Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Great screened kitchen garden

by Teresa Mellish

On our way back from visiting schools last week, we stopped at a screened kitchen garden owned by a Muchui member.  We had spotted it on the way to the school because the white plastic mulch was noticable from the road.

The tomatoes were mulched with co-extruded plastic mulch which reduces the water evaporation and the weeds.  The garden also included onions, green peppers and swisss chard.  Outside there was zucchini and sweet potatoes.

Jennifer bought some tomatoes, chard, zucchini and green peppers  to take home for our supper.

The owner said that the garden had changed her life because  she had vegetables to eat and money to spend. 

We were impressed that her tomatoes did not have blight- and other tomatoes that we had seen in the area were blighted.

Cookhouse and kitchen at Ithanji Primary School

by Teresa Mellish

Ken and I visited the Ithanji Primary School yesterday to see their new cookhouse (kitchen). Esther ( Parents committee  chairlady) and  Dorothy (twinning teacher) met us to show how the kitchen is being used to cook porridge and lunch for over 100 students and staff for the school. The kitchen was funded by the Stonepark School.   It still lacks some paint and windows.  There are benches outside the kitchen for the students to eat lunch during rainy saason.

Although everyone told us about the positive impact the kitchen was having on the students,  they also had high praise for the three water tanks at the school.  Two tanks  were still full of water and they had used one tank since the beginning of the school year.

The School showed us the maize and beans contributed by the parents   They told us they plan to plant a kitchen garden soon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Final week for 4th year vet team 2013!

In our final week in Kenya, the FHF veterinary team headed back to the Karatina area. This week we were also thrilled to add two more veterinarians to our team, Dr. Dave and Dr. Martha!

Throughout the week our team continued to meet with dairy groups, give seminars to farmers, and examine and treat individual cows. On Tuesday we met with a growing dairy group that has just recently started working with FHF, the Kiamuruga Dairy Self Help Group. The group was excited for us to be there. We had a strong turn out for the seminar, and the farmers were very interactive and asked lots of questions!

With the extra help from Drs. Dave and Martha we were able to talk to more farmers and see more cases. In the Kiamuruga dairy area we saw a number of cow housing issues, including uncomfortable beds, poorly designed zero grazing units, and dirty cows. These housing issues were making mastitis a common problem in this area. The Kiamuruga dairy is a group that has the potential to benefit from the training that FHF can offer. 

As the third week came to a close we were all sad to say goodbye to Kenya and the friends we had made. We had an amazing experience and learned so much during our trip!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Blog Posting #1 By Patricia Bishop
February 6th 2013.
Wuchui Womans Group Focus Group session
After spending a week and a half observing, asking a lot of questions and contemplating, I see that the woman of the Ruuju Womans Group and the Muchui Womans Group are some of the most resilient woman I have ever met. Many of the woman in these two womans groups live a subsistence existence, where they are working hard each day to provide the basic nutrition and health to their families. Many of them do not have anything extra to speak of, a knife, a pen, paper are all luxuries that do not make it into their lives unless they are a gift. Some of the woman in these groups have jobs outside of their daily tasks on their farms. They wake at 4:30 AM to prepare for the children, the farm and then get themselves off to work. The food is basic, not processed and packaged. They eat what is grown on their shamba (farm) or vegetables or cereals from a shamba next door. They walk everywhere, or if they have the shillings they pay to hire a motorcyle to drive them they will go out of the rural area where they live to do their business in town. For some this happens once every couple of months or only when the children need shoes or someone needs medical attention. Most of the homes I have visited do not have power.

I have been conducting focus groups with the woman in the two womans groups. The purpose of these focus groups has been to learn from them what is of benefit to them in their womans groups, what challenges they face in the groups, what changes they would like to see and the real point has been how they envision carrying on with the iniatives of their groups once the CIDA Funded FHF project is complete in 2014.  The woman for the most part are all saying the same thing in the four different groups – that being a part of the group has provided them with great benefits of tanks to hold water, screen houses, stoves that reduce smoke and fire wood use, and farming skills that increase the vegetables grown on their farms (shambas). They also value greatly the community in their groups. The major challenge identified by all groups is having a market for their products. If they can make more shillings then they can fund more of the work that their womans groups have started. For reference, the price of a green cabbage is 5 -20 shillings – that is less than one cent in Canadian Dollars.

In a region where so many people are just surviving, it is difficult to see where or how the market price can improve. The culture of very cheap food is borne out of necessity for the most part, but just like everywhere else I have visited, it is still on the backs of the small scale farmers. There are much larger farms here in Kenya. Farms that have 100's of acres of tunnel houses growing crops for export. Those farms appear to be doing well (and are not owned my Kenyans). I question as we travel past the large acrage of tunnels if those farms have difficulty accessing water year round like the woman in the villages do. I don’t know the answer.

In Nova Scotia we have many citizens who are aware of the issues facing the family farm and who are willing to pay fair prices for their food from farmers. Many people are making choices in their daily lives that support farmers directly both in Nova Scotia or in other places by choosing fair trade products. More than ever before I can see how critical these choices are to the lives of others. I have not found this same population here in Kenya yet (that want to pay a bit more to support the health of small farmers). Some say there isn’t such a group, but I believe there must be. Now that many young professionals have moved away from their family farms into the city to work for higher pay, they may see or feel the disconnect, we just need to start talking with them and find out more.

Four observations so far that I suggest require action are:
1)                  the woman farmers having a consistent variety of vegetables to sell every day of the year
2)                  more one on one hands-on skills development in the areas of farm management, crops, composting, pest control - non chemical interventions (because they are expensive), and problem solving
3)                  collaboration between groups and between woman to have a large enough volume of product available for sale
4)                  marketing and sales person for both Ruuju and Muchui womans groups 

The woman I have talked with have indicated that they wish they could sell more vegetables for more money because they are selling at a loss many times.

Today, Wednesday February 6 2013 I have spent the day talking with two groups of woman who are members of the Muchui Womans Group. We have started the discussion of business planning.

(Disclaimer: I am constantly grapling with a concern with my observations and ideas impose my ideas or values from where I come in my life. I suppose there is not much I can do about that except be aware of it.)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Calliandra: a Protein Source for Kenyan Dairy Farmers

     During our visit in Kenya we have learned that a household will often have small number of cows to supply the family with milk. If there is excess milk, then the family can sell that milk for a profit ($0.22-0.26 CDN). Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) has a goal to improve dairy cattle nutrition, so that they can produce more milk for the family. Farmers in Kenya tend to offer feeds high in energy, but not protein. Milk production depends on a healthy balance of energy and protein, so FHF have started encouraging farmers to grow fodder shrubs, particularly Calliandra, that can range from 20-30% protein.

     By feeding fodder shurbs, farmers can decrease the amount of dairy ration, as 1kg of dairy ration can be replaced by 3kg of Calliandra. This saves the farmer money, as dairy ration can be quite expensive.
     Calliandra is also a leguminous shrub, therefore it can contribute nitrogen to the soil and support other vegetation nearby. Leaf fall from the shrubs and their roots can also improve the soil quality. Their roots extend deep into the soil, which can help prevent soil erosion. In the rainy season this can be exceptionally advantageous to the farmers.
    Unfortunately, collecting the seed from the Calliandra shrub can be challenging. However, for those farmers that can succeed in this endeavor, selling seed can be rather profitable. FHF is pursuing many ways to encourage farmers to grow Calliandra, these include supplying seeds, supplying seedlings and growing demonstration plots.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Greetings from the 2013 Veterinary Branch of FHF

Ari, Melissa, Dr. John and I spent our first week working with Dairy groups in the Karatina area.  This year FHF has provided a handbook filled with various fact sheets for farmers who attend our information seminars.  They are very popular!  The Dairy group managers have been very happy to meet with us and really enjoy highlighting the improvements they have made over the past year.  We are soaking in the beauty, life, and action that is all around us.

On Saturday January 26 with help from the Muchui Men’s and Women’s groups, we held a walk in clinic for the farmers in the Kiirua Dairy group.  A steady flow of bulls, cows, and calves kept us busy deworming and performing veterinary medicine.   At the end a very hot and dirty, but satisfying day we had examined and treated 40 cows and dewormed over 300!  Various disease transmitted by ticks were the major problems for most of the animals we saw.

We will spend the week in the Meru area working with local Dairy groups.  We get a short break from dairy work when we go to sweetwaters tented camp to view some wild life on the ol pejeta reserve and then we head back to the Karatina area for our final week!  

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Story of Penina’s greenhouse
 by John Lohr
Upon arrival in Marega, we visited many screenhouses and several greenhouses. The screenhouses are exactly as their name implies and allow air movement readily.
On the other hand two of the greenhouses visited, early model Amirans, were very poorly ventilated. Not only do plants perform poorly in these conditions, but they are extremely  uncomfortable to work in.
Penina reported that she would work in the greenhouse from 6 to 8 am. After that it was too hot to work in.
One solution to the problem was to mix hydrated lime with water in a small pail and have it tossed onto the exterior of the greenhouse. Safety googles were provided to Simon who did the work.
The hydrated lime, known as “chalka” , locally and readily available, reduced the amount of sunlight and solar energy entering the greenhouse by reflecting it away.
Upon our return several days later, Teresa Mellish and I found Penina beaming about the transformation in her greenhouse. At midday we entered the greenhouse and found it very comfortable. We told Penina that rain will wash the chalka off and re-application will be required after the long and short rains.
Upon leaving Penina insisted on giving us a small gift of sorghum and millet.