A small breeze rustles the leaves of the trees surrounding the perimeter of the farm. The low baritone of cows grunting fills the air, punctured by the clucks of chickens wandering freely around the property. In the distance, you can hear the melodic babble of the nearby river.
This is the soundtrack of Eunice Njoki Thuchi’s farm in Kirinyaga county, Kenya. This is also the sound of an interconnected system of sustainable farming.
In Kenya, there are over 7.5 million smallholder farmers, who account for 75% of agricultural production in the country. Smallholder farmers in Kenya are often subsistence farmers, growing food for their families and to sell at local markets. But socioeconomic, technological, and environmental factors are threatening food security and agricultural productivity, which is exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Eunice is one of 2,500 farmers in Kenya supported by Aga Khan Foundation’s Maendeleo project, implemented in partnership with Frigoken, the largest vegetable processing company in East Africa and part of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development.
Maendeleo – meaning ‘progress’ in Swahili – focuses on helping smallholder farmers through regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture focuses on conservation and rehabilitation, which includes reviving soil health, recycling water, and increasing biodiversity.
Key to AKF’s approach are the Green Champions – young Kenyans and unemployed agricultural technicians trained to connect with farmers and teach them aboutbest practices in nutrition and regenerative farming. Each Green Champion works with around 200 farmers in their community, teaching them about sustainable farming practices and conducting surveys to monitor progress.
“Currently, there are 11 active Green Champions, including four women,” said Didier Van Bignoot, Global Advisor, Agriculture and Food Security at Aga Khan Foundation. “They have already reached slightly over 3,000 farms and have taught domestic ash recycling for soil amendment, which has close to an 100% adoption rate, biospray (a natural pesticide), biofoliar (liquid organic fertiliser), and biofungicide.”
Selyne, the Green Champion working with Eunice, taught her how to make biofoliar, a natural liquid fertilizer, and biospray, an effective natural pesticide, using ingredients from her own farm.
Eunice and Selyne affectionately call the sprays “dawa”, which means medicine in Swahili. These sprays are a fermented mixture of water, manure, and locally available plant species from their farm – depending on the cocktail of ingredients, the sprays provide abundant nutrients for Eunice’s crops and act as natural deterrents for pests.
Since using the biospray, Eunice is able to grow more diverse crops like bell pepper and kale, and has noticed that her watermelons have grown larger. Eunice also noted that the biosprays taste less bitter than conventional pesticides. The biosprays are also an example of a cycle of sustainability.
“All around [Eunice]’s farm, you can see examples of this complex and integrated ecosystem,” explained Kit Dashwood, who supports the water and monitoring and evaluation components of the Maendeleo project. Kit is in Kenya as a Regional Climate Change Fellow, supported by AKF Canada’s International Youth Fellowship Program. “The chickens provide feathers used in the biofoliars [natural fertilizers], and provide access to animal proteins to improve household nutrition. The cows eat specially selected fodder or some agricultural waste like extra grass, and create manure [to be used in the sprays and compost].”
The chickens provide feathers used in the biofoliars [natural fertilizers], and provide access to animal proteins to improve household nutrition. The cows eat specially selected fodder or some agricultural waste like extra grass, and create manure [to be used in the sprays and compost].
Kit Dashwood – AKFC Youth Fellow
Out of the 3,000 farmers reached by the Maendeleo project, around 90 percent have livestock like cows, goat and sheep, on their farms – but they often struggle to cover their fodder needs year-round. “Any fodder purchased, rather than producd on the farm, is a financial loss,” said Didier.
With training from Didier and support from AKF, the Green Champions are implementing an Integrated Fodder System to help farmers visualise their fodder production, their purchases, and deficits to make informed decisions. This helps farmers strategise to increase their farm’s fodder production and significantly reduce their costs – and with these savings, farmers are able to invest in themselves and their families.
“Before, I was spending a lot, 13,000 shillings [about £73 GBP] on pesticides and fertiliser every season,” said Eunice. “Now, I buy a lot less fertiliser from the shop, and spend less than 5,000 shillings [about £28 GBP].”
With her extra savings, Eunice can support her children’s education. Her eldest is away at university, and she hopes that he will find a job in the city. “But if not, he can come back and work here,” she laughed.
The Maendeleo project has ripple effects on the communities, like improving health and wellbeing by increasing access to diverse and nutritious crops, and providing youth with opportunities for skills-building, experience, and mentorship. And by prioritising sustainable, locally focused solutions, farmers can reduce their carbon footprint through soil regeneration and by reducing reliance on imported materials. Through projects like Maendeleo, AKF is helping communities learn about sustainable farming practices, focusing on local solutions that promote cycles that benefit people and the planet.
Written by Annie Lee, Communications and Content Officer, AKF Canada