Journey with the Barefoot Turkana Team

Amana Demonstration Farm

By Michael Barton

 Amana Dryland Demonstration Farm | Nakukulas, Turkana East

Amana Dryland Demonstration Farm | Nakukulas, Turkana East

A year ago, I had met a couple of the Barefoot Soulutions team briefly and was excited to join them in Kilifi for a course on waste water treatment through the use of a reed bed filtration system. This would be the first Barefoot Soulutions course I attended in 2017, and I approached it with excitement as the team exuded the Permaculture spirit of sharing knowledge and the potential solutions that can bring about abundance.

On the course, I learned much more then how to design and develop a Reed Bed Wastewater Treatment System, as every conversation with the team included new knowledge and projects to be done. This is when I first learned about the potential Turkana drylands demonstration site project that Barefoot had applied for, a tender put out by Tullow Oil company. The team had worked hard for over a year to prepare for this potential project and was now waiting for their application to be accepted.

Fast forward a month and Barefoot had it. They received confirmation of being the chosen company to roll out the initiative, and would now be subcontracted by Tullow for a Livelihoods Programme in Turkana East and South. The team was mobilized and there was a buzz! There was so much work to be done to get the project off the page and into reality. I received a few images of the sites that would later become a second home, my first thoughts were ‘wow that looks harsh!’

In June of 2017 I was invited to visit Amana Farm, the Barefoot Soulutions demonstration site in Nakukulas, Turkana East. This reci trip was a chance to view the site, meet the team and learn more about the work ahead. My first impressions were that of being overwhelmed and skeptical of any success. I spent my free time wondering the site looking for signs of life. Being a naturalist at heart, I was shocked by the lack of biodiversity in this place. I remember walking the entire perimeter of the plot to see what insects or signs I could find from the local ecology. I came back with a handful of dead beetles, and asking if we could get some experts to come and identify what life there was here, because I certainly couldn’t find it.

 First Site Visit | Amana Demonstration Site

First Site Visit | Amana Demonstration Site

Three months on and I’m back in Turkana, yet this time as I move around the site, my inner naturalist is back to its childlike wonder. Everywhere I move now a new niche has been created, pockets of green have sprung up, designed around our water sources with a guild of diverse plant cover.  Benefiting from these new designed ecologies are populations of insects I have not seen anywhere else in Kenya. We have identified that there is a local population of Hedgehogs. Their nighttime activity of searching for food is, in a small way, amplifying our work as they burrow along our drip fed garden beds eating pests and loosening the soil.   My mind is full of new bird and insect sightings, and I see the development of species list inevitable.

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And now as the project enters it's tenth month, one can hardly believe the transformation that has occurred. Before the site hosted a handful of tree, shrub and grass species all stunted, by over grazing from livestock or frequently visited for a limb or two for household cooking. And now, there is a thriving tree nursery with 5,000 seedlings made up of over thirty species. We have planted seven of the fifteen Agroforestry swales. These are each 75 meters long with diversity ranging from Boma Rhodes grass and sweet potato to Flamboyant and Mango trees. Our 250-meter squared vegetable production zone, boasts the freshest mix of vegetables around, creating a new market and livelihood for the local community and women’s group.  

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The successes seen thus far haven’t come without setbacks. Each day presents new challenges as we fight to create and maintain the new life in this area. Ecological solutions to pest control, and responsible water use and management, top that list, however one cannot help but smile at the abundance that is only starting to grow here.

But possibly the greatest success I have observed, is how this place turns heads and puts a look of wonder on the faces of our visitors, and the boda-boda drivers as they zip by. Having hosted the local community women’s groups and field trips from the nearby schools this site fills minds with curiosity and endless questions as we, along with the community, are just beginning to realize the true educational potential this site has to offer.  

 Community Women's Group | Nakukulas, Turkana East

Community Women's Group | Nakukulas, Turkana East

A lot of effort, and a lot of thought has gone into the development thus far, and I tip my hat to the six women from Nakukulas and the Barefoot Team for the incredible work they have accomplished this far. As one of the few consultants aiding Barefoot Soulutions on this project I will say I am proud to be a part of what has and will be done here. But in the Permaculture way, we are just the designers, preparing this site to allow Mother Nature to take over and thrive. 

Watch this space, Abundance is on its way.

 The Barefoot Soulutions Turkana Team | Turkana East

The Barefoot Soulutions Turkana Team | Turkana East

 

Does Michael's experience with the Barefoot Turkana Team appeal to you? Does volunteering with us on our Dryland Desert Farm in Turkana interest you? Visit our Voluntoursim page for more information and how to apply by clicking on the button below.