A scope at ecological farming

By Erastus Wayne

Talking about how farmers in Kenya and the world should embrace organic farming over commercial farming seems to be a far-fetched idea, but wait until you sit down with farmers who, without being bias, give you their views and opinion. Traversing the interior regions of Yatta, Makueni and Machakos County in Kenya talking to farmers while giving them an environmental insight on what commercial and ecological farming entails at the same time recording their views on the same.

Being a volunteer with environmental know-how and listening to the farmers’ grievances on how climate change and commercial farming has impacted their farming, you will be convinced to do something about it. Climate change is real and on the verge to make better harvests, farmers are being enticed to indulge in unconventional means of farming. The use of excessive fertilizers and genetically modified seeds either locally made or imported has more to it than just delivering the best results. One farmer in Makueni described commercial farming as farmers’ enslavement since once you begin practicing commercial farming, you are obligated to add commercially produced fertilizer as well as commercially produced pesticides whenever required.

Ecological farming encourages traditional methods of farming that has been in existence and practiced by their ancestors since time in memorial. The use of manure from livestock and poultry farming enriches the soil while at the same time acting as a sponge that collects moisture during the rainy season that’s useful during the dry season. Unlike commercial farming that raises soil acidity and depletes the soil of its organic matter, ecological agriculture promotes healthy soil matter that feeds the plants to promote healthy yields for human consumption.

Organic farming also advises farmers to diversify into poultry and livestock to support their food security during dry seasons as well as financial aid for their families. It is a wonderful experience to see the look on these farmers faces as they narrate how ecological farming has elevated their farming compared to commercial agriculture. Based on what I’ve learned and experienced through this trek, I would strongly urge the Kenyan government to listen to their farmers and support them in the quest of embracing ecological farming.

Help put pressure on the donors and the Kenyan government.

Sign the farmers’ letter now!

Day 4: Presenting the letter to the donors

The #Farmers4TheFuture trek is coming to an end! After 3 days of meeting with other farmers, sharing experience, and talking with local governments, now the time has come to go speak directly to the donors. Donor agency fund large scale, chemical intensive agricultural project, and the aim of the trek was to build support, showcase successes, to ask them to shift their funds to ecological farming projects.

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We regrouped in a park nearby our first visit, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency, to start a march to their doors. While a small delegation of farmers and partners went inside to present the letter, the #Farmers4TheFuture delivered an interview, and read the letter in front of the entrance.

The group then moved to our second destination, the Netherlands embassy. The discussion went on for more than an hour, and at the end they agreed to receive the letter.

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So what’s next? We will have follow up discussions after this first engagement, and we will continue to put pressure on donor agencies so they shift their policies. A movement has started, we’ll build on it to be even stronger.

If you haven’t done it yet, join and sign the letter here, or send “FARMERS” by SMS to +254 706 885 184

Day 3: Building up for the big day

Today was like the calm before the storm, a quieter day to discuss, share, and build up the movement.

It started at Wote city with a meeting with Makueni county officials. As yesterday, the letter was presented and its content discussed.

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The #ResilienceTrek then moved to  Kathonzweni to share experience with farmers owning a seed bank. A bag of traditional seeds was offered after a fruitful and lively discussion.

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The #Farmers4TheFuture went back to the journey, back to Thika where it all started. Direction Nairobi tomorrow for the final day.

Stay tuned, and to show support, sign the letter!

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Day 2: Teaching ecological farming practices

Day 2 of the Farmers For The Future resilience trek was very successful, and full of hope for the rest of the campaign.

It started with a productive political meeting with members of the agricultural committee of the county assembly in Machakos. The committee members were pleased and thankful for the initiative. The debate was lively and several promises were made, like to promote raising awareness and knowledge for ecological farming practices or to provide support to small-scale farmers practicing ecological farming.

The Farmers read aloud their demands to the committee members, and presented them with a signed petition. Most of the demands were welcome and heard. The committee members seemed keen to see ecological farming more widely used, and it’s now the coalition mandate to see how this good will is taken forward.

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The trek went down to Makueni county, to meet with farmers who don’t practice ecological agriculture. They came in numbers to hear more about new methods to improve their farming. Our #Farmers4theFuture had then the opportunity to talk about their skills and to share their experiences and ecological tips. They separated into two groups and happily, proudly answered questions and told their successful stories for more than 2 hours.

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The “training” session was enjoyed by the attendance, who carefully listened and took notes. The public’s interest rose when the question of financial returns was addressed. Indeed, commercial farming they said, could be seen as a “form of [financial] slavery they needed liberation from”. Indeed, they became dependant of intrants like fertilisers and pesticides which often represent a cost they struggle to afford.

The day ended with a gift from ecological farmers: they offered traditional seeds, more resilient to climate change.

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Day 1: The #Farmers4TheFuture Journey

Today, 30 farmers set off for a journey to fight for what they believe in: healthy, sustainable, profitable farming. For 4 days they will exhibit their products, share their knowledge, gather more support. Their objective? To be heard by donor agencies and governments who invest more in chemical intensive projects, instead of promoting a better food system.

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So that day was more about setting the scene, and making the initiative known. It started with a press conference where major media outlets were represented. The main message was clear: yes ecological farming can feed the word. What is needed is a change of paradigme to shift mindset, and a change of policies to support ecological farming initiatives.

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After great speeches and questions, the farmers and their partners left Thika for their first destination in Machakos county. They were welcomed with dances and good humour. They had set up a stand exhibiting their products: traditional seeds, fruits and vegetables, handcraft baskets and even small local livestock. The enthusiastic crowd celebrated good food and healthy products, and more than 200 farmers signed the letter addressing demands for support to the government.

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A good buffet of local food was much appreciated, before the convoy left for Day 2 meetings in Machakos city.

The Farmers For the Future letter to governments and Donors

Attention:  

Government of Kenya and International Aid Donors in Kenya

 

We, as farmers and consumers throughout Kenya, call upon the Government of Kenya and international aid donors to move away from conventional agriculture and support the most sensible solution – Ecological Farming. Conventional agriculture has failed us and will continue to as climate change worsens. The current approach that donors and our government take toward climate change adaptation in agriculture places us at a severe disadvantage.

 

Specifically, we object to:

  • The promotion of expensive certified seeds and agrochemicals by government agencies and international donors which leaves us vulnerable to weather variations and reliant upon inputs we cannot afford;
  • The promotion of myopic and flawed techno- fixes and “silver bullet” solutions to climate adaptation which permit the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and considerable chemical inputs including herbicides that contaminate the environment and leave less land available for local food crops;
  • The lack of research on ecological farming initiatives which would considerably mitigate climate change impacts;
  • A weak extension system which results in the limited creation of awareness and knowledge dissemination amongst farmers on climate change impacts and adaptation.

We, the farmers and supporters worldwide, urge International donors and the Kenya government that the following steps be taken to address the very serious issue of climate change in agriculture:

  • A revamp of the seed certification system that allows farmers to source their seeds from community seed banks and other sources;
  • Technical support on soil, irrigation and water conservation measures that are free of agrochemicals;
  • The end to flawed climate mitigation methods that promote the backdoor entry of GMOs and are reliant on agrochemical usage;
  • New policy proposals, enhanced funding and technical knowledge at the local and national level that embrace the principles of “ecological agriculture” which maximizes climate resilience.

We, the undersigned Kenyan farmers and our supporters worldwide, believe that ensuring food security and climate change resilience in agriculture are essential for sustaining the future of our nation. Many of the public-private projects you continue to support place corporate interests above our own. The most sustainable and responsible way for Kenyans to guarantee their prosperity and food security is for international donors and our own governments to support scalable, innovative, ecological farming. The time to act is now.

 

Yours sincerely

African farmers embark on 4 days journey to demand investment in ecological farming

Nairobi, Tuesday October 11th 2016 – 30 smallholder farmers from Kiambu, Meru, Machakos and Makueni counties set off today from Thika on a 4-day resilience journey that will see them engage county leaders and Kenyans on the ideal agricultural system that they envision for Kenya and the continent. They will exhibit produce, share knowledge and share seeds to their counterparts. The farmers will make stops in Machakos, Makueni and Nairobi counties with a clear message ahead of World Food Day.

“We, as farmers and consumers from around Kenya, call upon the Government of Kenya and International aid donors to listen to our demands, to move away from conventional agriculture and support ecological farming. Conventional agriculture has failed us and will continue to do so as climate change worsens….” reads in part a demand letter written by Kenyan smallholder farmers to the local governments of Kenya and International Aid Donors in Kenya.

The farmers say they have decided to support each other because they have not received sufficient support from authorities and donors. Instead a lot of support has gone into industrial agriculture – a fatally flawed agricultural model that places farmers in a cycle of debt as well as reliance on harmful and expensive chemicals and seeds.
With support from The Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), Greenpeace Africa, The Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) and The Kenya Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (KSSF), the farmers will use this resilience journey to showcase and prove the benefits of ecological farming.

Ecological farming not only supports local farmer’s livelihoods, it also, “enhances their economic empowerment and is conscious of environmental stability and builds community resilience to adverse effects of climate change,” says Martin Muriuki, Executive Director, Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE)

The farmers are sure that the solution to address hunger in Kenya lies within the country’s borders. With the right support, they can feed Kenyans with healthy, nutritious food that is grown ecologically. Ecological farming is not a new practice; it combines local farmers’ knowledge with the most recent scientific knowledge to create new technologies and practices that increase yields without negatively impacting the environment and some of our smallholder farmers are already practising it by building on the traditional agriculture methods based on local landraces and knowledge.

The farmers’ appeal comes at a very critical time, the current food system is broken, the environment is damaged and the current industrial agricultural model has left thousands hungry and dependant on technologies that are unable to withstand weather shocks and lined the pockets of a few corporates,” states Greenpeace Africa’s senior Food for Life campaign manager, Nokutula Mhene.

The effects of climate change are starting to bite; the Kenya meteorological services have warned that La Niña is near meaning that many parts of Kenya will experience depressed rains in 2016. There is an urgent need to support smallholder family farmers to practice ecological farming through access to irrigation and access to affordable organic inputs and protection of local farmers against middlemen exploitation. The future, states Anne Maina from KBioC, “is in practicing agroecology and not synthetic chemical driven farming.”

Ecological farming is a bouquet of techniques to produce environmentally-sustainable and healthy food for local people. It is a proven “agricultural production method that has at its core resilience, equitability, food sovereignty, and environmental sustainability. We call upon Governments and Donors to put in place mechanisms that allow for a paradigm shift towards ecological farming,” says Greenpeace Africa’s Executive Director, Njeri Kabeberi.

At the end of the journey, the farmers will hand over a letter to International aid agencies in Nairobi. The letter will outline priority areas in the agricultural sector that agencies should invest into.

Media Contacts:
Susan Nakacwa,  Greenpeace Africa Communication Manager, Mobile: +254 716 910311Hellen Dena,  Greenpeace Africa Media Officer, Mobile: + 254 708 056 207
Hannah Kigamba, ICE Communications, Mobile: + 254 728 615 773

The kind of agriculture Africa Needs…

 OR What agricultural system do Africans want?

“Agroecology is really common sense. It means understanding how nature works, to replicate the natural workings of nature on farms in order to reduce dependency on external input.” argued Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food as he called for food democracy and ecological farming.

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I concur with De Schutter, especially since agriculture is one of the biggest earners for African Nations. In most cases, save for a few African countries, agriculture is practiced by smallholders who depend on it to feed their families and as a source of income. Across the continent, smallholders plant their crops, year after year in all kinds of weather. Even if there has been warning that the rains may not be as good, they still plant; holding on to faith! This gambling and practice of faith in some cases pays off, however, given the extent of climate variability due to climate change, the uncertainty may prove to be a losing matter for farmers.

Over recent years, Africa has emerged as a new frontier for the expansion of industrial agriculture. Initiatives like the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security & Nutrition and philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are promoting a model of industrial agriculture that benefits big corporate agribusiness, over the needs of smallholder producers and rural communities. They have used this model to promise a “good life!” This good life involves having enough fertiliser, buying seed from the shops, and planting monocultures which are dependent on world market prices.

Smallholder farmers have been indoctrinated into believing in the version of a “good life”. Unfortunately, the ecologically safe way to plant has been painted as backward! Every year farmers seek to somehow be able to afford the good life. Those that cannot have been drawn into contract farming as they can get the inputs in advance, with a false promise of earning more money! I know that ecological farming affords farmers a chance to fulfil their dreams and live in dignity.

However, this version of the good life has backfired on most farmers! In my travels and work across the African continent, I have met several farmers who lament over the high cost of seeds and fertiliser. I have also met farmers who have entered into contract farming and in the face of erratic weather patterns have found themselves owing “the company.” A farmer that I once met chose to plant cotton, like he did year after year. As he always did, he received inputs from the private company with which he worked. He planted his crop as he always did. However, this particular year, his entire crop failed.

When offtake time came, the company came to collect. He gave the little that he had managed to harvest and they calculated how much was due to him. Before they gave him the money, they subtracted the cost of the inputs they had given. Not only did he not get any money, he was actually in debt. This is a classic example of how big companies, who have been part of the machine spreading the propaganda, have set ideal ground for them to capitalise at the expense of farmers Alas, the so called good life is not so good after all.

In another country I met a woman, who rejected the model of the good life, as defined by her community, and practiced ecological farming. She chose to use her traditional seeds and manure for her crops. She used the push-pull method – a pest management approach that uses repellent intercrop and an attractive trap plant – to control pests. She also planted more than one crop as a means of diversification. Although the rains were not good, her traditional seeds fared better than her neighbours. Her inputs cost less than her counterparts hence she was not only able to feed her family and safeguard her environment but she also managed to remain debt free.

I then have to ask myself, have we been forced to define African agriculture in a way that suits only the few who stand to benefit financially? Has the definition of good African agriculture been taken to mean that a few individuals and companies get free land, free labour from smallholders and only pay for the product? If ecological farming received the same level of investment – Research and Development, training and extension – as conventional farming, it could produce yields as high as those in conventional agriculture.

I argue that it is time for Africans to start setting the rules of the game – rules that enable us to produce food sustainably and conserve our environment. This coming World Food Day, four organisations, Greenpeace Africa, the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE), The Kenya Small Scale Farmers Forum and the Kenya Organic Network (KOAN) come together to prove to you that it is possible to fund, scale up and support ecological farming. Kenyan farmers will be coming to the aid of other Kenyan farmers who have been affected by extreme weather patterns by sharing knowledge on ecological farming practices and giving their counterparts seeds to tide them over to the next planting season.

Through a farmer’s trek that starts from Thika to Machakos and Makueni counties, we will prove that sometimes, we do not have to look far for answers to our questions around saving the planet. For the first time in Kenyan history, the farmers will make their demands to support ecological farming known to the public, government and donor agencies.

Written by: Nokutula Mhene
Senior Campaign manager, Food for Life Campaign
Greenpeace Africa