A sustainable future - through traditional knowledge

Smallholders withstand the pressure on natural resources on Mount Kenya. To do so, they successfully draw on traditional knowledge.

This text has been translated from German. The original version can be found here.

by Fabian Kohler, Programme Officer at Biovision

Weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable which hampers agricultural production in many tropical countries. Intensity and frequency of rainy and dry periods are altering inevitably and poor harvests are becoming more and more common. This situation is exacerbated by the overexploitation of forests: Without a year-round vegetation cover the sensitive soils are unprotected against sun, wind and weather. Rainfall runs off rapidly instead of feeding the soil or top up the groundwater.

  • In the project region, rainy and dry seasons are more irregular due to climate change - a major challenge for people and nature.
  • The knowledge of the older generation is noted down in a so-called "map of the past". This makes it possible for younger generations to understand the changes that have already taken place.
  • In workshops with farmers' groups all generations have their say. The participants jointly create agricultural season calendars and community maps.
  • With the "map of the future" a common vision is created. In the course of the joint preparation, measures are also defined to face up to the challenges of climate change.
  • Ditches, terraces and trees improve water retention and reduce soil erosion during heavy rainfall.
  • Arrowroot is resistant to strong rainfall and it now enriches the food plan of the Gatobu family in Meru.
  • The flowers of medicinal herbs and spices attract pollinating insects, which improve the yields on both the field and in the beehive.
  • For the bees in the dry savannah landscape of Tharaka-Nithi safe water points are particularly important - it serves to regulate the temperature in the hive. This allows the bees to concentrate optimally on pollination and honey production.
  • ICE has conducted course modules on agroecology and self-organisation with over 50 groups over the last three years. 65% of the participants were women.
  • During a visit to the project partner Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE Kenya), Fabian Kohler (right) of Biovision discusses the progress of the project.

Smallholders are taking action

Supported by our project partner ICE (Institute for Culture and Ecology), 1,500 smallholders in four counties located at the foot of Mount Kenya are showing what can be done to tackle the consequences of this trend. In agroecological trainings, they have learned how to increase water retention, e.g. by creating terraced fields and specifically planting trees and shrubs to prevent erosion, or how to increase soil fertility through composting. They further set up community saving groups for the purchase of efficient woodstoves to reduce the demand for firewood, or modern beehives that improve the pollination in the forest and on the fields.

Since the start of Biovision’s partnership with ICE in 2012, the project area has expanded. The project approach was first developed (see text in green box below) and applied in the counties of Tharaka-Nithi and Meru. In the last three years, groups of farmers from Embu and Murang’a have also benefited from the trainings. ICE thereby realized that each region has quite different needs, mostly depending upon the type of natural landscape: for example, in the dry savannahs of Tharaka-Nithi, farmers are particularly interested in avoiding erosion and beekeeping whereas those living in the humid Murang’a are keen on vegetable and fruit production. But the farmer groups have one thing in common: By diversifying their sources of income, they are better able to cope with irregular dry and rainy seasons.

What next?

The experience gained will feed directly into the next phase of the project when the focus will be on skills development for beekeeping and agroforestry as well as providing access to sales markets. The project will thereby encourage alternative sources of income and alleviate the pressure on natural resources. ICE will continue to run the popular and well-established agricultural trainings. A new development will be Biovision’s collaboration in development of advocacy strategies that raise the profile of agroecological issues on the political stage. ICE’s achievements and broad experience from working with more than 50 farming organisations provide an excellent basis for this next step.