Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 19, Part 1 - A Different Approach to Livestock

On my second to last day in Bondo, I briefly spoke with a man who keeps "grade" livestock - fancy, exotic purebred breeds instead of local varieties. He's a veterinarian who spent his career with the government, and his two sons are vets too. The next day, I was supposed to interview him, but when we arrived at his farm, he was not there. He had to go to two funerals that day - likely deaths from HIV/AIDS. But I did take photos of his animals. Here is the brief interview I did, plus the photos.

I asked about his grade animals, eager to hear what someone who prefers grade animals would say - since the others I'd met thus far opted for local breeds. Here was his reply.

I like improved livestock farming. Right now we have seven cattle, out of which four are being milked. Because of the dry season they don't produce that much, an average of six kg per day. The maximum is 10-12 per cow per day. Basically, they are 75% free range and 25% indoors. Cuz this place is so dry, you cannot isolate them, you cannot put them under total zero grazing. They have to foraging and at such a dry season, they tend to browse at the expense of grazing. Cuz by grazing it is grass eating but browsing is the broad leaved shrubs.

Then they are also easier to manage. I like them because they are easier to manage. Many say they are easier because I am a technocrat and my two sons are in the same professional line as me, livestock farming especially, specifically veterinary services. We find them easier to manage because they are controllable. You can control them within a small given area for a given period. You can also isolate them and bring in foodstuff, as opposed to the locals, which are roving. They want to keep on roving. You may bring some feedstuff in but they don't have appetite. They don't show interest in whatever you give them.

I've been with them [the grade animals] since 1988. These are the offsprings. Then, challenges, we have challenges to livestock farming here. Basically, vectors. By vectors I mean ticks, tsetse, and worms. Those are the three main vectors hindering livestock production. With the vectors, specifically ticks and tsetse, we have a variety of chemicals sold by agrovets.

He told me it's cheapest to use a compound chemical that controls both ticks and tsetse. He hand sprays his cows, he doesn't dip them. Dips are expensive, he told me. For less than 10 animals, you better hand spray.

Milk marketability - milk is a very, very scarce product which is - the market is just around us. We sell even at the farmgate. At 60 shillings a kilo. It is a liter. We also have two types of selling. You have those who pay at the end of the month, and you also have those who pay cash. There are advantages. For those who pay at the end of the month, you can pay farm wages. For those who pay cash, is for subsistence.

He employs two - one on a permanent basis and one is cash for work on and off. Then he also has family labor. His cows are Friesian and Ayrshire and crosses. He also has dairy goats - two Toggenburgs and crosses. "It is difficult to maintain breed purity because an exchange of serving bucks." That is, you don't want inbreeding so you must use different bucks, and unless there are many bucks of the same breed around, you end up just using a local buck or a buck of a different breed to do the job.

The home

Think there are some Obama fans around here?


According to the neighbors, he built a large confinement building, perhaps for broiler production. It was expensive to build but he never used it. It seems he did not quite understand how much it would cost to really go through with such a capital-intensive method of farming and when it came down to it, he couldn't afford it.

A confinement facility he built

Inside the large building

A good place for a nest

Lots more ducks, on the way.



Muscovy ducks

Another housing facility for livestock

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 20 - Charity's Charity

I like to spend my last day in a country near the airport, just to allow some wiggle room in case catastrophes happen. On my last day in Kenya, I was in Nairobi and I had no plans to do anything. There's plenty to do in Nairobi for tourism, but I had no intention of spending any more money, particularly on something unrelated to agriculture.

Then a friend called. For now, I ought to keep him anonymous, so let's call him Michael. Michael's an agronomist and we hit it off when we met earlier in my trip. He wanted to get together one last time and he offered to pick me up. I agreed, assuming we'd just hang out. But Michael had plans. He wanted to introduce me to his friend Charity and bring me to her small farm in Ngong Hills, Rift Valley province. So off we went...

As we got into Charity's car, Michael said, "This is Charity. She does charity." Specifically, she runs an organization that rehabilitates Kenyan "children on the street" (not street children, says Charity) and reunites them with their families. Most are boys, ages 8 to 14. The organization tries to find out why the kids left home and then sees how to fix the circumstances that drove them from their homes so they can return. If they cannot go home to their parents, then the organization tries to see if they can go stay with grandparents or aunts and uncles.

We drove toward Charity's farm, up into the hills. All of a sudden, Michael told Charity to stop. Then he turned to me and pointed out the corn on the right side of our car. The farmers in this area use purchased seeds and fertilizer, he said. And yet - look. Stunted, diseased corn. He identified head smut on some of the stalks near our car. This farmer would harvest very little this season.

On the other side of the car, the farmer had put up a greenhouse. These are the new trend in Kenya. They are expensive. Farmers use them to grow tomatoes, a high value crop. I couldn't imagine why anyone with year round warm weather would possibly want a greenhouse for growing tomatoes. Tomatoes, by the way, even lend themselves very well to dry farming, farming without irrigation in areas without much rainfall.


We then continued up the hill without stopping until we reached our destination. It was a gorgeous home that Charity told us is called Bethany House. This is where kids stay once they are taken off the streets and before they go back to their families. It's more than just a roof over the kids' heads - it's a place for healing and rehabilitation. Charity described it as "a safe place to get away from all of the things they experienced on the streets. Just a place to sleep, get some food, get relaxing, and because of their experiences with drugs, sex, that kind of thing - they are children, they need a bit of rehabilitation to normalize before they go back to their parents." She continued:

They spend time with us, they eat with us, they live with us. We talking to them, dealing with their health issues, and at the same time we are working together with their family to find out why did this child run away. And if it's poverty, we address it and see what the parents can do to receive this child back.

Bethany House will also house their office and some guest rooms, to serve as the hub of the group's activities and as a halfway house for the kids. They want it to be a getaway in a peaceful environment, away from Nairobi.

Bethany House

The group has eight staff people and they also want to use the land around Bethany House to make a bit of income to support their work.

In a small area in the front, Charity showed us the livestock. There were two male goats out front. I asked if they were for meat, because obviously two males alone won't produce milk. Charity responded that they have them just to have them, because the children really like animals and it's therapeutic for them to be able to interact with the animals.

Two bad little boys behaving relatively well.

Then we saw the rabbits. But as we went to see the rabbits, it was hard to miss the little baby girl cow. She was two weeks old and had been separated from her mother and all she wanted to do was suck on anything she could get in her mouth. Before long, she was sucking on Michael's fingers, trying to see if milk might come out of them.

The rabbits were just past the calf. Charity said, "The rabbits, we don't exactly know the breed. We just bought something that people can pet."


We left the rabbits and calf and went out to see the mother cow. She's a Friesian, and from what I've seen online, there's a lot of mixing between Friesian and Holstein cattle, so the cow might be a Holstein or at least very similar to one. The cow was confined and didn't seem very happy about it. But at least she was having a nice load of Napier grass for her lunch. The cow was absolutely enormous.

Friesian cow

Napier Grass

A little bit later, behaving a little bit worse

We left the animals behind as we sought a place for Michael to wash his hands. Michael told me that zero grazing is a setup in which "the animal hardly lives." I asked Charity why they separated the baby from the mother cow. "It's not supposed to suckle," she replied. The milk is for people, not the calf. (The calf does get some milk though.)

We walked over past the rainwater harvesting and a small kitchen garden that had nothing growing in it to get to the farm. They have 2.7 acres where they grow food to feed the kids living here and to sell as a fundraiser. In addition to the rainwater harvesting, they also have a well here.

Rainwater harvesting

Small garden

Michael has been working with them to help them go organic - or at least move in that direction. Charity's expertise is not farming, and from what I gathered, she's pretty newly in charge of the farming aspect of the organization. So she's doing her very best, and the status quo represents her predecessor's work. As a start, Michael urged them to use the manure from the animals in the soil.

The very first thing we saw on the farm was maize. "Now, you can see. This is a good quality seed," Michael told me. "And they are not going to harvest anything. Yet it's the staple. And everybody's growing corn corn, but... so when that happens, the whole nation goes hungry."


"Kales" (as a Kenyan would say - they like to add S to every plural word whether it needs an S or not)

Then I asked about their drip irrigation. Michael responded, "What they are trying to urge us to do, they are trying to urge the nation to do conservation agriculture."

"Who, the government?" I asked.

"And everybody including the expats," he answered. "Israel, which is in a desert, is able to feed itself. Why can't Kenya do it? So one of the recommendations is to conserve water and only put it where you only need it. And so at least they are able to get some greens, both for themselves, and the market. But you can see you are really bucking against the elements."

Drip irrigation

Look at the bare soil! How the heck is anyone going to conserve water without a thick layer of mulch?? I wondered as I saw it.

In the photos, you can also see a row of Gravillea trees. As we walked, Charity pointed out various crops - onions, amaranth, eggplant, black nightshade, etc.


Michael mentioned that there is a myth that the developing world has too much labor. That is not true in Kenya, where the adult population has been decimated by AIDS. (The extent to which this is true varies from place to place within Kenya. In the Luo area I visited where one in five adults has AIDS, it's certainly true - but Kenya's national average AIDS rate is 6%.) Both workers on this particular farm are from far flung parts of Kenya, because the locals are not willing to do farm work unless they are paid a lot for it. One way to reduce labor needs is by using tractors to plow. This land is likely flat enough and large enough to plow, but some farms I saw were so steep that there would have been no way a tractor could have plowed them.

Banana tree

"All these things used to be called weeds, we have discovered they are so wonderful as food," Michael said. He said:

There's a program now by the government after realizing that what used to grow naturally is what is actually beneficial and it doesn't need so much water, so much fertilizer, and so much chemicals to keep the bugs off. The ministry and the government has created the program called the Orphan Crop program and they are trying to urge people to grow back to all these traditional crops instead of just planting these, you let your weeds come back, which is really good for our environment. And the children's home happens to be in a good place because they have an educated population here now in the city, and the people in the city are asking where are the traditional vegetables that we used to have, so if they let their farm become weedy, they make money.

Another nice thing about these native crops is that you don't need to buy the seeds. They just grow as weeds.

When I looked up the so-called orphan crop program, it appeared to me that the government was involved in a World Bank funded project that involves getting credit to farmers and giving farmers vouchers for inputs like fertilizer, as well as the orphan crop component. And in some orphan crop programs - although not this one as far as I know - there are efforts to produce hybrid seed and sell it commercially for so-called "orphan crops" - which typically include sorghum and millet. I've even seen soybeans (NOT a traditional African crop!) listed as an orphan crop by some of these programs and that blows my mind.

Cleome gynandra

Amaranth, known locally as terere

Not a weed-free zone.

Then, Charity showed us her greenhouse, which was built in 2009. It cost 200,000 Kenyan shillings, or $2400. Then they did a ton of work to mix manure into the soil inside of the greenhouse. She wants to grow tomatoes in here.


We walked into the greenhouse to see the inside, and Charity told me to close the door quick because otherwise pests might come in. That caught me off guard! I'd never heard of using a greenhouse to keep pests out. In my world, you use a greenhouse to extend your growing season. I would use a physical barrier to deal with pests in some cases - a fence to keep out mammals, gopher baskets to keep gophers away from the roots, a net over berry bushes to keep the birds from eating half and pooping on the rest perhaps - but a greenhouse to keep pests away from a crop...?

Inside the greenhouse

Michael said:
Here is an organization that needs to make some money to support their charity work, and Charity, the director of this organization is asking for help from somebody who is supposed to have done several degrees in agriculture. And here I am trying to figure out what to do because climate change, the reality is so, so deep.

So combining intensive agriculture, and you can see they've really, like, double digging and all that. They've gone in and removed the top soil and turned it around and mixed it with a lot of manure and... So we've had some principles of good biointensive farming. But then, essentially need water. Water, water, water.

Whether you put fertilizer, which kills all the good biology, which is what I'm trying to avoid here, you eventually get a very good growing crop and you only have to accidentally leave it [the greenhouse door] open and then pests are eating everything on top. And unfortunately, the outside they have been using dimethoate to spray on the tomatoes.

Dimethoate was recently banned in Kenya. Not that a pesky detail like that would actually keep anyone from using it.

At this point, I started babbling. I grow my tomatoes intercropped with some basil, calendula, borage, and marigolds. Except for the marigolds, which kill nematodes, I don't know what the actual mechanisms are for why these crops are supposed to be grown together. I just know that I read recommendations to grow them together. I've never once had a pest problem on my tomatoes. As I babbled, Charity and Michael began looking at me. What, did they really expect me to know anything that a PhD agronomist might not know about growing tomatoes organically? I just grow them in my garden for myself!

Then Michael found a pesticide container and picked it up so we could read it. A Bayer product. Nematicide. Ethoprophos. As we read the label, I wondered aloud why Charity wouldn't just use beneficial nematodes? "We are not using it now," Charity explained. "We need to fumigate before we plant again."

Michael explained further. "The problem - and that's why you're seeing that [the nematicide] - they've had problems with nematodes. They did a soil test. Nematodes were... and bacterial wilt.. And it dries out and what happens is, they go into cyst form and they can stay there for three to five years."

Now they've been told by a consultant to cover the soil and to fumigate it with carbofuran (Furadan). This pesticide is banned. And, as Michael reminded me, the Maasai have learned to buy it and use it to kill lions that eat their cattle.

I told Charity a few ideas off the top of my head. A drastic option is solarizing the soil, which involves heating the soil to a temperature that kills everything in it. Of course, since you want lots of microorganisms in your soil, that's the last thing I would do. You can grow a crop or a crop variety that is not susceptible to nematodes and bacterial wilt. And perhaps there are some biological products to buy like beneficial nematodes to take care of the problem. But I don't know which products are available in Kenya, nor do I know which crops are profitable to grow in Kenya. And, unfortunately, Charity can't simply make a decision without considering the financial side of the equation.

Charity's got a built in customer base from a church that supports the charity work. The church members would love to buy organics. But, as Michael said:

There is one organization that I will keep talking to - the Kenya - KOAN - Kenya Organic Agricultural Network. And they charge an arm and a leg for farmers to go organic certified. Then you have to now stop using chemicals and you have a three year phaseout. And you are waiting for the chemicals to get out of the system, so there is a three to our years. And then once you go into that, unfortunately, a farmer who wants to go organically certified will not have the benefit of going online or whatever and order solutions.

In his last sentence, he was referring to the biological controls that I had mentioned earlier. They aren't very available in Kenya. But, he mentioned a weed called Tagetes minuta, locally called michege, and "the roots actually produce chemicals that gets rid of your nematodes." It turns out that Tagetes minuta is a type of marigold. Brassica plants, on the other hand, could help with the nematodes but could compound the bacterial wilt problems. Then he explained solarization to Charity. You cover the soil in plastic and monitor the temperatures in the soil to make sure they get hot enough for a long period of time "that could actually be very good for cleaning out whatever is in there."

Charity responded, saying "The advice we got was to fumigate - cover it for 21 days and let it..."

Michael interjected, "That's the chemical solution. And we are trying to find a solution that is in between. You might not kill everything, but then, you are also not poisoning the soil for a long time. And then the problem," he added, "is their borehole, which is a few hundreds of meters below is also their domestic water. And once you put that chemical in there, it will go into your borehole. And obviously the people that are downstream are going to be taking that chemical in." (Charity's farm is on top of a hill.)

Michael summarized, "The win-win solution here is to go organic, but we don't have the knowledge of how to do it, yet we also need to make money back because you've invested quite a lot."

Then he spoke about the consultants that Charity had hired. He feels like they come in during the rains and everything will be green, and the consultants will get all of the credit for the success. But try following their advice when there is no water, and when everything is at its worst, and that is when you will see their failures.

You have all these chemicals that many farmers don't understand. You have all these new crops that are coming in from the seed companies, and somebody needs to get a little agricultural training. And then they come in as dubious consultants - expats. They are Kenyan but they have either worked with the chemical companies or they know what's going on. And just like now, the other situation, where you have hybrid seeds and then plenty of rainfall and plenty of good soil will make everybody happy and you'll be singing the praises of the seed companies. And saying "Oh I planted that, it's a very good seed.!" But you are not taking into account that everything has been person. You need to get that - what you call - good seed in the worst of times and see how it is doing.

We left the greenhouse and began looking at the maize.


Not much of a harvest here

"The reason we are planting tomatoes," Charity explained, "Is because that's what sells. It's what brings us a good income."

But without crop rotation, the repeated tomato crops in the greenhouse will keep feeding the nematodes and bacterial wilt. I turned to Charity and said, "You have enough land that you can repeatedly grow tomatoes - but not in the same place."

"I know we are looking at other capsicums [peppers]," Michael said.

"But that's still a nightshade," I put in. "Is it still susceptible." Yes, he replied.

We talked about a number of other options - mostly me babbling off the top of my head - but I understand the pressure Charity is under. Certain things just can't be done because the money simply isn't there. Period. If it were my own farm, I would definitely try planting tomatoes well away from the greenhouse in another area where there have not been nightshades growing for a few seasons. I'd intercrop with other plants. I'd mulch it heavily. That seems to work well for me in my garden. I can't understand why the greenhouse was needed in the first place, really. But in the end, I think we all agreed that it might be best for Charity to talk to some of the folks I met in Thika, since they are both organic farmers and Kenyan and they know what grows and what sells in Kenya and what can fetch a good price.

When we left Charity's farm, Michael dropped me back off at the guest house where I was staying, and a few hours later, I went to the airport and I left Kenya. Or at least, my body went home. I think my heart is still there, and my brain might be too.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 19, Part 2 - Selene's Chicken and Beer Business

Amy brought me to meet a woman named Selene Ogendi Odero. She lives in a rental property near Amy and Malaki's home, and she had quite a story to tell, as you'll see below. I really liked Selene. She laughed a lot as she spoke, which you can't tell just from the transcript. She was very friendly, sweet, and funny. Selene's disabled, and Amy said she got polio from the polio vaccine as a child, although Selene did not confirm that for me. Kenya still has polio and when I got vaccinated before my trip, the doctor explained that they would give me the injection for my vaccine because the oral polio vaccine sometimes actually makes people get polio. Perhaps that's what happened to Selene.


After Selene told me her name, she said:

Odero is my father. I'm not yet married. Not because I am young, but because they overlooked unto me because of my disability. They thought I'll be nothing to them. I've got a lot of burdens so if I join someone, they'll do me everything. They thought like so. But I can do everything. I can dig. It's only walking a longer distance I cannot do. But other things I can do. Even right now I stay alone. I stay in this small cabin right here. I'm taking care of myself. I have one son, 21 years old. The son is seeking for employment in Nairobi now.

So as for myself, I was trained as a tailor. I'm a tailor by profession. I have a machine inside here. I was trained by the Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled in Kisii.

Amy told me that Selene was the secretary of an organization of people with disabilities. I asked about it. She replied:

My people - we have a number of people. We now operate, we scope the whole Bondo District. It is Bondo District Disabled Group. We cater for all types of disabilities. We have cripples, we have physically challenged, we have deafs, we have blinds, and many others. And even we have the associate members because there are times when we cannot work alone. We need to get some people who can push for us those who cannot drive their own wheelchairs. They are supposed to be supported. So we have the associate members. We also have parents to those with disabilities. We have some children who also have disabilities so we come together with their parents.

We're about 74 people. We registered in the year 2005. We decided to come together, we made the elections, we found our chairperson, secretary, treasurer, and that.

Then I asked what the group actually does. The answer was varied and a bit muddled, but here's what I could make out. She said, "We trained people, we were going around, training people to take care of themselves because of their disabilities." Then she mentioned income generating activities and said "We're going to buy dairy goats." The plan is to distribute them to each member as the goats multiply: "It gives birth, I give my neighbor." Then she said "We bought chairs and tents, we use them for hiring purposes." This made a lot more sense once Amy explained that the chairs and tents are rented out for funerals - and this area, with an AIDS rate of about 20% has a lot of funerals. "Every weekend. Every weekend, like here, we bury people on weekends. There are 100 chairs. We take them out, we are assured of 100 shillings."

Then I asked about her broiler project. She's a project manager for a small group project, and they are keeping the chickens at the headquarters for this small group.

We used to buy them at the Kenchic Kisumu when they are 1 day old. We bring them here, we keep them for 6 six weeks, then we sell them and they are ready for slaughtering. Six weeks only! I know you are - even I have the photograph, I can show you. So I've done that one twice. [I assured her I believed it was true and she went on] This time around, I stopped a bit because of the climate. They are so delicate, you cannot bring them when the weather's like this. They can acquire many diseases.

I started with 150 broilers, so... the mortality rate was a bit high because I was a bit new in the field. I lost about 10. I remained with 140. the 140, I sold them.

Kenyans are masters of the dramatic pause, especially when they are saying anything that has to do with math. Started with 150, lost 10, I remained with [pause] 140.

At this point it becomes a bit hard to hear every single word she says on my recording, but she said when she went to get more chicks, there was a food crisis and the feed for the birds is expensive, so that influenced her decisions about the broiler project. I asked what she feeds them.

For the first week, we give them broiler chick mash plus the crumbs. From 3 to the last week, we give them finisher mash. We give them starter at the beginning and finisher at the end. Starter at the beginning, you mixed with crumbs. And the finisher at the end, you mixed with the - what do you call that one - so one sack 70kg is 4500 [$54]. It's very expensive. And when they are still young, the 150 broilers can consume 2 sacks plus the crumbs. And from three weeks to the last weeks, they eat - they can consume two sacks in a week. Because they eat day and night, day and night.

All in all, by my math, that's 10 sacks of feed, or $540. I asked what the chicks cost.

It is 70 shillings and 50 cents at the Kenchic, and then when they are ready here, I sell them at 400 shillings per chick. And they really grow faster. Six weeks, you can't imagine! They are big and healthy!

So she paid Sh10,575 ($126.90) for the 150 chicks and sold 140 chickens for Sh56,000 ($672). By my math, the chicks plus the feed cost her $666.90. That's not much of a profit margin, unless I misunderstood the number of feed sacks she meant. I might be off by 2 sacks of feed, which would give her an extra $108 in profit.

We asked about the breed. She said:

You can't even know, they are all mixed up. You can't even know this one is a hen or a cock. They are all white. They really don't even have that behavior of chasing each other. They are just like that. You can't even actually see if this one is a cock or a hen! And they are very sweet. Nowadays if you go to conferences, they are the things which are cooked there. They are very nice. They do them the deep fried. They are not cooked with water, they are fried with oil like mandazis.


I asked if she tasted them. She replied: "Yes, yes, even those ones of mine. I'm the first person who got them. I have to buy."

I asked how they tasted. She said, "They taste very nice. I was advised not to cook, I was told just to fry. I fried. Very very very nice. Very sweet. Even my neighbors tasted it. Ask them how delicious they were."

Then Amy asked why they must be fried. She said, "They have a lot of fats. They are very soft. You can overcook them. If you are supposed to cook, then you have to roast fast for the oil to drip out so that they can - so that you can cook for only 30 minutes, not more than 30 minutes. It will be too soft and sweet."

I asked if these were her top two ways to earn a living - tailoring and poultry. She replied, "The tailoring is my own business. I like it because it pays for my son. The poultry I am doing for the benefit of my group members."

So I asked what the money was used for within the group. It's basically micro-lending. "We lend you, you bring back the interest on top."

I asked her what people use loans for. The group got a 400,000 grant and 100,000 loan. They put that together. She told me they offer 3 month loans with 5% interest. People would take as much money as they thought they could pay back. The conversation got interesting here. I asked if people would, for example, take the loan, buy a sewing machine, do tailoring work, and pay back the loan with interest that way. Selene said "We have never thought of it that way" but she liked the idea!

They have disbursed the money to every member. Selene took 10,000. She was able to repay it. "I used it in another project. I had a friend who was brewing the busaa. Busaa is a local beer that is brewed like a porridge." She had someone brewing it for her a ways away from where she lives, because she didn't want her parents to find out. "They are Christians," she explained, "So if they hear of the busaa, they would not accept me. So I decided to go and buy all the ingredients for that person. So the ingredients, I bought, and the business was not bad."

The person who made the beer sold it and they split the money. She made a profit of 5000 shillings ($60). But, she said, "I decided to stop that business because I was afraid. It was a little bit illegal business." She didn't have a license for it. "It was a good business" she said, because they sold all the busaa in two weeks and made all the money back.

At this point, we all ended up laughing as we talked about what a good business this was. There were some drunks in the area that Amy and I had seen over the last few days, so we speculated that Selene would have a loyal customer base.

I asked if she might consider taking the loan money to buy a license so she could keep selling busaa. She hadn't thought of that but loved the idea. At the end of our short chat, she told me I should come back because I had lots of good ideas. I hadn't even intended to give her ideas - I was just trying to probe to find out what they were doing with their money. But I guess I gave her some ideas!

A man carrying ingredients for busaa or changaa (a local distilled spirit) on a bike

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kenya Diaries: Day 16, Part 6 - Care for the Earth

On the afternoon of my first full day in Bondo, we hopped in the back of an old pick up that my hosts borrowed from a friend and drove off to a place called Care for the Earth. It's one of a number of local development efforts here.

As we drove there, Amy and I attracted lots of stares from all those we passed. What are those two wazungu [white people] doing in the back of a pickup??? We could see the signs of life changing in Bondo as we went - the brand new university, multistory buildings going up, and even street lights. Not to mention a nice new agrochemical store!

The new university in Bondo

The new tallest building in Bondo

Brand new street lights

Green World, a store selling agrochemicals from Bayer CropScience

Finally we arrived at Care for the Earth. At first glance I saw some well-manicured landscaping and modern looking buildings. We went into an office with a computer, and were guided into a second room with couches where they offered us sodas. Then we began a tour of the place.

Our guide first brought us to see the poultry - chickens, turkeys, and geese. He said, "Our vision here is basically as a learning resource center. Sometimes we keep birds which we'll use for catering purposes. We also have some which we breed and give to farmers." These animals are all what Kenyans call "grade" (pedigree breeds, not local varieties).

The first ones we looked at appeared to be Cornish crosses. They didn't even act like chickens. They just sat lazily around their enclosure. Our guide told us they were broilers, or "table birds" as he put it. "They are meant for meat. These ones are not laying eggs. We are just breeding them for our catering facilities." I asked him how long it takes to grow a broiler from birth to full-size. He said it takes a month and a half.


Then he showed us a second variety called KenPro. These birds acted like chickens, at least. "KenPro is a hybrid and it is a duel purpose, for eggs and meat. And each batch of ten hens is served by one cock. So if there are twenty, two cocks." He said they start laying at four months. I asked how long it takes for the bird to grow big enough to eat. He said, "There is no need for eating it while it is laying." You wait until the bird stops laying after a few years and then eat it. "And it is big," he added. "Up to five kilos. The local ones, the maximum is two kilos. But these ones go up to four and five kilos... People in our society, they like bigger things."

He said that it's important to give these birds "concentrates" (purchased feed). "The local ons are free range and they go for caterpillars. But these ones, you are confining them. So you need to give them vitamins and minerals." He said this breed was introduced to Kenya by the government working together with the Netherlands.

KenPro chickens

He said they are getting one section ready for new 500 new broiler chicks as well as some new Ken Pro birds. They get the chickens from Kenchic.

Next, we saw the goats, which were in a nice, large yard.

The guide said, "Most of them are for milk. We use the hybrid buck to upgrade our local native goats so that we get the goats which produce milk." Goats are usually kept for meat here, and the local varieties are not great milkers. I think by hybrid he means a pedigree breed, not an actual hybrid.

"The goodness of a goat, any goat can eat anything. But mostly we do give them browses, all the leaves from the trees. They prefer the leaves of some trees and we know the types of trees which the goats eat. So we cut for them, we bring them here, they eat, sometimes they are allowed to go out grazing. A goat likes exercising, by maybe standing on two feet and getting browses up. You know, they like eating that manner."

"It is normal, one male goat should serve ten female goats. That is how it is required." He said we could buy the goats here. "A buck can go up to from 10,000 to 15,000. A female goes from 8,000 to 10,000." In dollars, the bucks are $120 to $180, and the females are $96 to $120.

I asked if the goats require purchased food too. He replied, "Sometimes we do give them salt, and we give them dairy meal also. They like it very much. But we don't normally give them the dairy meal all the time because the most preferred food for the goats are the browses."

Amy asked "Are they coping okay with this environment?" He replied, "Yes, because they prefer hot places." The breeds they keep are Toggenburg, Saanen, and German Alpine.

Next, we saw the cows. They are Ayreshires. He said they give 10-20 liters depending on the quality of feed. I don't know if that is per milking or per day. Either way, it's much more than the local breeds produce. "This one is the zero grazing unit. The animals can stay here in their lifetime, but we normally allow them to go do some grazing if there is some grass. But right now is dry." The manure is removed and fed to a biogas digester. They use the biogas for cooking in the kitchen.



Yard for the cows.

I would have loved to ask more about the cows, but our guide was very eager to show us the biogas digester, which he explained to us in detail.

Manure and water goes in here

Here is the biogas digster

The gas is piped to the kitchen.

The leftovers from biogas digestion come out here and they are used as fertilizer.

By then, Amy's young daughter and I spotted some papaya and mango trees. Our guide caught up with us and showed us the large passionfruit area that had papaya and Gravillea trees interspersed among the vines.

Passionfruit area in the distance, shaded under trees

I think the large trees in the distance are mango

An area that is plowed to grow maize once the rains begin. He said this was plowed manually, not with a tractor.


An upside down bottle used to water the plants. They water once a day, but when it is very hot they water twice a day.

A woodlot that is also sometimes used for grazing the cows too.

Young plants growing under shade to protect them from the sun.

Tissue culture bananas

A native vegetable called mitoo (Crotalaria brevidens) that has gone to seed.

They are using this plant to collect seeds right now, but usually people eat the leaves. You can see more info about Crotalaria brevidens at the link.

Then we saw some other trees - mango I think. These are about 8 years old and our guide told us they are planted too close to one another.

Mango trees

Beehives. They have both Langstroth hives and Kenya Top Bar Hives. And these thorns will keep people away from the bees very effectively.

The last area we saw was where they do the catering and workshops. They have a nice training area, little cottages where guests can stay, areas where guests can have breakout sessions during workshops and trainings, and a kitchen. It seems that they make a lot of their money from holding trainings and catering for their trainees these days.