Kenyan farmers on journey to promote sustainable farming

At a time of food shortage and price shocks, 30 farmers are on a cross-country mission to promote the virtues of healthy, sustainable, profitable farming.

Isaiah Esipisu/Thomson Reuters Foundation
Families carry water from a catchment pond constructed in Kenya.

Kenya, just like the rest of the African continent, is reeling from the effects of climate change. The environment is damaged, there are increased incidents of drought and the problem is compounded by an upcoming La Niña that the Kenya meteorological services recently forecast; La Niña is likely to cause depressed rains for the rest of 2016.

These effects have left farmers and consumers reeling from food shortage and price shocks. All the while, their governments embrace unsustainable agricultural practices like chemical intensive methods, whose crops continue to fail and push them further into debt. Calls to move away from this broken model of production have fallen on deaf ears.

It is in this context that farmer representatives from groups practicing ecological farming decided to take matters into their own hands. They decided to bring ecological farming to other farmers who were practicing industrial agriculture. 30 farmers set off on a four day trek to lower eastern Kenya, an area prone to incidents of drought. Armed with enthusiasm, traditional seed varieties and knowledge they made stops in Machakos and Makueni counties in Kenya, speaking to county officials and farmers alike; their message, “governments and donors must invest in ecological farming."

Along the route it was interesting to note that farmers were eager to not only listen to their counterparts but are also willing to shift from practicing chemical intensive agriculture. One Chief noted that she would want her community to start using traditional seeds, if only she could get the supporting mechanisms to help the transition. Sadly, local and national Governments have opted to subsidise agro-chemicals and certified seeds locking farmers into a type of production that is expensive and unsustainable.

Unfortunately, African governments have allowed the power to lie in the hands of a few, most of who do not even reside on the African continent. Donors and corporates seem to have more control over how African agriculture is defined than those that actually practice it. Our campaign goal is that such power dynamics need to be challenged for the betterment of African agriculture.

Farmers and community leaders are not sitting back and are ready to take the lead in the transition to ecological farming. However, what became very clear, beneath all the political statements was that governments and donors were hesitant to move towards ecological farming because the industrial agriculture model was so entrenched with big companies who have economic and social influence.

It brought to light the fact that we live in an unequal society. One that is willing and able to sacrifice its own planet, its own people as long as those with the money say so. Even when the writing is on the wall, when the reliance on Industrial Agriculture continues to fail in the face of erratic weather patterns causing massive famine, countries and donors alike have continued to throw their weight behind it. It is time that this power dynamic is challenged and this is exactly why the four day farmer’s resilience journey was of necessity.  

The farmers are sure that the solution to address hunger in Kenya lies within the country’s borders. With the right support, they can feed Kenyans with healthy, nutritious food that is grown ecologically. Ecological farming is not a new practice; it combines local farmers’ knowledge with the most recent scientific knowledge to create new technologies and practices that increase yields without negatively impacting the environment and some of our smallholder farmers are already practising it by building on the traditional agriculture methods based on local landraces and knowledge.

Learn more about the Resilience Journey here.

This story originally appeared on Food Tank.

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