Not sure if you have noticed, but lately the rains have been uncertain.
Particularly in Western Kenya where I come from, over the past couple of years, it’s like farmers are planting then waiting for rains with bated breath — unsure, whether the rains will be enough to see the seeds germinate.
I recently read on Digital Farmers Kenya, a farmer express their worry and frustration of this phenomenon and realized that I was not alone.
Yes, climate change is upon us.
Perhaps we need to now change tact. From holding our breaths — to looking for sustainable ways to mitigate against probable drought and hunger.
I must say that to some degree, watching Youtube videos of how agriprenuers are successfully exploring new, sustainable ways of farming has somewhat challenged my thinking. Check out farmers like Richard Perkins. Geoff Lawton. They are inspiring fellows.
They propose a new way of farming that is anchored around permaculture and the creation of food forests.
Well I lapped it all up.
In a record two years I have moved from monocropping to adopting regenerative agricultural practices. I am happy to say that I now am on my way to creating a small food forest in Kitale.
Secretly, I have also admired how the Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg has risen to exponential fame, solely because she is an environmental activist. She definately is on to something.
So, in my own little way, this article is a deliberate attempt for me to be a champion ‘food forest hugger’. It’s a clarion call, advocating for my own community; where I’ve been raised, to embrace food forest systems.
Here are some reasons why I think food forests would be of benefit to farmers in the western region of Kenya.
- Instead of Monocropping, Diversify
This one is a big one. Western Kenya is known for a handful of cash crops. Some of the major ones are maize (seed maize and for consumption), sugarcane, bananas, sunflower, groundnuts and various types of beans and potatoes.
However, most farmers focus on growing one crop and plant that crop for decades. What this does, is that over time, soil nutrients are depleted leading to lower yields.
Furthermore, if you look at our brothers from the central part of Kenya, they seem to have a variety of dishes. Whereas in the west, we have little if any choice in food variety.
‘Kamaengele’. ‘Bhusuma’. ‘Busaa’. ‘Kamakhalange’. All these are dishes native to Western Kenya that are made from one ingredient.
So it doesn’t take much to know that the prevalence of ‘kwashiorkor’ disease in children is due to poor diet.
Therefore, diversification is key. Fruit and nut trees such as avocado, macadamia, lemons, oranges, guava and mangoes can be intercropped with the maize and beans already growing in the shamba. Over time, these fruit trees thrive and produce fruit, food and timber for the family.
After all, the tropical climate in Western Kenya is perfect for most fruit and nut trees; growing them would be relatively easy.
2. Forest Sequesters Carbon Into The Soil
As we know, deforestation of rainforest vegetation has been a huge problem.
Driving past, Londiani, Timboroa, Eldoret, all the way to Mt. Elgon, one will notice that a huge portion of our natural forests have been cleared and burned for farming, charcoal and settlements.
Unfortunately, decrease of these forests overtime has contributed to the erratic weather patterns we now see due to the reduced ‘carbon sinks’. Soil carbon sequestration is a process in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil carbon pool. Forests help pull carbon out of the atmosphere — making them a sink — also release carbon dioxide. Without these forests, carbon store cannot take place.
Imagine if collectively, hundreds of smallholder farmers and large farmers such as the ADC and Kenya Seed dedicated 10–30% of their lands under agroforestry. We may be on track to increasing Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), including benefits to water quality and increased food security.
I applaud efforts by the VI Agroforestry based in Kitale town for contributing to the sustainable agriculture and agroforestry initiatives in the locality. However, more needs to be done to ensure that all farmers are sensitized on the adoption of food forests.
3. Rewilding: Bringing Back The Lost Nature
Ever walked in a forest? One will notice the serenity, the sounds and the complex interactions among plants, insects, birds, and wildlife.
Forests are home to approximately 50–90% of all the world’s terrestrial (land-living) biodiversity — including the pollinators and wild relatives of many agricultural crops (Source: WWF Living Planet Report 2010)
By just owning a sizeable forest, one is capable of enhancing the ecosystem and provide a lush, abundant expanses of pristine wilderness, teeming with life, a richness of biodiversity. It’s called ‘rewilding’ a concept that’s now the new rave.
Now imagine if this forest was edible! Not only will you be adding to the flora and fauna, you shall also be providing food, shelter to the animals and humans settling within it.
If anything, forests are life. They are associated with biodiversity and fertility.
So farmers from the land of ‘mlembe’, plant fruit trees. As our ancestors before us did.
For as the saying goes, ‘The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today.’