The rolling hills and lush green vegetation dotting the Central Kenyan highlands strike a marvel and admiration to nature lovers and anyone keen on enjoying a refreshing escape from routine urban hustles.
Nature and man have joined forces in most parts of central Kenya to bestow the landscape with ecological treasures ranging from forests, springs and rare biodiversity critical to human survival.
Residents of Lari Division in Kiambu County, Central Province, are today an embodiment of human efforts to turn the tide on nature vagaries to their advantage.
In this vast constituency perched between the Aberdare ranges and Rift Valley savannah, farmers have embraced organic farming alongside a range of evergreen agriculture practices that include agro forestry and ecoagriculture to fill their granaries and sell the surplus to both local and overseas markets.
Aware that climate change is a formidable hurdle to sustainable farming, the farmers in Lari have teamed up with both government and non governmental agencies to restore forests, catchments and rivers while expanding acreage on trees on farms, to reverse declining crop yield.
Organic farming is slowly gaining foothold in Lari and most parts of Central Province as smallholder farmers explore ecofriendly and cheaper options to boost crop harvest.
Gladys Njeri, a young mother of one sighs with optimism as she recounts a sequence of bumper harvests in her two acre farm since embracing organic farming.
Njeri is both an astute organic farmer and a senior official in a local fifty six member women’s group championing agro ecological farming practices that blend indigenous culture, knowledge and practices.
Women are at the frontlines spearheading organic farming in Lari and their strategic role in society has only entrenched the practice to boost food security for their families and the entire community.
Njeri engages in intensive cultivation of indigenous crop varieties that include cassava, yams, arrowroots, sweet potatoes, traditional maize and Norway beans in her two acre piece of land.
She also rears indigenous goats, chicken and rabbits whose products are a prized treasure among local communities and external markets.
”We are witnessing a change of attitude among farmers after vigorous campaigns and education rooting for organic farming. The number of farmers taking up the practice is on the upward and we hope it will maintain that pace”, says Njeri.
She adds that women in particular are keen on embracing organic farming to attain food security at the household level.
”Strangely, nobody in the community has raised a finger on skyrocketing price of Unga in the country because there is plenty of potatoes, beans, and traditional vegetables that families are turning to as source of food”, says Njeri.
As a group leader in a local women’s group, she reiterates that serving as role model is a prerequisite to promote organic farming practices in the community.
The group hold monthly meetings where education on organic farming is conducted.
So far, local women have initiated poultry farming projects across Lari alongside initiatives that restore indigenous biodiversity.
Njeri points out at potential of organic farming to transform her locality and position it as a hub for food production in the country.
Hannah Kimani, another prolific champion of organic farming in Lari Constituency, reveals that organically grown crops have filled the family granary while providing an extra source of income.
Currently, the young mother utilizes every space in her half an acre plot to cultivate cassava, yams, arrow roots and sweet potatoes.
She also rears dozens of rabbits that are source of meat to her young family.
”Yes, am able to replenish family income by selling the surplus produce to the market”, she says.
Vigorous education on indigenous crop varieties coupled with dialogue and engagement of local leaders, opinion shapers and government officers has ensured that organic farming is scaled up across the Lari hinterland.
Martin Gachecha, the Secretary, Kamburu elders in Lari reveals that even the local priest has been recruited in campaigns condemning genetically engineered crops and the need for farmers to revert to their traditional crops.
The elders have also incorporated youths to popularise traditional foods such as arrow roots due to their nutritional value.
Gacheche believes that indigenous farming heralds a new beginning in terms of food security and fostering communal harmony.
The elders have as well embarked on restoration of the three big rivers in the constituency.
”We have campaigned against eucalyptus trees that drain our water sources alongside farming along river banks to halt rampant sedimentation and pollution that has been going on previously”, says Gachecha.
Farmers in Lari are collaborating with a non governmental organization, Institute for Culture and Ecology, to implement a wide range of agro ecological practices.
The Director, Institute for Culture and Ecology, Mburu Gathuru, pointed at the strength of traditional farming systems to attain food security while maintaining a healthy ecological balance.
Gathuru hailed agro forestry and organic farming for their potential to boost soil fertility and water retention crucial in boosting crop yield.
The Institute for Culture and Ecology has partnered with grassroots communities in Kenya to promote indigenous farming and a range of knowledge systems that conserve the environment.
The environment lobby engages smallholder farmers to promote all aspects of organic farming that blends crop rotation, water harvesting and mulching.
”Biological control of pests and diseases is encouraged at the farm level to rescue poor farmers from the noose of exorbitant cost of fertilizers and pesticides”, says Mercy Mutave, an outreach Officer, Instiute for Culture and Ecology.
SOURCE: Africa Science News Service, Kenya
AUTHOR: Naftali Mwaura