Monica and Joseph Gatobu have done it! The couple, who have a small farm in Meru, no longer rely on food aid. By adopting organic methods of cultivation and finding new niche markets they have found a way out of poverty.
By Peter Lüthi, Biovision
It’s a joy to look around their garden.
The trees thriving on their 1.5 hectare plot provide shade, wood and fruit and protect the soil from erosion. Sheltering under the tree canopy are piles of compost and
manure neatly covered with dried leaves. The various crops are all neatly planted. “That was not always so,” says Monica Gatobu with a smile. “Often harvests were poor; everything just grew wild and at random and yields were very modest,” she recalls. Normally, they just about had enough food for themselves and their children but sometimes not. “When that happened we had to rely on government food aid,” says Monica. Today, Monica and Josef, their disabled son and the two children of their deceased daughter not only have enough food but they can earn money by selling their surplus produce.
Organic methods and local varieties
Things changed when they attended a course in organic farming run by the Kenya Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) and financed by Biovision. ICE is committed to maintaining local traditions, preserving and adapting farming methods and protecting the environment. ICE pays particular attention to indigenous varieties of vegetables, cereals and fruits. Joseph Gatobu thinks that this approach has many advantages. “Our traditional varieties taste good and are healthy. They are easier and cheaper to grow as we don’t have to add chemicals,” he explains and stresses that farmers can produce their own seeds and seedlings from local varieties. This is not the case with modern hybrids; here they are reliant on seed suppliers. “The indigenous plants also require less water and so are more resistant to droughts and disease,” he says with conviction.
Food security and income
The old varieties are also popular on the market. Monica says that in the past such varieties were both common and popular but with the passage of time many were
forgotten as you could only buy the modern varieties in town. Demand continues to rise for these neglected fruits and vegetables thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations. “Customers will even buy their bananas or sweet potatoes direct from the farm,” says Monica with quiet satisfaction. She reckons that she earns about 5000 KSH per month (about CHF 55) from these sales and they also have the income from the sale of milk. Mrs Gatobu is convinced that the local varieties are right for her family; they have improved its own food security. And she says that the project has another benefit: “It has strengthened solidarity amongst the farmers. We place greater value on exchanging ideas and working together.”