Greenhouse Farming Comes to Mwingi
“One community’s future is another community’s present”: Green house farming hits Kiia village in Mwingi District, Kenya. By Sammy Mutua CWS-Africa
Fifty-five community members, comprising of men, women, and youth, from Kiia village in the Mwingi District of Eastern Kenya feel empowered. This community has been having a difficult time providing food and income for their families, a problem they attribute to unpredictable weather patterns and reduced productivity of their land. Their problem, described by their chairman Mr. Nelson Munyasia, is urgent-“how to provide food for their families in the days to come” – but he knows that thinking long-term is going to be a big challenge if his community continues depending on rain fed farming to feed their families in the coming decades; however imagining such a future is no easy task. Talks and presentations, sharing scientific data, and complicated scientific names and figures are all useless to a rural community with concrete questions. The community from Kiia village wanted to see what and how other communities are adapting to the changing climate. Maybe then, they could devise ways of applying this in their own context back home in Mwingi District.
The principle: Go, see, adopt and tell others about it.
The key to a successful community peer learning and exchange visit is that the information gets shared among many – not just the 48 community members and 8 teachers that participated in the journey from Mwingi District to Ondiri village in Kikuyu, Kiambu County. Community members from Mwingi also learned how to use cow dung to produce biogas and the use of improved energy-saving cooking stoves and agro-business opportunities among other technologies. The visiting group is expected to plan and share their leanings with other farmers who did not participate in the learning visit. They spoke with farmers in the learning sites about farming practices in their own village, making the visit a true learning experience and an exchange of ideas; the visiting farmers learned about adaptation strategies in addition to sharing their own.
A glimpse of what’s to come – building drought resilience communities!
Church World Service’s Emergency Response Program (ERP) in Africa has been working with communities in Kiia village of Mwingi District to build their capacity in drought resilience through on a variety of asset-creation projects that include; rock-rainwater harvesting for domestic use, water conservation through digging Zai pits for adaptive dry-land farming and the production of drought-tolerant crops. These assets, and the development of related skills, are enabling communities to enhance their drought resilience and improve on food sufficiency.
To facilitate the strengthening of the project, CWS has supported Kiia village community to put up a pilot Greenhouse (GH) farming project, which is going to provide a sustainable and commercially viable agricultural enterprise for them. The proceeds from this project will be used to establish a community emergency contingency fund (CECF) that will enable them to become first responders to immediate emergency needs of their vulnerable members when a disaster like drought strikes in the area.
GH farming and other adaptive farming methods, – A learning curve,
Although still the preserve of a few elite farmers, GH farming is one of the fastest growing adaptive farming methods in Kenya today, but there still exist some opportunities and challenges:
-Farmers who are able to grow food under greenhouses stand to gain a significant increase in income: demand for food in urban areas is high, but the local market demand sometimes outpaces it.
-Unlike many other adaptive farming technologies, GH farming is not a farming technology targeted by the government; there are no subsidies, no expert government research institutions (on GH farming), and no extension workers to help farmers in the field on a day-to-day basis with GH farming technology.
-The need for knowledge is high: how can a farmer identify a “bad” seedling from a “good” seedling? What chemicals should one use if a particular fungus or pest infects plants under GH? How long do various different crops take from planting to harvesting? Answers to these and many other questions can make or break a GH farmer’s income.
-Often, the best source of knowledge for farmers are their peers—other farmers who are using similar farming technology.
-There is also a need to efficiently link rural communities engaged in GH farming with service providers, especially suppliers of chemical and pesticides and relevant extension services.
Mr. Musyoka Kilonzi, the Principal of Musuani Secondary in Mwingi, was on this trip as the “Principal student”. The CWS ERP exchange program gave him the chance to learn what other farmers are doing to survive in the changing climate that his community has been experiencing. “In my village, a lot of water goes to waste whenever it rains, but from the farmers we have visited here, I have discovered and learned that when it rains I can channel the surface runoff water into a small reservoir and use it to grow food crops to avoid withering as the soils get dry. I’m going to establish a tree nursery on my farm and generate more income by selling the tree seedlings to other farmers.”
Mr. Musyoka’s participation in the CWS ERP peer exchange/learning program has given him confidence he never had before. Now that he has seen how other communities are doing to produce food, he can quickly adopt what is appropriate to his environment and village in order to enhance the drought resilience of his family and community and he can now begin to take steps to prepare for the challenges ahead. It is ‘doable’- commended Mr. Musyoka on his final vote of thanks to CWS for organizing the visit.