Kenya’s got a lot going for it. No matter what negative stories made the international news in recent weeks this country is endowed with diverse landscapes, natural resources, and an innovative population. I am constantly blown away by everything that is happening here and every day I learn something new. There are so many things going on in Kenya that I think should be expanded and adopted in other countries. The purpose of this blog post is to share one of these and hopefully have these ideas inspire others.
Having an interest in agriculture, and particularly smallholder family farming, I really enjoy my weekend reading in Kenya. In what I think is a brilliant initiative, every Saturday the Kenyan Newspaper the Daily Nation publishes a pullout magazine on agriculture called Seeds of Gold, which they publish in collaboration with a Kenyan agricultural university called Egerton University. Seeds of Gold has the purpose of “Educating Farmers on the Best Farming Practices”, though from my own experience – I have certainly learned a lot – and from conversations with people engaged in other occupations in urban Nairobi, Seeds of Gold teaches more than farmers!
Because I really enjoy Seeds of Gold, I tend to talk about it a lot. I was intrigued by the taxi drivers and watchmen who have told me they too purchase the Saturday paper to read Seeds of Gold - though this is by no means a representative sample! Some of the taxi drivers I have talked to supplement their incomes with earnings from farms in their hometowns worked by hire labour or family members. Some of the taxi drivers have farms in their hometowns that are worked by hired labour or family and to supplement their incomes. One watchman said he reads Seeds of Gold because he would like to eventually return to his hometown and start a farm.
The brilliant thing about Seeds of Gold is that it provides practical information to assist farmers and it shows how implementing good farming practices can be profitable with headlines like “high value, more yields” and “my money grows on bananas” (May, 24,2014). When one considers conditions for the financially marginalized populations in Nairobi and the exorbitant cost of living here, it is easier to see farming as a viable alternative. Many people with jobs serving the richer elite – such as gardeners, watchmen, and domestic assistants – spend hours commuting far distances from areas where rent is somewhat affordable to go to work each day. They travel on foot, bike and in matatus stuck in gridlock in the wee hours of the morning to work 10 to 12 hour shifts for small sums of money before making the long journey back home. In this light, farming doesn’t look like a bad alternative, and not when you have a resource to provide you with information and answer your questions.
Because I believe this Seeds of Gold idea should be expanded and adopted in more countries I will briefly provide an outline of what the publication contains to offer some more detailed insight into why I like it so much and why I think it is so important.
Seeds of Gold begins with a page where readers ask questions and get answers. Examples from the May 24, 2014 edition (the most recent one and the one that is in front of me as I write this blog) includes questions on: specifics of Turkey egg production and markets in Kenya; where to obtain rabbits for rearing; how to get training to establish and become a farmer; and where to get good quality vegetal material and seeds. It then features articles on farmers who have incorporated new techniques that resulted in improvements to existing practices and people who have engaged in completely new production methods, such as making soy milk, engaging in aquaculture and using manure as a fish feed, or using residues from coconut to make biochar or briquettes. They also have a legal section that informs farmers about their rights with regards to the law and insurance. It concludes with a “Green Market” section to connect producers and buyers.
The popularity of Seeds of Gold is really quite inspiring. Of course there are limitations (i.e. it is English text, limiting the audiences with lower literacy and low English skills) and room for improvement. Nonetheless it is just one of the many innovative initiatives promoting farming as an activity in Kenya. Others include the Muklima Young platform (http://www.mkulimayoung.co.ke), which is an electronic platform for young farmers to connect and to teach and learn from each other. It also provides information on prices. Another initiative, one that I personally am not as comfortable with, is a reality type TV show called “Shamba Shape Up” (http://shambashapeup.com, shamba being garden in Kiswahili), where two exuberant urbanite hosts visit a farm and bring guest experts to assess practices and suggest improvements. What makes me uncomfortable is that the farmer is always seen as doing things “wrong” and needs external help from the guests, who are usually representatives of a fertilizer, feed or seed company. The diagnosis the farmer receives usually requires using this company’s product. However, I think the concept has a lot of potential and, if done in a more neutral manner, it has the ability to reach large audiences and achieve positive change.
My hope is that by sharing some of these initiatives from Kenya that promote agriculture that you, and maybe others, might be inspired to pass these one so they can be adopted and adapted in other countries.