Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Teaching Dairy Cow Management with our partners in Kenya.

Daniel Scothorn and I had the opportunity to teach a number of sessions on dairy cow management to the members of our partner dairies in Kenya. The usual daily session would be something like this. We would travel from our accommodations in Ischamara to the dairy in Othaya and prepare for the day. The arrangements would have been made by Othaya staff. Usually this would have been the milk quality staff person ,Leah and the Dairy Manager. A farm would have been selected in a new area and farmers contacted to tell them of time and place. We would prepare by assembling our “Fact Sheets”. These are a series of one to three page information sheets on topics like cow feeding, milk quality, and calf rearing. We wrote these information sheets to meet the demand for information by the farmers. We check to see if we have samples of the crops we use to illustrate our talk or if these can be found on the farm. These include Napier Grass, Desmodium and forage trees. After we get our materials in order we usually have a quick “cup of tea” at the local restaurant. This is usually consists of tea, semosas, sausages and a donut!
We travel to the farm in the “Combi”. The drive can be from 15 min to a half an hour and we may have to walk the last bit if the road is too narrow. When we arrive at the farm there has been some canopy in place to provide shade. We are on the equator and at a high elevation so both us and the farmers need shade. We usually tour the farm and see the cow housing and determine how we can use it on our talk on cow comfort. At this time farmers start to arrive. They usually come after they see us travel to the farm. There is always an interesting mix of farmers. Some will be women, some will be older gentlemen, some will be young farmers and all will be keen to find out better ways of feeding their cows. We always talk to the farmers as they arrive. This lets them know that we are also farmers and that we care about their cows. Also, we try to find out how they manage their cows so we can adjust our talk to fit their farm situation.
We use a flip chart with an outline of our talk. We make some basic points. Forage has a higher nutrient content when the plants are immature, home grown feeds are more economical than purchased feeds , and feeding cows in early lactation results in maximum milk production. Although many of the farmers understand English we work through a translator who is usually a staff or board member of the dairy. Translation is necessary but it slows the amount of information we can present. We are always aware that we have to repeat each point several times, use illustrations, and watch for feedback to see if we are understood. After the talk on feeding we go to the “zero grazing” or cow housing to discuss cow comfort. We normally put on our rubber boots and go into the cattle housing to show we are familiar with working with cows. Usually the situation is the same as in Canada ,where the cows tell us if they are comfortable in their stalls. Normally we observe they need bigger stalls, more bedding and more accessible feed bunks. After this we return to the teaching site where Leah gives her talk on how to produce clean milk and answer questions to complete the day.

After wards we share tea prepared by the host. The tea is usually accompanied by boiled eggs, bread, and boiled arrow roots. This an excellent time to talk informally about feeding cows and answer questions about how we farm in Canada.
We are always impressed with how interested the farmers are in gaining new information for managing their cows. We are impressed on how they put these ideas to work. We see improvements in milk production within days of making suggestions for improvements. We are impressed with demand for written information. We provide hand outs and this time we also gave all the women a back copy of the American publication Hoard’s Dairyman. These were in great demand. Milk production in Kenya is one of the few profitable farm enterprises and farmers are willing to work hard to make their cows profitable.
The days we teach on the farms are the best days in Kenya.

Cookhouse at Kinyinjere School funded by Souris Village Feast

Submitted by Teresa Mellish

On November 2, 2008, we attended the official opening of the cookhouse at the Kinyinjere Primary School. Local dignitaries attended along with the students of the school children and their parents and, of course, the members of the Muchui Womens Group. I had the privilege of cutting the ribbon which officially opened the cookhouse.

The cookhouse is about 15 feet by 60 feet in size. It includes an area to cook the food with three Botto-Solar cookers which use a fraction of the wood normally used in open fires. Also the smoke is vented outside. There is also an area to store the maize and beans provided by the parents. In addition there is a washing area under cover outside and a room for an office. The school already has a cook who will prepare the porridge for the nursery age children and the githeri for the older children.

I’d like to recognize Elizabeth Kirema who initiated this project. She is a teacher at the school who told us that the school needed cookhouse like the one she saw at the Ruuju school. She is also the Vice-Chairperson of the Muchui Womens Group.

There is a plaque on the outside of the cookhouse recognizing the funds raised by the Souris Village Feast. During the opening festivities I made a presentation about the people of Souris. I showed photos of Souris - which I left at the school.

We know this will make such a difference to the school children. They will have a hot lunch which will allow them to do better in their school work. Many of these children would not otherwise have lunch.

Thank you to the organizers of the Souris Village Feast for their hard work and generosity.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas in October

Submitted by:
Winston Johnston

Late in 2007 someone on Prince Edward Island made a donation in support of the Farmers Helping Farmers Christmas program, to provide a small plastic screen house (a greenhouse with screen walls) for one of the women in the Ruuju Womens Self Help Group, near Mikinduri, Kenya.

On the 27th of October of this year I inspected one such screen house on a small three acre farm operated by Mrs. Regina Kanja Mung’athia. From this farm land Regina must support a family of six, including herself. With the financial support provided by the Island donor and technical help from Farmers Helping Farmers, Regina was able to construct a 6 x 9 metre plastic screen house, supported by wooden posts, into which on 21st of July of this year she transplanted 180 climbing tomato plants. Regina then purchased a five gallon plastic container and drip irrigation lines to deliver the necessary water to the tomato plants. This watering system uses much less water than conventional irrigation, much to Regina’s advantage as each day she has to carry water to use in the screen house.

Beginning the first of October Regina began to use tomatoes in the preparation of her family’s meals and will do so for the next eight months when the crop will be finished. In addition, weekly trips are being made to the local market to sell tomatoes which will provide the family with an income of some 500 Kenyan shillings (about $8.25 CDN) per week. Thus, the donation made to the 2007 Christmas program brought Christmas to Regina by increasing her family’s annual income by about 16,000 Kenyan shillings ($250 Canadian), while at the same time improving the nutrition of her family.

Photo - Regina standing in screen house showing ripe tomatoes in the background

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

How Kenyans Benefit from Farmers Helping Farmers Projects

The development project initiated by Farmers Helping Farmers with the Muchui Womens Group was designed to bring new technologies in vegetable production to an area suffering from the lack of water. The Muchui business centre, constructed around a screenhouse (a greenhouse with a plastic roof and sides of screen), was designed to serve as a demonstration site where members of the group could come and see how new cultivars and production techniques could increase crop yields, and improve the lives of their families. One such technique is the production of climbing tomatoes in the screenhouse using drip irrigation. This method of watering plants delivers a small amount of water to the base of each plant enabling farmers to transplant tomatoes at any chosen time. This facilitates harvesting tomatoes in the off season when prices are higher, than field produced crops. Staffed by Muchui employees Salome Ntinyari and Martin Gikunda, this centre has become a place where not only members, but people from the entire region come to see new production methods.

A few months ago the Muchui business centre held an open house day and invited all people living in the district. The program was televised and presented by the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and Citizen Television Stations. Some observers from Meru who did not come to the site, watched the program on their televisions at home and found it very interesting and contacted Martin and Salome for additional information. Some came to the centre to meet the staff and observe for themselves the screenhouse and production of tomatoes. One resident of Meru town, Mr and Mrs Muthee, came to the centre and received all the necessary details on requirements for greenhouse production of climbing tomatoes. Soon, a new greenhouse measuring 10 x 20 metres was being built at his home in Meru Town, large enough to hold 800 Anna F1 tomato plants. Using one water tank and collected rainwater distributed by drip irrigation, the tomatoes will mature in the off season beginning in next January when prices are at their highest.
The total building costs were close to 150,000 Kenyan shillings (about $2,500 CDN). With the current and projected price of tomatoes at maturity, the expected income for the entire crop will be from 120,000 to 180,000 shillings ($2,000 - $3,000 CDN). In addition to this income, the family will have tomatoes to eat until August 2009. By building a greenhouse that will last about ten years, Rose Muthee, just one of the seven local residents to adopt such technology, will have sufficient income to pay school fees for her daughter’s education. Thus the objective of extending the work of the Muchui Womens Group to all members of the community is becoming a reality. Winston.

Photo: Daughter, Ms Jane Gitonga standing in the tomatoes.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Double digging results in better crops for Muchui and Ruuju women

Submitted by
Teresa Mellish
October 30, 2008

Double digging soil results in better crops for Muchui and Ruuju women
We visited the Muchui and Ruuju Women group members earlier this week and they showed us the results of double digging their soil in their kitchen gardens.
They learned the benefits of double digging and how to do it when we arranged for some of them to attend a training session at the Kaaga Bio-Intensive Resource Center in August.
The crops that were growing in soil that had been double dug were visibly greener and bigger that crops that were growing beside them in soil that was not double dug.
I understand that double digging means that the soil is dug twice as deep. First of all they spread some manure (or compost) on the top soil , then take off the top soil and set it aside. Then they loosen the sub-soil. Then the top soil is put back.
This allows the roots of the crop to reach down deeper for any nutrients or moisture that exist below the normal cultivation level.
This is quite a labour intensive process but it only has to be repeated in three years.
Now the other members of these two groups want to be trained at the Kaaga Bio intensive Centre.
We are always so impressed at how the women are so willing to implement new things on their shambas.
Photo shows Salome Kimathi and her mother, Rael, in Rael’s kitchen garden

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Othaya welcomes Farmers Helping Farmers

Othaya Dairy Cooperative and Farmers Helping Farmers continued to build a strong relation today, as we met with the board of directors and many of the employees. The objective today was to interview candidates for the agronomist position and we had five excellent people. We found it difficult to decide today, so we will postpone our decision until we have field interviews over the next few days.

The weather has been great so far! No rain, knock on wood and the temps are mid 20's with sun and cloud. It's muddy around the shamba's though, but the Napier grass is looking good and many farmers are getting ready to make silage.

We will begin seminars on Thursday, after we visit more local farms and see more cattle.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Group traveling to Kenya in October 2008

Five people are traveling to Kenya from October 23 until November 15 to work with Farmers Helping Farmers partner groups. Dr. Winston Johnston will be working with the Muchui Womens Group in Kiirua to support their crop diversification program. Ken Mellish will be working with the Othaya and Thubuku Dairy groups. Daniel Scothorn from Nova Scotia will be training the Othaya and Thubuku dairy groups on how to feed their cows for more milk production. Michael Whelton from New Brunswick will be assisting the Muchui Womens Group on their accounting practices. Teresa Mellish will be monitoring all groups.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Drip irrigation ensures Muchui women have kitchen gardens

What a change there has been in the kitchen gardens of the Muchui women. Despite the fact that the rest of the garden is yellow or brown , they each have a small area that is green with vegetables for their family use.

We saw kale, onions, and tomatoes being grown using the water from the drip irrigation tubes lying close ot the ground. The drip irrigation emits drops of water from holes placed every few inches where plants are strategically located to benefit from the water. The rest of the garden is very dry.

Ten years ago I visited this area in May and none of the women had kitchen gardens because it was so dry. I returned home to PEI at that time to plant my own kitchen garden and I knew I would work towards the Muchui women having their own kitchen garden for their families.

It is still very dry in this area but the drip irrgation technology is appropriate for them to grow kitchen gardens. Their families' diets are improved with the production of kale for theiur sukuma wiki.

Teresa Mellish

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

UPEI Nutrition Student Interns

Submitted by Colleen Walton

Doreen Pippy and Sharla Goodwin, both 3rd year nutrition students at the University of PEI, have embarked on their investigations to analyse the diet of the Ruuju Primary and Kirua Boys school students. They will compare the amounts of "protective", "energy" and "body building" foods consumed by the children to those amounts recommended by the Kenyan government who has adopted WHO recommendations. They will interview students and their mothers and will provide education sessions for the mothers, the school cooks and students. Their results will help Farmers Helping Farmers to work with the schools and the womens groups in their crop diversification efforts to introduce new crops and technologies to the area in an effort to improve the nutrition of the students.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Martin Gikunda is getting married!

Yesterday we attended the pre-wedding party of Martin Gikunda and his fiancée Fetha Mukiri. The pre-wedding party is a fund raiser for the wedding which is to be held on August 23rd.

A similar event on PEI would be a community shower. The difference here is that the whole community is invited and are encouraged to make cash donations through the auctioning of yams, chickens, and plaques (with religious sayings) to be hung in your home.

Martin is the horticulturist with the Muchui Business Centre. Fetha is a teacher. Both Fetha and Martin have university degrees in agriculture.

Both Damaris and Salome assisted with the auctioning along with members of Martin’s church.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eight Down and Five to Go!

Submitted by Patsy Dingwell

Carolyn and I are extremely pleased with the results of our visits to eight schools in Nyeri District. We now have a much clearer picture of their progress since twinning and their current and future needs.When we visited Muhuti Secondary we were treated to a dress rehearsal for their Traditional Dance competition. This is the first year that Muhuti girls have joined the dance troupe. On Friday the thirteenth, they will be performing in a provincial competition in Murkurwe-ini town - defending their championship! Mwati Primary School will also be performing as three time National champions! We are so impressed with the dedication of the teachers, many of whom will remain at the schools every night and alternate week ends. Administrators receive no or very little extra salary and generally they are the ones who will do week end shifts.

We have managed to collect all the information and have great photos of home and school life for our PEI students to prepare their presentations. We also visited three potential twin schools. Ithangi school is one of these schools. There, we were touched by the sight of orphans wearing special uniforms that were purchased by the GCI team in 2006. These uniforms were a different color (green and pink) and had Global Classroom Project embroidered on them. Ithangi School was started in 1983 and has 160 students. They have eight teachers, only five of whom are paid by the government; parents are paying a small wage for the other three teachers. They have no electricity and do not anticipate getting any soon as they are far from the electric grid. They have a small water tank and when it is empty the children fetch water from a river. When we asked Headmaster, Patrick Thumi, for his priorities, he was very clear that Ithangi needs more teachers and textbooks. They certainly recognize the value of education and keep it as their number one priority.

The Kenyan children and teachers continue to inspire us!

Ruuju Primary School

Submitted by Colleen Walton

Farmers Helping Farmers began working with the Ruuju Primary School in January 2006. Since that time the project committee, Damaris (Horticulturist) and Shaad have profoundly changed the school. Rain water collection, vegetable garden with drip irrigation, a small greenhouse, a maize storage bin and cook house now grace the property. This infrastructure, with the support of the parents and Damaris's careful control, all support the school lunch program. Student performance has improved both academically and in sport, and enrollment has increased as students from other schools join Ruuju so they can have a good lunch each day.

Ruuju Primary School has about 70 nursery students and 100 students in Standard (Grade) 1 and 86 in Standard 2 and 3. Each has a single teacher. The enrollment in the school has increased as a result of the lunch program, but the government has not seen to add buildings or teachers. The drop out rate is very high in the higher grades which could be expected with such a high student ratio. Damaris, the chair of the Womens Group is a Standard 1 teacher and is stressed at the fact that she is unable to put emphasis on the students having a difficult learning time.

A new CIDA funded project began in September 2007 with the Ruuju Womens Group. This Group is keen to work with Farmers Helping Farmers to expand the diversity of crops that they grow, technologies that they use, and learn about new crops better able to withstand drought. With climate change people are unable to rely on the rain that is the backbone of their food security; thus drought tolerant crops are critical to their lives. Production of other crops that can provide nutritious food for the family and generate cash can help the family be more sustainable and improve their meager standard of living.

Computerizing the financial records with the Ruuju Womens Group

Billy MacDonald (left) and Bobby Cameron worked today with Damaris Kagwiria, Horticulturist with the Ruuju Group, to begin computerizing their financial records. She had excellent manual financial records in her ledger but we are interested in having electronic records so that we can in Canada can understand the financial position of the project as well.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Twinning Schools

Submitted by Patsy Dingwell and Carolyn Francis

Jambo from Kenya!

This week has been a busy week meeting old friends and making new ones. Carolyn and I have been working in three twinning schools to learn more details about them. We have also been able to teach some classes! More about that later. Our first school was Kihuti Secondary School which is twinned with Vernon River. Kihuti has about 390 students and 18 teachers. We were greeted by Headmaster, Mr. Thiong’o who gave us a tour and introduced us to the staff. We were humbled to know that they are so grateful for Farmers Helping Farmers and the Twinning program. They were very anxious to get Vernon River’s and our personal e-mail addresses. They have used twining funds to buy more computers (they now have 10) and also purchased a phone and equipment for internet access. It was also wonderful to see a good library with many books. Although, unlike home, the books are kept in a very large cupboard with a locked iron bar running across it We were glad to learn that a teacher was assigned to check out books at regular intervals and they are working towards a librarian. One very interesting sideline that we learned is that Kihuti school will buy extra notebooks (scribblers) and make them available to the poorest students; Noah, the deputy master, says this has reduced absenteeism so much, because in the past, children would stay home when their parents did not have money for notebooks.

On Thursday and Friday Carolyn and I split up so we could visit two schools. I went to Mwati Primary which is twinned with Morell and Carolyn went to Gathukimundu , Miscouche’s twin school. I am hoping Mwati will become the “Little School That Could” It is the smallest and poorest of the twinning schools. and has many difficulties to overcome, however, already we see many improvements. The new staffroom, built with twinning funds, was very neat and organized and the teachers are so grateful to have lots of shelving to store their books and supplies. Before, they had to use cardboard boxes placed on the floor of the classroom or carry the supplies home with them each evening. While I was there, I saw the new water tank, purchased by Montague Intermediate High School. What a wonderful gift! The older, (and very rusty) metal tank was still in use but the new black plastic tank will ensure that the students will have clean water for quite some time. I also saw a workman mixing and shovelling cement to cover the clay floors in one of the two classrooms that The Rotary Club of Ch’town Royalty is funding this year.

Weston Murathe , is a bright eyed, very keen young teacher who loves to teach math and science. He is the teacher whose salary is paid for by Morell Consolidated students. We also pay the salary for Elizabeth Njoki, the social studies teacher. I did not meet her yet, as she was out sick. I hope to meet her Monday. I was also able to see and photograph the books which were bought with PEI donations. I was happy to be able to talk with and teach the twinning class. What a challenge to get the students to speak up, they were very quiet and not used sharing opinions during class time. Break time outside was a different matter though. They all wanted to know about my house and wanted their photos taken.

Gathukimundu ! What an inspiring school! Many of you have met Lucy Wachira, the headmistress, when she was on PEI in 2006. We’ve been told she has become quite famous and looked up to for her abilities as a headmistress and her association with PEI. Her school has placed second in the national exams for all of her province! When you visit there, it is not hard to see why. The school grounds and buildings are clean, bright and organized. They take much pride in all that they do. The students love learning about Canada through twinning letters and the pre service teachers. It was lovely to see the new books that Lucy had purchased with twinning funds. She says these books are high interest books to supplement the text books used by the students! While there, Carolyn saw a class of students in the library reading books that have been purchased by Miscouche Consolidated which is twinned with Gathukimundu. Carolyn both observed colleagues and taught some classes. After teaching on Thursday, her students brought her gifts of sugar cane, an orange and macadamia nuts on Friday.

Over all it has been a busy but very rewarding start to our school visits in Kenya!

Projects Made a Difference

Submitted by: Colleen Walton

We are visiting Wakulima Dairy Co-op these early days of our trip. This group has been a partner with Farmers Helping Farmers for 11 years and in this time has grown substantially under the careful management of an elected Board and visionary Chair. With training on better cow feeding and hygiene coupled with a 10,000L milk cooling tank, supported by FHF over the last 4 years, the average milk from a cow has risen from 2- 3 L/ day to 7 litres per day and the dairy group collects up to 23 - 34,000 L/day up with targeted production of 30 – 37,000 L by the end of 2008. The Dairy is made up of over 5,000 farmers and this increased milk production, and thus revenue, has contributed injected significantly in the local economy. When we visit this area we are thanked by many people for the contribution that FHF, with the support of its donors and CIDA, has made in the community. I feel honoured to be receiving these thanks and feel amazingly touched by their gratitude which I’m not fully sure that I can convey to all the people that make their donations to make the work of FHF possible.

We arrived in Kenya

Jambo! The FHF teams have arrived in Kenya! After an uneventful 22 hours of travel and a welcome rest at the Fairview Hotel the teams are already into their tasks.
Patsy Dingwell and Carolyn Francis will begin their public engagement project with school visits on Tuesday and will spend the next eight days at twinning schools in the Mukurwe-ini area.

Teresa Mellish and the UPEI interns; Bobby Cameron, Billy MacDonald, Doreen Pippy and Sharla Goodwin have began their work by visiting at the Wakulima Dairy on Monday and the Othaya Dairy on Wednesday.

Colleen Walton is working on the CIDA funded VSF project, working with Othaya Dairy and Ruuju Women’s Group and catching up with old friends with existing project partners.

The Islanders are absolutely delighted to be joined by Shaad Olingo, our Kenyan coordinator, who will make sure that we are all on track!

As the old saying goes “first impressions last a life time,” Kenya has been a unique first for the UPEI interns.
“ I was somewhat nervous on how I would be accepted as a minority, but the Kenyans were more curious than judging. The children would follow me to shake my hand

Soccer was the language

Soccer was the language
by Billy MacDonald

The children were playing soccer at the Kinyinjere Primary School when we arrived. I went over to the group and motioned for one of the children to kick the ball to me. When they did, I kicked it back and then all of the children started to get involved. Then I started towards the goal with the ball and all the children followed. I managed to get a goal before I lost the ball!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Detective work in greenhouse management

Posted by Teresa Mellish

We were delighted today to have an opportunity to visit the first day of the June 4-7 2008 Meru National Agricultural Show sponsored by the Agricultural Society of Kenya. Although our visit was unscheduled and too brief, we saw and learned from several relevant displays.

We were so impressed with the display of the Muchui Business Centre featuring their Agroforestry Project. Their display included live macadamia trees, olive trees, pine trees, grevillea trees and mango trees along with large photographs of the features of the Centre!

Shaad headed straight for the Seminis company display. This is the company that sells the Anna F1 variety of tomato seeds that we have used in the greenhouses at Kiirua and Marega. We recognized that we need training in greenhouse management and the Seminis agent agreed to provide it. Shaad will email him with the details of the problems we have seen in the Marega greenhouse.

We also saw two examples of portable vegetable gardens at the Bio Intensive Centre and we made a valuable contact at the Ministry of Health.

Photo shows Martin Gikunda (left) with Shaad Olingo, the Seminis staff with Colleen Walton.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

UPEI Interns will travel to Kenya in June for 3 months

Four UPEI interns will spend June, July and August working on Farmers Helping Farmers projects in Kenya. Two interns will work with and teach the community members how to set up a bookkeeping system to help track their profits and expenditures and the other two interns will work with the communities to assess the diet of the children, identify the key deficiencies, and advise on diet changes, including which crops to grow.The two bookkeeping interns are Billy MacDonald and Bobby Cameron; the two nutrition interns are Doreen Pippy and Sharla Goodwin. They will be accompanied by Teresa Mellish and Colleen Walton for the first three weeks. This photo shows Billy MacDonald (left) with Bobby Cameron and Dr. John van Leeuwen, President of Farmers Helping Farmers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Carolyn Francis, co ordinator of our latest public engagement project, Engaging Island Communities in Global Development and Patsy Dingwell, chair of the FHF education committee will be going to Kenya on May 30th. They will be there for three weeks visting the twinned schools. They will also visit potential schools in Mukuwe-ini and and Meru.
Check out our travels on this blog beginning early June!