Monday, October 08, 2012

Trees and food return to Kenya's Rusinga Island

Agriculture is being forced to adapt to changing weather patterns that bring us more droughts and floods. A lot of that change is beginning in the under-developed nations that have been hit by the severe weather the hardest. Non-Governmental Organizations have been leading the way in teaching small farmers who to adapt.

A story from Reuters Alert Net today shows us some of that change taking place on an island within Kenya's Lake Victoria. The majority of the people of Rusinga Island fished for a living. A problem began to develop for the island when most of the trees were cut down to smoke the fish caught in Lake Victoria. The loss of most of the trees made it impossible to grow any other food on the island.

Writer Pius Sawa tells us how some agricultural concepts borrowed from Australia have helped to grow food on Rusinga Island again.
“You can just see around. We don’t have any trees on the land,” said Evans Odula, the director of Badilisha, a local NGO whose name in Kiswahili means “change.”
To deal with the worsening problems, Odula now trains farmers in permaculture (permanent agriculture), a concept that originated in Australia.
Odula describes it as “a way of farming where people are able to provide food throughout the year while protecting the environment.”
“We are trying to see people do farming that is eco-friendly and (with) no use of chemicals,” he said. “(We teach) eco-friendly activities that promote good soil, plants and organisms, and biological ways of pest control.”
On the compound where Badilisha trains farmers there are fodder trees, crops, animal sheds and water harvesting tanks. The shade of the trees is cooling and Odula points out the benefits of the lucerne tree.
“It provides shade (as well as) fodder for the animals, and at the same time firewood,” he said.
Shem Orwa Anditi, a member of one of Badilisha’s self-help groups for farmers, now practises permaculture.
“We are growing cabbages, kale and tomatoes,” the 63-year-old said. “We don’t use any chemical fertilizer, just compound manure. We don’t burn anything in the farm. We use (plant waste) for mulching which keeps water in the soil.”
Anditi, a retired civil servant, now is able to grow enough vegetables to sell as well as being able to feed his family.

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