Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dairy training and focus groups with farm women

Ken carried out two training sessions at dairies during the past two days and Teresa did focus groups with 10 farm women at each dairy to find out their perspective.
At the Lunuru Dairy there were over 100 dairy farmers in attendance. Almost ¾ were women. The farmers kept coming and coming!!
At the Ex Lawa dairy there were over 50 farmers and over half were women. They were especially interested in getting alfalfa seed to grow alfalfa to feed their dairy cows. In the highlands they can grow alfalfa!
Teresa Mellish

Visits to the screenhouses

While visiting Muchui Women we had the opportunity to visit some of the screenhouses and to take some time to talk with the women.
The weather situation in the area is the area has been highly variable. Last year was a devastation drought followed by a very wet period. The rains were damaging with even houses swept away. The rains stopped at the end of December which is about a month early. However, the Muchui women had good seed, planted in good time and in with good spacing. They will in the next month start to harvest. They expect to have an adequate crop. This is not the case for many farmers in Kenya.
The screenhouses we visited were planted and growing vegetables. Most have kale, spinach, onions and eggplant. Some of them have a variety of vegetables such as beet root and squash. The women are harvesting crops to feed their families and have surplus vegetables to sell. Because of the current dry weather the current price of vegetables has gone up. This provides a great opportunity for these women to sell surplus vegetables at a very good price.

Several of these visits stand out. We visited one older woman who did not have a very prosperous farm. There were several small houses in her compound where members of her extended family lived. Her screen house was producing about average. She told us “Her belly was full, her extended family was well fed and she had vegetables to sell”. This was in an area where vegetables were nonexistent where there was no drip irrigation. To me this is exactly what this project was designed to do. She had sold 2000 Shillings (about $25) worth of vegetables the week before.
It will be interesting to see what happens to insect populations in these houses. The birds are being kept out and are not eating the plants. However the birds are not eating insects from the plants under the screen. Also, there will be no large predatious insects.
We found that, in most cases, the screenhouses were well managed. The FHF horticulturist is essential to this project.
As they get familiar with growing crops in these screenhouses the structures should be insurance against drought and provide a good source of food and cash for the families.
Ken Mellish

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stories from Kenya from the vets

Wow! It is hard to believe that this wonderful journey is coming to an end. Our last week has been phenomenal. We started the week in Sweetwaters Park for a fun filled weekend of adventure. We were out on a few safari drives where we had the chance to see both white and black rhinos, giraffes, cheetahs, elephants, wart hogs, a ton a little gazelles, baboons, velvet monkeys and more. There was a watering whole by our tents, so we could watch animals drinking and playing at all times of the day.

Apart from this surreal African safari experience, this week was busy and we experienced a few touching and amazing moments that I would like to share with you:

Our local friend invited us to visit her family farm. I am usually animal oriented and was happy to see her cows, but I was mostly impressed by their biogas tank. This family has been trying to get electricity in their home for 20 years and it may not happen anytime soon. Last year they thought they would invest in a biogas tank. All the cow manure gets digested in this tank and generates methane for their cooking stove. Turns out they are now supplying methane gas to two houses on the property, are no longer using propane in their home, and use a lot less fire wood than before. They paid 120 00 ksh for the tank (a little less than $1500) and plan to have it paid within the next few years. The life expectancy of this tank is >25 years! That’s something to think about.

This story is to make you sit back and think that despite our cultural differences, we are all made the same. We met a very nice man that worked at a dairy that we collaborate with and he shared with us that his wife if battling cancer. He has to travel a few hours to get to the hospital every few weeks and the treatments are very expensive. He was organising a fundraiser next week, but we were going to be gone by then. Cancer touches all of us, even at the other end of the world. We were able to put some money together and contribute to the fundraiser.

Lastly, we have been teaching here for three weeks and every time we mention that cows can have twins, we get great laughs in the crowd. Twins are rare here! On our last day of clinics, a cow presented with difficulty calving. She had been in labor for over 12 hours and still no babies. The farmer said she had seen something come out of the cow’s vulva the night before, but still no baby! After assisting the cow for a little while, we were able to deliver one healthy heifer. Marissa mentioned that the calf was small, but we are in Kenya so we didn’t think much of it. It is a routine procedure to perform a thorough exam after obstetric manipulations to make sure that everything is healthy in there. John says: ‘there is another foot’. We didn’t believe him because twins are rare here, but there is was another heifer calf! What an amazing case for our last day.

Thank you for reading my stories 
Melanie Mallet

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meru vet happenings

What a week it has been!!! Upon our arrival in Meru we met Jennifer lovingly called our Kenyan ‘Mom.’ Few to no people who have traveled to Kenya with FHF have not shared an ethnic meal and a great big laugh with her. Her home is a sort of haven for us ‘Muzungu’ or white travelers in this part of Kenya and was a pleasant way to start our second week in Kenya.
Our first activity was presenting a seminar on bovine zoonotic diseases to the dairy of Mukindu. We later learned that many people had been sick with some of the diseases we discussed and the seminar helped them realize how they may have contracted them and that some were preventable. The next day we held our walk-in clinic. We de-wormed over 200 cattle and treated another 50 with tick borne diseases and an assortment of other ailments. It was an exhausting day but we were pleased to have been able to help so many farmers in such a short time.
This week we continued our work with two dairy groups and we were joined by two Kenyan veterinary students from the University of Nairobi. After completing our seminars with them we were able to meet some of their members. Our most rewarding moment was when we were able to hear how the quality of life had improved with some farmers who had made some changes we had recommended in previous years. They were able to improve the health of their cows with small changes in management and thus increase their milk production and income. It was particularly impressive to the students, as the culmination of FHF’s efforts.
Lastly, I’d like to mention the manner in which dairy groups have expressed their gratitude for our time (which, they say is never long enough). Some of the dairy board members admitted that they were unable to thank us appropriately in English and instead wanted to show us their appreciation by giving us a few Kenyan goods to commemorate our experience with them. The gifts were in the form of caps and belts for the gents and for the ladies bracelets and ‘shukas’ or wraps ‘to be worn in the kitchen while doing the washing,’ as mentioned while being presented by an elder chairman of a dairy.
It has been a busy and exhausting week but we continue to be astounded by the beauty of this country and its people. This weekend we’re off to Sweetwater’s Ol Pejata Safari Park for a little R & R. Tune in next week for stories about our experience there and those of our last week in Kenya.
Thanks for reading; this is Marissa Steinberg, signing off.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Twin Schools in Meru

Posted by Rosemary Herbert (Farmers Helping Farmers Board Member and Faculty Member UPEI School of Nursing).

Today is the beginning of our third week in Kenya. Time is flying by – every day is very full with so much to learn and do.

I have had the pleasure of visiting primary and secondary schools. I will visit a total of eight schools. The children are so excited to have visitors and to receive letters and funds from their friends at twin schools in Prince Edward Island.

The children are delightful. They appear happy, healthy and very pleased to welcome visitors to their school. Sometimes they sing to welcome us or repeat their class mottos. I often have the privilege of visiting each classroom and speaking to the students.

During my visits, I interview each headteacher or other senior teachers about the health issues of the children. All are extremely appreciative of the help provided by FHF and ask me to convey their deep gratitude to FHF supporters.

I am so impressed by what has been accomplished. FHF dedication signs are a natural part of the landscape of the twinned schools in Kiirua and Marega. The children lineup twice a day at the cookhouse–during the morning for uji- and at lunchtime for githeri. School gardens and sometimes screenhouses are used to grow food for the children. The two meals provided at school are the main source of food for many of the children. Week-ends are a hungry time for many. Cookhouses, water tanks, school gardens,screenhouses, classrooms, milk, and learning resources have all been provided by FHF.

So much has been done yet there is more that we can do to improve the health of the children. Providing all of the twinned schools with cookhouses and gardens will greatly contribute to ensuring children are adequately nourished and better able to learn. Distributing mosquito nets to school children is critical for preventing malaria, a very common illness in many schools. Regular deworming programs would help prevent frequent worm infestations in the children.

Visiting Kenya has made me realize how much can be accomplished by such a few people.The cookhouses provided by the Village Feast have made a huge impact on the health of schoolchildren as have the other contributions by FHF.It is a humbling experience to hear the gratitude and see the positive results in the children.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

my second week in Kenya

This is Saturday. We have been here for two weeks. The first week went slowly, with everything being new and unfamiliar. This week went faster and I am certain the last week will just whiz by. At the moment I am sitting in front of my tent in a private game park watching gazelles, zebras and ward hogs wander past on their way to a watering hole. Mount Kenya is on the horizon but it is too hazy to see the glacier on its side. Birds are calling. The breeze is stirring the air so that it is warm but not hot. The world is alive with the magic of life.
I have been trying to learn to say a few things in Swahili, the challenge is that Swahili is the common National language but there are also 42 local languages. People flip back and forth between Kikuyu and Swahili in this part of Kenya. I can now greet people politely in both languages and say thank you. After that words float around in my head and I try to remember which belong to which language and rarely bring the right one out at the right time.
I visited many gardens through the week, some on the back of a motorcycle some on foot. The sun is hot but even though we are on the equator the air is cool in the shade. Everything is very dry. There were terribly heavy, deadly rains in December but there hasn’t been a proper rainy season for the last two years. The rainy season should be starting in March and that is what hope is hinged on now. The women’s groups that are working with Farmers Helping Farmers are better off than others because most of them have gotten piped water from Mount Kenya’s glacier and FHF has supplied them with a water tanks to collect rain water so that they can water their animals and gardens. Even those lucky enough to have piped water and drip lines have trouble keeping their gardens growing though. The sun and wind dries the soil out very quickly.
It is true that I come with fresh eyes and notice things that could be done differently and perhaps make life easier. There are however serious consequences to encouraging people to change their practices, especially before taking the time to understand why they do things the way they do. When you live on the edge and every cent you make is committed before it gets into your hand, mistakes matter. It would be great to be able to stay for a while and really understand how things work before having to plunge in, but I don’t have that kind of time. So I am trying to suggest changes that will not be risky.
As an example it would seem that mulch would be help with water retention in garden plots. The women have tried mulch before and found that it encouraged ants. I suspect this was because the soil was dry and if they mulch the beds with drip lines the ants will be less inclined to move in. So I have been working on sourcing some UV protected plastic like what I use at home. I am only getting a small amount and helping to set up a trial. If it turns out that the mulch decreases the amount of water needed, reduces plant stress and keeps the beds wet enough that the ants don’t like it then the women will be encouraged to try the plastic mulch in their own gardens.
Next week my work will be a bit different. I will be doing workshops on crop rotations and composting. They all make compost but there are layers of knowledge and I hope I can give them some deeper understanding of how to make good compost. They all know that they should be rotating crops too but the finer points are a bit vague, such as which vegetables belong in which families and which crops should follow which crops.
But today I am in a beautiful natural area with incredible wildlife around every corner and over every hill; from the cheetah we saw last evening to the rhinosaurus we saw this morning. If I forget for a minute that I am standing in a safari van with binoculars I can almost sense the origins of our species and imagine how it was that we learned to walk on two legs and carry spears. Then I am captured by the moment held spellbound by the beauty of the animals and the landscape.
From a distant place that is also somehow familiar,

Mangoes are in season

Mangoes are in season here in Kenya- and we eat them almost every day.

This tree is at the Ruuju Primary School and Ken will be delighted to see it in production. It will provide fruit for the school children.


Screenhouse kitchen gardens producing vegetables for home consumption and for sale

We've been visitng the 70 kitchen gardens being operated by the members of the Muchui Womens Group- in which the women are producing vegetables for domestic consumption and for sale

One of the Muchui members (right) discusses her garden with Rosemary Herbert and two of the Muchui Directors

Charlie van Kampen, Stephen Mwenda, Margie Loo and Festus Nkuru discuss the vegetables gardens

Many of the screenhouses have been producing vegetables for sale since early December. The women are very pleased withthe screenhouses. We are proud to be associated with the Andreas Baur Foundation for this initiative.

Business Planning with Muchui Womens Group : a work in progress

Grace Muruiki, the new Chairperson of Muchui Womens Group, chaired the business development seminar

Esther Kigunda works on developing the vision statement

I met with the Muchui Womens Group on Wednesday and Thursday this past week to develop a business plan. Duncan Muya, the General Manager of the Mukuurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd worked with me to facilitate the development of the plan. We are training the women on how to develop a business plan as we develop the plan.
What a dynamic group of women they are to work with! They participate to the fullest extent. We started this process in November and since then they gathered information on the financial side of their six enterprises.
We have a good draft of the Vision Statement prepared for the Muchui Womens Group:
“To be a dynamic group of business women producing high value crops in dryland that competes in local and international markets so as to increase income and ensure food security for members and community”

We will continue to work with them next week to develop a good draft of the plan.
Teresa Mellish

unverified area!

two weeks in and my g.p.s. is finally settling down!it has been a period of everything being new, different and totally without context.kind of like taking your g.p.s. through the round about three times!you are in an unverified area, turn around whenever possible.we have seen poverty and prosperity, considerably more of the former.some of the sights that truly overwhelmed me with with sadness,the slums of nairobi,the reality of seeing subsistence farming and the children.
my work with greenhouses and farmers goes well. it is a learning spike!,but the more i learn ,the more i can contribute.we have two grafting chambers in place and have done some grafting with two of the kenyan extensionists.conditions are not perfect but a sustained effort should leave them with the ability to graft tomatoes.
the team effort is quite remarkable,many people rushing wildly in all directions at once,each with their own agenda.sorry can not send more ,typing is not my fortè and my air-time is expiring. god bless, charlie vankampen