is a demonstration site.

imageThere Isiah showed us the nursery they have. They will propagate trees and plants and give them out to farmers. They will also save seeds from the farms and hand them back to the farmers. They also showed us the plant Tephrosia

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It is a pesticide plant as it repels  insects including stem borer in Maize and also aphids. It though is poisonous.

They are also going to try to exploit agro-tourism in the island

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Rusinga is known as bird island and is an ornithologist’s heaven. Once they have healed the landscape there is huge potential from tourism.

We had a great day at Rusinga and were very impressed with what they are doing. The island is a input salesman’s nightmare as it has never used artificial inputs but can still produce large amounts of food when looked after. They only have  just over 20 farmers in the project but aim to increase that to 6000. The effects for the people will not only be economic but social and environmental. Thank you Dennis for your time.