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Jul 7, 2016 6 Min Read

A Warm Welcome in Kenya

About a month ago, on June 1st, I arrived in Nairobi. It was Madaraka Day. “Madaraka” means “Power” in Kiswahili and marks the day when Kenya attained internal self-rule in 1963. Since it is a public holiday, the streets were — by Nairobi’s standards — empty and I reached Karen area, where the Kijani office is located, within only a few minutes. The next day I had the pleasure to meet David and Erick, both active members of the Kijani team, who greeted me very warm-heartedly and were eager to teach me some basic words and phrases in Kiswahili. Soon we started planning our trip to North Marmanet the next week in order to follow-up with the farmers who had participated in Kijani’s preceding conservation agriculture workshop.

Johanna, David, and Erick in Nairobi
Johanna, David, and Erick in Nairobi

On June 9th, after a 4-hour matatu drive — minibuses making up the main share of public transportation in Kenya — from Nairobi to Nyahururu, Erick, David and I headed to North Marmanet in order to visit the tree nursery that had been established for our reforestation projects. Since the nursery was very remote, we had to take a second matatu and a motorcycle which they call “Pikipiki”. On the way I noticed huge patches of deforested land. Most of them were used for agriculture, particularly for the cultivation of maize, others functioned as grazing grounds for cattle, sheep, and goats. Knowing that this area had been almost completely covered with forests just a few decades ago strengthened my conviction that reforestation is most likely only successful and sustainable in this area when agriculture is included in any sort of restoration and conservation plans. Improved yields through conservation agriculture, for instance, could function as an incentive to also get involved in reforestation activities.

Reaching the village, the local farmer in charge for the nursery welcomed us warm-heartedly and showed us the around 3300 healthy and well-nurtured indigenous tree seedlings he is tending for. He even offered us Guavas and his wife prepared local maize porridge, famously known as “Ugali”, and some delicious fried eggs.

Erick by one of the Kijani tree nurseries with the local care taker
Erick by one of the Kijani tree nurseries with the local care taker

This great hospitality continued the next day when we visited farmers who had previously participated in the conservation agriculture workshop. They offered us tea, sugar cane, bananas and avocados making me feel very welcome even though, due to language barriers, I couldn’t directly communicate with community members. Even the children faced me with great curiosity, whispering and sometimes shouting “Mwzungu, mwzungu”, which means “European” or more general “white person”. When I responded with a smile and “Mwafrika, mwafrika” (“African person”), they started laughing and the ice was broken.

I felt that the local farmers were happy to see us as well as highly motivated to continue working with Kijani in the future and participating in upcoming activities. In addition to that, I could observe farmers being passionately involved in discussions with Erick and David, explicitly expressing their experiences and concerns with conservation agriculture. These insights will help us to adopt our current strategy of promoting conservation agriculture techniques in North Marmanet, stressing once more the great importance of the involvement of local communities in the process of developing future strategies. These inspiring conversations also showed that, once given the opportunity, most farmers in North Marmanet have an open mind when it comes to the adaptation and application of new techniques, and are eager to learn about alternative sustainable farming methods.

Erick with a local farmer in a field planted during the conservation agriculture workshop
Erick with a local farmer in a field planted during the conservation agriculture workshop

This trip gave me the confidence that the farmers in North Marmanet are keen to get actively involved in further projects and workshops dealing with conservation agriculture and forest restoration. I am looking forward to following up with them during upcoming field visits, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the Kijani team for the next few months.

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