Greening the Desert

Safarilink / Barefoot tree planting day @ Ngamia Secondary School, Nakukulas – Turkana East.

Barefoot Soulutions is a Kenyan start-up specializing in tropical permaculture. The team were sub contracted by Tullow Oil in July 2017 to design, implement and manage a number of working demonstration farms in partnership with local community groups.

In September 2018, Safarilink jumped on board and together the trio embarked on a tree planting campaign that saw 200 mixed variety seedlings, including the superfood ‘moringa’ dug carefully into the soil by students and teachers of Ngamia Secondary School.

Barefoot’s demonstration farm ‘Akiro Amana Analaireng’ from the air

Barefoot’s demonstration farm ‘Akiro Amana Analaireng’ from the air

Harsh, inhospitable, 8 billion black rocks.

Lake Turkana land is Kenya’s far north and unlike anywhere else in the country. Thousands of years ago this was once a lush wetland where our earliest ancestors roamed, the fossilized remains of one discovered 1.6 million years later by a team of sweaty archaeologists who promptly re-christened the area ‘The Cradle of Mankind’.

Hosting the world’s largest permanent desert lake this region is uniquely under-populated and holds the title of Kenya’s poorest, driest and hottest county. Stuck right up on Ethiopia’s southern border this arid place occupies a vast empty space on the map, shaded yellow right across the sweeping breadth of the Great Rift Valley.

This area is a throwback to our most ancient human origins but besides the dam it is an awakening economic giant. Beneath its surface lies significant oil deposits, sub surface water reserves and on the southern shore a scurrying hive of activity with the construction of Africa’s largest wind power farm. Expansive roads now cut through swathes of prehistoric acacia savanna and the buzz of boda-boda’s regularly interrupts the waaaaa call of the go-away bird whose whoosh of grey feathers against the piercing blue sky is often the only movement between the hours of 9 to 5 when day time temperatures peak at ‘sweaty.’

Africa as a whole is on the march, urban centers have replaced fly ravaged shack-scapes and flying high above this still empty landscape for the fist time the dust from a hundred thousand hooves far below quickens the heartbeat… where did all the grass go?

The challenge of our generation is regeneration - and this is Barefoot’s mission.

The ‘Alaireng womens group work closely with the Barefoot team learning and implementing Permaculture practices on a daily basis.

The ‘Alaireng womens group work closely with the Barefoot team learning and implementing Permaculture practices on a daily basis.

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” said Allan Savory in his widely acclaimed 2013 TED talk[1] on holistic land management - and it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Solutions exist in theory but it’s the practice part that stumps most. To this end, Barefoot had been sub contracted to set up a series of agro-ecological demonstration sites together with select members of adjacent communities who would train alongside our team in anticipation of the day when they would take over the full running of the sites and their associated value chains – of which Moringa is just one. 

Fresh Moringa leaves being naturally dried in the Turkana heat – before being turned into high grade powder.

Fresh Moringa leaves being naturally dried in the Turkana heat – before being turned into high grade powder.

Akiro Amana Analaireng is the name of the main farm site and tree nursery - ‘Demonstration farm in the desert’ is the literal translation and it is from here that several pick up loads of indigenous and exotic seedlings were selected and taken to the school for the Safarilink sponsored tree planting /out grower program.

Along with a fine mix of indigenous species like desert dates, acacia melifera, henna and flamboyant came 100 young Moringa oleifera and Moringa stenopetala; one of the most nutritionally dense plants in the world whose leaves once dried and crushed into powder occupy pride of place amongst the world of ‘superfoods’ whose global market value is projected to increase at a compound annual rate of 16% in the coming decade.

Both species of Moringa thrive in hot, sandy places –the oleifera species (originally from India) grows in abundance along our coastline and is favored by the Giriama as a tasty green vegetable, but it is the indigenous stenopetala that gets us excited; the leaves of which are darker and larger in size and when eaten raw, added to boiling water for a super-tea or dried, crushed and spooned into a cute packet for sale (see below) bring in a tidy income for the farm, community and one day the school too.

The farm produces its own organic moringa powder – from both species – with the school set to be our first out grower.

The farm produces its own organic moringa powder – from both species – with the school set to be our first out grower.

Because we’re planting in Turkana – hot, dry and sandy, the trees are planted along with a range of Organix (K) products: Absorber is a hydrogel substance that helps retain precious water in the soil, Earthlee is a concentrated humate powder and Asilee a soil conditioner

= All organic – all brilliant.

Students celebrate their visit with a cup of fresh moringa tea

Students celebrate their visit with a cup of fresh moringa tea

Earlier on that week the students received a farm tour (that included a cup of fresh moringa tea at the end) and upon our arrival at the school the team quickly got busy with a mechanical hole-digger... noise, sweat, heat, dust and many tiny seedlings in whose future canopies lies so much potential. Each student was allocated one moringa and one indigenous tree to nurture over the coming months and a competition of ‘whose tree grows the fastest’ initiated with a prize awarded at the end of the year.

In summary, tree plantings don’t get more exciting – or cooler than this – an essential realization to make as we face down the future as a country whose very future lies in the hands of its young people – and the natural world. 

We have much work to do people…

Thank you Safarilink !

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Contact: Jess de Boer ( for information on our farm fresh moringa powder

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Educating the Next Generation

School kids visit from the Nakukulas, Turkana community

By Jess De Boer

Educating school children about Permaculture | Turkana

Educating school children about Permaculture | Turkana

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.

School kids on our drylands permaculture farm

School kids on our drylands permaculture farm

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.

Ivan Lieman, our Co-Founder shows school kids how the wormery works

Ivan Lieman, our Co-Founder shows school kids how the wormery works

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.