Monday, January 11, 2010

Ribbon of Hope's Mogotio Shamba

Photo: Beans, almost ready to harvest.

Today was a good day for Ribbon of Hope in Nakuru. We went to the Mogotio shamba (smallholding) to see how everything was growing. Much of the one and a half acre plot is planted with beans that were put down a few months ago. It was hard work planting them because they are packed in close together. It was harder work irrigating the crop through the dry months, but it was worth is as the field became lush and green. Now the beans are almost ready to harvest in the next couple of weeks, as long as the heavy rains don't destroy them. The rains have already beaten some of the crop into the ground but we'll hope for the best.

Photo: Amaranth, almost shoulder height.

And there are other crops in the field, also almost ready to harvest. There's coriander, kale, amaranth, tomatoes and spinach. These were planted later than the beans, but they are growing quickly because of the heavy rains. Earlier crops that were planted, such as onions, green peppers and kunde have more or less peaked and are declining now, but they were worth the effort, especially the green peppers.

Photo: In the foreground, coriander and some members of Ribbon of Hope.

The idea of growing these common foods is that local people will do the work and they will then sell the produce or buy it at low prices. About five or six people have been involved in producing all this food so they will now be able to use it themselves, sell it to friends or sell it in the market. It's surprisingly reasonable to rent land in this part of Kenya and surprisingly expensive to buy land. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep up the work and provide security and the like on rented land and this has been an uphill struggle from the start. But again, we hope for the best.

Photo: A fine looking bed of kale or 'sukuma wiki', as it's called here.

We have rented another plot of land, also a bit over an acre, in a field nearby. This is also close to the river and so should be easy enough to irrigate. It is now completely planted with watermelon plants. It took a short time to plant the whole field but it will take a lot of work to look after this valuable crop. For now, there's not much to see in the field, a few spots of green. Actually, too many spots of green and we have to weed the whole thing tomorrow. But in a few weeks time the field should be covered in melon vines and in a few months, a beautiful and fragrant crop.

Photo: A recently planted field of watermelon.

Ribbon of Hope has other shambas but this one has been the most successful, so far. This is probably because the same people come to do the work, week in, week out. Other shambas don't always receive the same dedication, though they should work out, eventually.

In addition to producing onions, green peppers and kunde, this shamba produced a fantastic crop of butternut squash last year. Ribbon has been able to invest in a petrol pump and, later on, a foot pump. The petrol pump is great but it does cost a lot to run and also it seems to suffer from a lot of engine problems. The foot pump is a great addition and uses no fuel (!) but we haven't had it long enough to really say how good it is. It just feels nice to have a pump that doesn't require petrol, given the disadvantages of having to use fossil fuels, as if we were fossils ourselves.

Photo: Tomatoes, filling up nicely as a result of the El Nino rains.

It's a bit early to say how cost effective these small economic interventions are. The amount of money spent is not huge but it remains to be seen how good the harvest is and if there is a good market for the various produce. Undoubtedly, such projects increase self-reliance considerably, even where they don't produce much. But in the long run, we would like to be able to increase the number of such projects and have more successful harvests than unsuccessful ones. I'll post up any further news and progress as and when.



marieharvey said...

I really appreciate the article and found it fascinating. But, I'm trying to find some information regarding WHEN crops are planted in Kenya. I'm involved in helping a group in Bungoma, and need to know the seasons for planting and growing. Could you give some information on that?
Thank you in advance.
M. Harvey

Simon said...

Hi Marie
Thanks for your message. I agree, when to plant is a big problem. I am new here and we depend on local people to decide, mainly. They are not always right, perhaps because the seasons can be very erratic. Several times crops have been planted and the rain didn't come or it came at the wrong time and various other problems have arisen.

There are two things you could do, one is to ask local farmers, the other is to research and try the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture and other institutions. Conditions in Bungoma would be quite different from those in Mogotio and the rains there are not so unreliable.

The Mogotio shamba was fortunate in that things have been relatively predictable but we also irrigate, using pumps. We are just beside the river. If you are not close to a water source you are taking a big risk that may not pay off, unless, of course, the weather patterns there are more appropriate.

We tend to research problems here, either on the internet or through local people, I hope that's something you can do there. There should even be other groups similar to yours who do similar activities. I hope your group in Bungoma is successful.