Bio-farmers on the school bench
3 wooden poles joined together form the letter A. From its apex a stone hangs down on a ribbon as a plumb. Farmers in the Kenyan uplands use this so-called “A-frame” to identify the landscape’s contour lines. Along these lines ditches are dug in which the water collects when it rains. Planted with banana trees and Napier grass the ditch gardens yield a good crop,also providing the necessary animal feed.
lt is with the straightforward and inexpensive methods of integrated cultivation that Iohn Njoroga of the Kenyan Institute of Organic Farming (KIOF) can win farmers over. Also persuasive for them is the idea that working manure and compost in will bring their soil, leached-out by artificial fertilizers, back to life. To combat the putrefaction processes in the soil KIOF teaches the tried-and-tested method of double-depth digging-over of arable land.
Many of Kenya’s smallholders accept the considerable extra work entailed by organic farming, for the soil of their small plots no longer yields enough.
To earn enough with coffee, tea or by growing chrysanthemums they have to use more and more expensive artificial fertilizer, and even so yields decline.
To make their soil fertile again many farmers are willing to retrain. KIOF supplies the expertise. The farmers learn for example that soya and beans are ideal neighbours for maize on the fields. The dense growth protects the soil, and the intervening crop supplies the nitrogen which the maize needs in order to thrive. In contrast to cash crops for the world market like coffee and tea such crops additionally provide more nourishing food for the region.
Organic farming methods are put across by KIOF in one-week courses on the farm of one of the participants. Then the teachers visit the farms of the other women and men farmers to help with the changeover.
Since 1986 KIOF has trained some 5000 small landowners. The KIOF scheme also includes thorough follow-up training. So that the bio-farmers’ good intentions are not overtaken again by conventional practice, at regular intervals KIOF staff pay return visits to the smallholders and check whether what they have learned “has taken”. lt has been found that more than 85 percent of the upland farmers trained are composting and also continuing to aerate the soil by deep digging. Success has convinced them that in the long run the soil recovers. A study shows composting to have made the maize crop significantly higher-yielding.