Ecology

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.

Greening the desert - a day in the life of

An update from the Barefoot Soulutions team from their permaculture project in Turkana East county – North Kenya

Akale Samuel (aka Anna) is a 46-year old Turkana from the Aduyait clan. She lives in Nakukalas; an acacia dotted, wind swept town some 40 minutes drive south of Lokichar.

Anna is a widow with 2 grown children; a boy and a girl who are both married and live elsewhere. She owns 10 goats and since July 2017 Anna has been working alongside 5 other widowers at the ‘Amana (Turkana for shamba) Demonstration Farm; A flourishing permaculture hub that aims to connect the local community with future possibility.

Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Anna, Turkana woman farmer | Amana Demonstration Farm | Permaculture

Over the last 10 years the traditional pastoralist lifestyle of the Turkana people has changed enormously; the formal economy replacing a barter system that revolved around livestock including camels, goats, sheep and donkeys. With the changing times, Anna relocated to Eldoret where she rented a 1-acre plot in Was-ingishu growing maze, wimbi and leafy greens that she sold locally for several years before returning back to Turkana in 2002, hungry for home. For some years she ran a small duka selling tobacco and from a loan secured through her local woman’s group she purchased her goats.

2016 was a dry year for huge swathes of Kenya and it hit Turkana hard; many of the roads today are lined with mountains of sun bleached skeletons and Anna’s herd suffered enough for her to start looking for work … and this is where we met.

Work at Amana begins at 6:30am sharp, just as the sun climbs up above the Kawerer escarpment and for a solid 45 minutes the air is fresh. By 7:30 however those rays have warmed and Jackson; the farm manager is urging everyone to finish their watering duties chap-chap. Armed with two black jerry cans Anna completes her line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence and moves towards her personal sack garden whilst the other women finish off the remaining polyculture beds laid out beneath several mature Eregai (Acacia reficiens) that offer the bok-choy, spinach, lemongrass and chia some welcome albeit patchy shade.

Anna plants line of  Moringa oliferra’s  spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Anna plants line of Moringa oliferra’s spaced evenly along the perimeter fence

Once finished with the watering there are endless tasks to be completed; germinating herbs, vegetables and indigenous seeds in the nursery; mixing soil and goat mbolea collected from a neighboring boma into ready-to-go piles or chopping up the 100 plus kg’s of fresh food waste collected that morning from a nearby oil drilling camp. Once this task is completed the pieces are added to a brand new ‘hot compost’ heap layered with wet cardboard collected from the same camp, more mbolea and a sprinkling of effective micro-organisms before it is covered by a black plastic tarpaulin beneath which the bacteria immediately get to work, transforming this pile of leftovers into a steamy rich soil enhancer in just 35 days.

Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

Papaya seeds and food waste used to make compost | Turkana Women Farmers

Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Making Compost | Turkana Farm women

Mulch – or dried organic matter, plays an essential part in retaining soil moisture but so dry and overgrazed is the Turkana environment that excess material like grass is in seriously short supply. Until the systems on site have reached their full potential in producing harvestable quantities Anna and her gang of heavily beaded women make do with sacks of sawdust, donated free of charge from the local hardware store, sprinkling it around the small depressions surrounding each tree seedling and along the surfaces of vegetable beds aided by the living (green) mulch provided by sweet potato vines and pumpkins.

Turkana women | Making Compost

Turkana women | Making Compost

Out on the drip irrigation site, the first glimmer of green has broken through the carefully leveled soil; leguminous crops like pigeon and cow pea and green gram designed to kick start the microbial life in the soil that will soon pave the way for a variety of higher value species hardening in the nursery.

A similar exercise is kicking off in the agroforestry site where sixteen 80 meter rows lie waiting for the delivery of both indigenous and non-indigenous production trees that will in time provide demonstration quantities of timber, fodder, medicine and food.

By the time the afternoon shift rolls around, the young shoots and seedlings have gorged on sunshine, drooping their leaves to minimize water loss through evapotranspiration whilst those planted in the irrigation beds wait thirstily for the evening cool when the valves are twisted open.

The earthworms too require regular moistening as well as a steady quantity of finely chopped organics that include homegrown eggshell from 7 happy hens, tea bags and coffee grinds producing a fine bucketful of dark brown ’worm juice’ that will be diluted at a ratio of 10:1 as a mighty delicious liquid fertilizer.

Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

Shower run off water feeds into banana circles on site | Turkana Women Farmers

The days move damn quick in this part of the world but before Anna and the rest of the ladies return home for the evening there is a general wipe down and clean up; heavy farm boots are replaced with flip flops and a well deserved shower is enjoyed; the sweaty run off lapped up by the flourishing banana circles that boast a riot of bright yellow sunflowers amongst a backdrop of rustling green.

The Amana farm certainly has a long way to go and between the heavily alkaline soils, hard water and crazy heat, the learning curve will remain almost vertical, but it is one that is being enjoyed by all.

The Islands of Ecological Bliss | Seychelles

By Jess De Boer

Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve

Vallee de Mai Nature Reserve

The Seychelles

Imagine the front of a brochure if you will: crystalline blue waters, golden beaches and rustling coconut palms. Turn the page and below the embossed heading that includes the word luxury you can almost hear the faint tinkle of piped lobby music and the waft of an international buffet floating across the grounds of some swanky resort.

But that's not why we came here and it sure as hell is not the reason we’ll come back. This series of 115 islands, speckled about the warm Indian Ocean are floating droplets of natural abundance; on the 20-minute drive from the airport to our first nights pad our eyes were on stilts and the threshold to free-flowing salivation had been crossed.

Check out those trees!

On that first drive alone, during which we passing through Mahe’s main ‘industrial area’ Indian Almonds lined our passage in a fine display of red and gold dotted amongst palms of ludicrous variety, gigantic breadfruit trees laden with football-sized bounty, overloaded star-fruit, guava and bilmbi. In the background stood the trunks of stocky cassurina; bought in long ago together with the unassuming chongololo whose job it was to turn the acidic leaf litter and saline soils into palatable jungle substrate.

Mahé is home to 86% of the country’s population (76,000 people as of 2011) who live in amongst the densely forested foothills. Several windy roads crisscross up and over the slabby granite peaks, the highest of which tops out at 950mt providing a tasty agro-ecological zone for tea, bamboo and carnivorous pitcher plants. This may be the most densely populated of all of the Seychelles islands but if there was a joke about an ecologist, a botanist and a permaculturalist, all 3 would end up smiling.

Spice Garden | Seychelles

Spice Garden | Seychelles

The oldest spice garden in the world exists up a narrow, concrete lane that proved a grueling test for our tiny rental car; especially when we stalled it in shock upon entering a patch of free-standing cacao trees complete with bright purple pods interlaced with vanilla and the background chuckle of endemic blue pigeons. Shortly thereafter we putt-putted our way round a twisty bend lined with golden coconut palms whose fruit lay clustered in such density it defies convention; a trend that repeated itself with Jackfruit, golden apple and the random explosion of citrus varieties like pomelo, lemon and orange whose flesh burst with a potency long forsaken by the blandly perfumed varieties stocked in modern supermarkets.

Stepping from one island to another is a simple and absolutely essential endeavor facilitated by ferry, yacht or short flight. The world beneath the crystal clear waves is one of equal splendor for despite the universal bleaching of coral there are just so many fish; big ones, small ones, spotty ones and don’t get me started on the regular passing of sea turtles, stingrays and reef sharks. Stepping out of this perfectly warm sea one would be advised to replace goggles with binoculars and feast on the explosion of bird life whose guano deposits helped build up many of the islands into permanence; once fuelling a lucrative trade in the potassium rich droppings that were transported to far distant corners of the world to be spread amongst sugar plantations before the advent of commercial chemical fertilizers. The depositors of such high grade manure; Sooty Terns, Noddies and missile shaped frigates are but a few of the species we met along the way and thanks to the concentrated efforts of local conservation groups the populations of birds returning each year continue to blossom.

Bird Island | Seychelles

Bird Island | Seychelles

But paradise has a catch we discovered, for behind the tropical bounty of rich seas and forest glades whispers an all too familiar tale of human obliviousness. The Seychellois are regularly reported as Africa’s most obese population, shunning the local profusion of breadfruit and yam in favor of bleached rice and other foreign delicacies and the island is alleged to import over 80% of its food from far, far away places and apparently the agricultural division of the main university has just two students; both of whom had ticked horticulture as their chosen career paths and whose dreams involved making it big in the lucrative 5* hotel landscaping business. Growing their own food aka “farming” has a negative stigma amongst the majority of the local populace and the agricultural ministry reputably receives less than a 1% slice of the government’s annual budgetary pie…

Say what?

And so while the tourists give themselves whiplash staring at the famous Coco du Mer palms and snapping themselves a billion selfie’s with giant land tortoises we zipped in and out and up and down on a mission to absorb as much information from local authorities, determined farmers and like-minded pro-activists who share our vision for this incredible island chain; a vision that involves food and people; education and design, conservation and enhancement all of which tie together into that most essential re-connection with the natural world that, in these tiny flecks of paradise anyway still remain heavily endowed with loveliness.

Fruit abundance in the Seychelles

Fruit abundance in the Seychelles