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Permaculture enables farmers preserve forests and earn from them

In a bid to preserve the environment, farmers in the country are adopting a new form of farming that advocates for combined crop cultivation and animal rearing in a symbiotic relationship that is preserving natural resources. Dubbed Permaculture, the method was introduced in Kenya in 2011 by a group of scientists through the formation of Permaculture Research Institute (PRI). The practice had already taken shape although on a small scale having been launched by Nyumbaini Village in Kitui to help feed orphans and the elderly.

The head of the Permaculture Research Institute Elin Lindhage noted that their efforts are a result of their love for environmental protection. “We launched the Institute to help empower the masses on sustainable models of farming that ensure the protection of all the parties in an ecosystem. We were lucky because we already found an existing model in Kitui and had to build on existing knowledge and its success is already helping us drive the initiative to other parts of the country. We are aimed at shifting the traditional goals of many players in the development sector; For instance, many organizations trying to empower farmers mainly focus on increased yields and economic empowerment and ignore the preservation of the environment, and in the long run the soils are drained and therefore exposing them to even worse survival nightmares”

The group is involved in sensitization and skills empowerment drive which is done through various short course trainings.  The courses are organized in various parts of the country and participants are either required to pay a certain fee that ranges from Sh10000 to Sh25000 for the locals. Farmers who cannot afford such fees are absorbed into the training through the scholarships that are offered and support from other Non-Governmental Organizations involved in agribusiness. “The two-week training costs appear expensive but the cost is actually subsidized as it covers the entire venue, meals accommodation among others, explained Elin.

The training entails designing systems and soil analysis to come up with a clear plan that integrates the farming methods that match the existing climatic conditions.  Elin noted that for permaculture to succeed, every site or region has a specific design system that fits it hence the reason for tailoring the training as per the regions. “The design systems for arid and semi-arid areas are different from those of the tropical areas.

For instance, the water harvesting methods in the dry areas if replicated in tropical areas will result in flooding.” Over 300 farmers have received the training and Elin noted that the trained manpower is helping them expand their bases country-wide. “We are experiencing a multiplier effect because most of the individuals who have received the training have helped sensitize other farmers not only in the country but beyond our borders.”

Apart from the educational programme, the group has long-term plans to engage with different farmer groups in the country in a move aimed at helping farmers reduce their overreliance on less nutritious crops like maize and embrace high-value and more nutritious crops like Orange fleshed sweet potatoes, Moringa, Aloe vera, Amaranth among others. “We have already initiated such projects in Rusinga Island and Laikipia.

This category of farmer groups is thus part of a longer strategy and has been receiving training over the last year. We are also working with them to capacity build them on organic certification, business skills, and value addition to help them improve their income.”

The farmers from Rusinga Island have now adopted diverse income-generating activities that are in line with environmental conservation. Sheena Shah from PRI noted, “These people were initially full-time fishermen but through our intervention and empowerment, they have transformed and diversified their sources of livelihoods. The group is currently turning their land which was initially neglected and is making good returns.”

According to Elin, their effort on the island is also geared towards preserving the depleted soils through the planting of Moringa trees. We have already planted over 2000 trees which will help preserve soil fertility because of their capacity to fix nitrogen. The planting of moringa trees is part of the farmers’ effort to improve their farm production and will also produce oil which can be used for the production of soaps hence empowering them financially and health-wise. PRI has also launched a similar Moringa tree-planting project in Laikipia. “The planting of Moringa trees in Laikipia is in combination with the aloe vera growing scheme we are running, as part of our efforts to diversify income streams and improve biodiversity, prevent soil erosion, and improve soil fertility,” explained Elin.

According to Elin, communities living around forest reserves can help preserve them and at the same time benefit from them without necessarily deforestation. “Communities living around forests can be enlightened on the benefits of projects like beekeeping which help preserve the forests because bees are good pollinators and at the same time farmers benefitting from the honey.”  She also added that other tree species like Tea tree, Rosewood among others provide essential oils that can help empower farmers economically.

According to Elin, if farmers adopt and use the resources in the eco-system through nature’s demand, then the wasting and depletion of resources will be eliminated and help close the loop system.

In Africa, Permaculture has widely been successful in the Chimanimani district of Zimbabwe bringing together over 8000 farmers with various projects that help preserve the environment as well as benefitting them. Set in the highlands bordering Mozambique, the region which is heavily populated and had suffered from deforestation, serious erosion, and soil degradation has seen total transformation through the adoption of Permaculture. The success of the project is attributed to Eli and Ulli Westermann who mobilized the community and used their outside contacts to oversee it.

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