School kids visit from the Nakukulas, Turkana community
By Jess De Boer
When I am old and all bent over from years of digging and planting I will probably ask myself the question "who will feed me?"
But that question cannot wait. In fact it has never been more important than it is today. Now add climate change, top soil loss and dwindling amounts of land deemed fit for cultivation and suddenly this topic should be at the top of every national agenda.
Unfortunately it isn't.
According to Kenya's Nation newspaper, the number of students enrolled in agricultural degrees across the country has dropped from 671 in 2006 to 71 in 2017.
Elsewhere across the globe a similar trend is being witnessed and in Africa it is largely a result of a combination of factors. Some of these include the widespread stigmatisation of farmer's being aged, illiterate and 'poor' - (which kid dreams of being a farmer?) a complete lack of positive role models, unsupportive agricultural policy (for small scale farmers) and the changing climate which makes farming, especially in dryland areas tough... really tough.
Growing food the 'modern' way is also bloody expensive; more than 80 percent of farmers across East Africa use chemicals to increase farm productivity and to keep weeds and pests from destroying their crops. During 2004 - 11. the Kenyan government imported $1.3 billion’s worth of chemical fertilisers and $578 million worth of pesticides to 'assist' in agricultural production despite many of these chemicals boasting toxicity levels so high that they have been banned in their countries of manufacture.
Chemical-intensive agriculture creates a cycle of economic dependency between farmers and chemical manufacturers, discouraging biodiversity and degrading soils and landscapes, making them more prone to drought and floods.
Permaculture, as a design philosophy can be used as an alternative to the use of chemicals in growing food. It involves sustainable ecological systems that are self-maintained and regenerative. By observing and simulating the features observed in natural ecosystems, permaculture replicates productivity patterns that exist naturally in the environment and as such, it stimulates the cultivation of several crops (polyculture) rather than a single crop (monoculture). By returning any organic waste (including food waste and manure) into the system, it also nurtures soils and biodiversity.
There is so much to learn - but perhaps more importantly for the question asked above, there is also so much to teach.
Last month we received 24 students who raised the equivalent of 20/- per head to be taken around our Nakukulas demonstration farm to learn about the permaculture way of growing food.
The kids met our worms, turned some compost, walked through the agroforestry, kitchen gardens, irrigated polyculture zones and identified plants like peanuts that they used to know only as a tasty treat wrapped in plastic bought from the local duka.
These kids were engaged - they loved their morning with us and after a nibble on some freshly cut desert melon they also received a handful of moringa seeds to take back and plant at school.
Humans intrinsically feel good in a stable, abundant environment - and as we follow up with the school and their moringa forest we hope that one day, answering the bigger questions surrounding the responsibility of future of food production won't be that difficult.
Are you interested in what we are doing for the community in Nakukulas on our Drylands Permaculture site? Read more about our Voluntourism opportunities by following the link button below.