Our Blog: Kenya
April 19, 2013
New crops and potential benefits in Kenya
by Vibrant Village field team
Calliandra, also known as calliandra haematocephala is part of the fabaceae plant family, or legume family. Ring a bell? No? I was also unaware of this crop until last week when Richard, an unfathomably tall local farmer in Esabalu, stood up at the back of one of our meetings and asked whether I had any knowledge of the plant. My experience with farming is limited to a few failed attempts to grow tomatoes and chillies on my kitchen windowsill back in the UK, so I abashedly admitted my ignorance.
Turns out that calliandra is a non-native plant to Kenya that has myriad uses including animal feed, organic fertilizer and as a crop that can improve soil fertility. Full grown plants can also be used as fencing and construction material. Richard, after assisting a PHD researcher at the local university in the 1990s, has planted calliandra at home and wants to establish commercial production of calliandra saplings for local sale.
Plants like calliandra could contribute to the crop diversification, which historically has not been a focus for farmers in the area of Esabalu. Part of the problem is a lack of access to key inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, the lack of cash to pay for these inputs, and lack of irrigation. Farmers are also reluctant to diversify their crops because of the focus and tradition of subsistence farming. For most if not all subsistence farmers in Esabalu, food security and ensuring they have enough food to feed their family is the sole focus.
However, crop diversification in the area is important for two reasons – firstly, complementary crops like calliandra can fix nitrogen and improve soil fertility for staple crops, improve yields and improve food security. Secondly, alternative crops may open new markets, create additional opportunities along the value chain and unlock wider community development potential (calliandra is a great source of feed for dairy cows!) - all of which may lead to increased income for families.
Perhaps calliandra is not the silver bullet – but Richard’s dream of a commercial nursery for calliandra saplings represents just the kind of entrepreneurial spirit the Vibrant Village is looking to support to help farmers succeed in making a living and improving the health and wellbeing of their families and communities.
March 21, 2013
Presidential Elections in Kenya
By Vibrant Village field team
Kenya went to the polls on Monday March 4, for the first time since the disputed election in 2007, which saw over 1,000 Kenyans killed and 600,000 displaced by ethnic clashes.
Kisumu, where I live, is the stronghold of presidential aspirant Raila Odinga, a member of the Luo tribe and the main challenger in the disputed 2007 elections. In 2007, ethnic violence erupted after Mr. Odinga made allegations of vote rigging against incumbent President, Mwai Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu tribe. The town witnessed a number of ethnic clashes as Luo’s targeted and destroyed Kikuyu-owned business and homes in reprisal attacks.
Due to the small risk of disruption and violence, I left Kenya and went to Uganda the week of the election to wait out the results. By Thursday, I, along with many Kenyans, was tired of waiting for the results and returned to Kisumu.
On my return, Kisumu appeared quiet, with far fewer cars on the usually bustling Jomo Kenyatta Highway. Many shops were still closed, but there was no sign of the violence from five years ago. Perhaps because the final results were yet to be published or perhaps because, learning from experience, all local Kikuyu families had left Kisumu to cast their votes elsewhere in the country.
News finally filtered out on Saturday morning that Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first Kenyan President and also a Kikuyu, had won the Presidential race. Kenyatta won by reaching the required 50% + 1 threshold by the smallest of margins, 50.07% or 8,419 votes. Odinga has of course challenged this. The shambles of an election this past week gives him a number of points to argue including failures of the electronic identity kit, problems with the technology employed for vote tallying, controversy over rejected votes, and allegedly irregular turnout in some areas.
Talking to my Kenyan friends in Kisumu after the announcement, there was a feeling of resignation at Odinga’s loss and some frustration that the election has been tainted by so many problems, leaving the result open to dispute. Yet there is still a strong desire to avoid the violence that plagued the area five years ago.
Thus far, Odinga has called for calm and his legal team is collecting evidence to file a challenge at the Supreme Court. However, with murmurings from Odinga’s team that the electoral commission, the IEBC, is making it difficult for them to access documents, potential for trouble still remains, particularly in the lead up to the swearing in of President-elect Kenyatta on March 26.
Odinga has a big job now to ensure that his desire for peace is maintained and not crowded out by the clamour of conspiracy theorists and calls for mass action. Either way, it seems clear that Odinga’s legacy is unlikely to be as the first Luo President of Kenya. Given that he is now 68 years old, he will more likely be remembered for how he conducts himself, and his party, over the coming weeks.
March 11, 2013
Managing Expectations in Western Kenya
By Vibrant Village field team
My first two weeks in Kenya have involved a lot of work in one of our target communities, Esabalu, to get to know the people in the area, their day-to-day lives and the challenges they face.
This has involved talking and listening to people from every facet of the community, from head teachers to village elders, boda-boda drivers to small-scale shop owners, widows to the young men idling about the village.
My commute to work has been an hour-long journey via matatu, the ubiquitous local minibus service in Kenya. Matatus are battered, overloaded 15-seater minibuses where passengers are squeezed in 2 or 3 to each seat that race along all the roads in Kenya. Forget any idea of giving up your seat to the old Mama who climbs aboard with her three sacks of maize, she too must fight past the jumble of arms and legs to take any available space inside. The drivers rip along the potholed roads at an alarming speed but with remarkable dexterity, weaving in and out of traffic on the one-lane highway (and often off the highway too). One journey in the front seat of these vehicles and you can see why Kenyan roads are among the most dangerous in the world.
While this commute in the morning is an uncomfortable, bumpy, sweaty journey, using local transportation has actually been a good thing for meeting the communities and managing expectations as we get to understand one another and build community relationships. If the community sees me driving through their area in a Vibrant Village jeep, particularly in the first few months, it could raise unrealistic expectations. Instead, I have been criss-crossing the area on foot with my translator and guide, Phanice (even in the midday sun), moving at village pace and being visible and accessible to all the community members who want to introduce themselves.
Managing the expectations of the community has been the hardest part of Vibrant Village’s initial activities in Esabalu. Secondary school recommences next week, and, with subsistence agriculture and high unemployment the norm in the community, most families struggle to raise school fees for their children’s secondary education and rely on scholarships, NGOs and wealthy family members for funding. Phanice, my translator and guide, told me that only 2 to 3 households in the community of approximately 2,000 households are able to fund education from their own income. Unsurprising then that only 12.7% of the population in Kenya has completed secondary education. In this context, with the arrival of a muzungu (white man) talking about community development, I have been asked in almost every meeting to sponsor someone’s child to go to school.
While short-term sponsorship can be important for this generation of school-goers, I try to explain to them that our vision for Vibrant Village in Kenya is to support parents and guardians so that in a few years’ time, they can provide for their own families’ education and wellbeing, rather than relying on the support of well-wishers and charity. It will be a long process, but only through community empowerment rather than hand-outs can Vibrant Village support sustainable development in the area.