Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 3, Part 3 - G-BIACK's Livestock

This diary describes the work of G-BIACK (Grow Biointensive Agricultural Center of Kenya), which trains farmers near Thika in Kenya's Central Province in the Grow Biointensive method of agriculture which was briefly explained in the previous post. Here are photos of their headquarters, which includes a large demonstration garden where they train farmers and carry out research. This post focuses on their livestock programs and compost - the next will cover the plants.

One of the first things you'll see as you enter G-BIACK is their seed bank.

G-BIACK has a seed bank and they encourage the farmers they work with to do the same. During my visit to one community, they were building their own seed bank. These are open-pollinated seeds, which allow the farmers to save and plant their seeds from year to year.

Inside the seed bank.

My tour of G-BIACK's agriculture programs began with the rabbits. They began the Take Home a Rabbit program in 2008, targeting orphans of HIV/AIDS. They donate a pregnant rabbit to a kid who has come to the center to learn how to keep rabbits. After the rabbit gives birth, the child must donate two rabbits back to G-BIACK. G-BIACK then raises those rabbits, gets them pregnant, and donates them another child. They have only one male, and the kids bring their does to G-BIACK to get them pregnant. Over 90% of the kids in their target area now have rabbits, so they are phasing out the project.

The rabbits are all hiding from the sun. January and February are the hottest months here.

Next month, they plan to go out to a different community and bring in a different breed that's appropriate for that community to start a project for commercial rabbit production.

Next, Samuel showed me the dairy goat program. "What we are doing," he said, "Is training farmers to have different enterprises within the farm, so when this fails, they have something else. And that's called food sovereignty."

Goats are usually kept in Kenya for meat. Dairy goat milk is very nutritious and it is good for the immune system, says Samuel. He says this is good for healthy people as well as people with HIV and AIDS. The dairy goat program targets HIV/AIDS widows. I asked if they often have HIV or AIDS themselves. He replied, "If you hear of a widow, you must raise your eyebrows." In other words: yes.

For the goat program, the women create a support group. The women come to G-BIACK to train on how to keep dairy goats and how to feed them with what they produce in their gardens. G-BIACK donates a pregnant goat to one woman. That woman donates the kid to another member of the group. When that goat gives birth, it goes to another member of the group. They use a dairy breed call Kenya Alpine for this program. And again, they have only one male and he stays at G-BIACK. G-BIACK will swap out their male goat after a year to avoid in-breeding. They also have one meat goat that will eventually be the main course at an event they are holding in several months.

Goat being led to its conjugal visit with the buck. It will stay with the buck for one week.

There's a trend in Kenya called "Zero Grazing" which means confining your animals and bringing the food to them (as is common in the U.S.) I asked Samuel what he thought about that. He said, "Zero grazing is like torturing an animal." He thinks it is OK to keep cows or goats inside at night and in the morning but then allow them to graze after the morning dew dries.

He's also starting a pig program. They just got a pregnant sow who gave birth five days before my visit. They are getting a boar very soon.

Mama Sow with five-day-old piglets

From here, we looked at G-BIACK's worms and chickens. Samuel says that many farmers keep at least one or two chickens, so he trains them how to raise indigenous chickens and feed them on what they produce.

Worm compost



Not part of G-BIACK's livestock program.

Compost. You will never, ever visit a biointensive site that doesn't have a compost pile (or several). This is not the only one at G-BIACK.


Compost. The stick in the middle is a low-tech thermometer. Pull it out of the pile and if the stick is hot, the compost is hot.

G-BIACK's bees. They have both the Kenyan Top Bar Hive and the standard hive you usually see in the U.S. The Kenyan Top Bar hive has some advantages, but it does produce less honey per hive.

Kenyan Top Bar Hive

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