“Here, social distancing is leading to a growing sense of mistrust”

 

Regina Muthama from Kenya has been training smallholders in the methods of ecological agriculture on behalf of Biovision since 2006. How is she finding the corona pandemic in Machakos, where she herself lives?

 

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by Peter Lüthi, project reporter

Regina Muthama from Machakos (Kenya) may be aged 72, but she’s still full of energy and extremely active. She has been Extension Officer for Biovision’s „Farmer Communication Programme“ (FCP) from 2006 to 2018, training over 300 groups of smallholders in ecological agriculture methods in the semi-arid areas around Machakos, about 60 km east of the capital city, Nairobi. In 2015, this dedicated woman was a guest at the Biovision Symposium in Zurich’s Volkshaus (see Report).

We contacted Regina to find out what she thinks about the current situation regarding coronavirus back home.

Regina, how are things with regard to Covid-19 in Machakos, and in Kenya as a whole?

According to official figures, 184 people have been infected with Covid-19 and 6 have died of lung disease to date (current figure for Kenya according to WHO click here) and most of these have been in the capital city, Nairobi. Thousand of people have been infected with the virus and are now in quarantine.

What do you expect to happen in future? How is this situation going to change over time?

II’m afraid that the virus will spread very widely in Kenya because so few people follow the preventative rules of behaviour. It will probably only be possible to safeguard people like these from the disease once we have a vaccine. 

How has the corona crisis become apparent in Machakos?

At the moment, we mainly see the economic consequences: many people have lost their jobs, and therefore their income; as a result, they no longer have any money. What’s even worse is that heavy rainfalls have also made it more difficult to grow crops, and food is scarce. The price of food is therefore hitting astronomical levels. Many people can no longer feed themselves properly. At least the very poorest people, and old people and orphans, do receive food aid from the government. Unfortunately, the travel restrictions and “social distancing” measures imposed by the authorities lead to a higher level of mistrust among the people.

How are you coping with the situation yourself?

I stick to the rules when it comes to hand washing and keeping my distance. I look for new ways to advise farmers and support them in their work, such as instructing them directly via mobile phone. With my own little NGO, I try to get hold of medicines and at least support the unemployed financially with small contributions. Many farmers who have attended my courses get in touch with me. They come to me now with really practical questions about organic cultivation. 

What advice do you give to the farmers?

II encourage them to plant their kitchen gardens in accordance with ecological principles, and I tell them what exactly they should do next. I explain in detail how they have to care for the various different plants. In particular, I advise which types and varieties they should grow, because these are more robust against drought. They are basically the old, native varieties of plants. I suggest that they should cultivate cassava, sweet potatoes, bush beans, cowpeas, arrowroot, peas and sorghum.

Biovision supports the effort to spread knowledge about the coronavirus rules of behaviour. Were you aware of that?

Yes, I heard the appeal on the radio, which was broadcast in our local language. I also saw the call on the Infonet. I believe that such efforts are very important because these channels can reach a large number of people, and especially the young.

What would you like to happen (or hope will happen) in the current situation?

I very much hope that the training courses relating to the methods of ecological agriculture that we have provided to farmers over many years will now enable our trainees to continue producing healthy food, even in these difficult circumstances, and that they will therefore contribute to the supply of food. Healthy food supports a good constitution, which is especially important right now.

Of course, I also hope that the Kenyan authorities and the health system will (with the support of the WHO) quickly come up with solutions to deal with this corona epidemic.

 

Video about Regina Muthama's work

(from 2015 - only available in German)