A classroom in the Garden of Eden
Deforestation harms people and the environment. With nurseries, farmers can earn money and do good. You just have to know how to do it
Rafael Odwaro and his wife Sophia only have to walk a few steps out of their house and they are standing in the middle of their Garden of Eden. Red, purple and yellow flowers bloom alongside herbs, spinach and wild vegetables. Aloe vera grows between protective hedges and climbing herbs, as do banana plants and mango and orange trees. Butterflies fly around, as if they could hardly decide where to snack first. Small, silver fish are circling in a pond. The garden is adjoined to a shady square with compost heaps and a cowshed enclosure. Deciduous trees hide the view of a greenhouse, another enclosure for dairy goats and the lower-lying fields, where sweet potatoes, groundnuts and chickpeas, as well as fodder crops for the animals, grow under papaya trees.
As understandable as it would be, the Odwaro couple and their seven children are not simply enjoying the fruits of the "Garden of Eden" (which refers to the divine creation) themselves. The family invites local farmers and welcomes the curious: including university students, government officials and researchers. The Odwaros have also built a small house in the middle of their garden, which serves as a museum for plants and as a meeting place. A few months ago, a classroom was built under trees. People young and old should learn everything about the environment and sustainable value creation from nature. The project is called "GENLINK".
Three issues link the Odwaro small farming family to a project started in 2014 by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) on integrated climate and protection and resources conservation, which has been carried out by the organisation World Vision with support from the county government of Homabay and other partners until this spring.
Firstly, they want to show how sustainable organic farming can, on a relatively small farm, be economically successful and how, despite the climate change in East Africa, a family can feed themselves healthily all year round. Secondly, they want to restore degraded landscapes and conserve biodiversity. Thirdly, they want people to win people for the reforestation of the forests in order to improve the climate and soil fertility. It is especially important to Odwaro to rediscover and integrate native trees for agriculture. "Farming God's Way" is his Christian-inspired motto, shown by a sign in his garden.
Before his oasis came into existence, the Kenyan´s farm still looked like the majority of farms on the Lake Victoria: cornfields, a few cows, goats and chickens. Odwaro could hardly feed his family with this alone. His interest in trees awoke at a training session in agroforestry which was offered to him and other farmers by World Vision. "My wife, my children and I decided at the round-table to try a nursery", he says. They built fences out of branches around their house and hung grow-sacks with tree seedlings on them so that the animals would not eat the seedlings. "Our first 3,000 seedlings were grown with waster water from the kitchen because we did not have a well, and yet I was able to sell these seedlings well", says Odwaro, smiling.
After a drought threw him back during the year, he sold a cow, bought material and dug the first rain collection tank with his sons. World Vision employees watched his efforts and then advised him every step of the way on how he could take further measures: He organised his farm, created irrigation ditches, planted trees, and learned how to grow vegetables. The key component remained the nursery however. "The project has enabled me to set up a modern, larger nursery where I can now grow 30,000 seedlings at the same time", says Odwaro proudly. His fruit trees are particularly highly sought after, because "fruit is a luxury in this area, and many families cannot afford to buy it regularly for their children". Through the BMZ project, he has provided several schools with seedlings for orchards, including the neighbouring elementary school, and initiated natural regeneration plots in schools. He is now working there as a mentor for environmental education. At the same time, more and more people in the region became interested in native deciduous trees, because the education campaigns on the benefits of agroforestry were effective.
Half of the Homabay district, the home of the Odwaro family, was covered by forest a few decades ago. Today there are only small isolated pockets, the rest of the landscape is covered with thorny bushes and fields. Areas like the Lambwe Valley are increasingly suffering from drought. Scientists like Dennis Otieno from Oginga Odinga University around Kisumu say it's because of the deforestation. Growing settlements and agricultural sectors need timber, but also the need for firewood and charcoal is growing. In addition, unchecked grazing cattle feed on renewable plants.
Given that the land is largely privately owned and that the reforestation of forests is expensive, the government's plans are for the farmers to get involved. A law requires them to reserve at least ten percent of their land for trees. But how do you get the farmers to change their previous behaviour?
Unterricht im Grünen
You receive a very dry, rational response from 41-year-old Lucio Andhamo from the Ogando village, even if you could hardly imagine a happier farmer. He tells us first of all about his motivation: He wanted something different to his parents, who worked hard all their lives and still did not succeed. "As a boy, I was often hungry, even though my father had received a large piece of land from the state, because the fields only gave low yields and little was cultivated except corn and millet." Although the young Andhamo was supposedly going to search for a well-paid job in the city after finishing school, he returned to agriculture. Soon enough, he couldn’t let go of the idea of founding a nursery. From the project’s training alone, he managed to gain the necessary knowledge about trees, growing them and about their fruits. "Previously, I only had eucalyptus and selling firewood in mind", he says.
When they let the beauty of nature work on them in this blooming garden, we reach their hearts, and then their thinking changes too
In just four years, Lucio Andhamo fundamentally changed his farm. Today it is a prime example of how biodiversity, high productivity and low water consumption can be combined. The ongoing consultation and cooperation in a group of like-minded farmers was key to his success. "My monthly earnings are about ten times higher than my previous income", says Andhamo. To gain capital for further projects, he and his group founded a small community bank at the suggestion of World Vision. "With the revenue, we can not only pay for the education of our children, but also support 35 children from very poor families and have provided a school with 600 seedlings." These successes would have aroused the interest of other farmers of course.
However, both Lucio Andhamo and Rafael Odwaro offered something else: just by protecting and pruning wild trees and shrubs, without much financial investment, you can recover fertile land. Soil is kept underneath these trees and in the rainy season it collects water. Under the name FMNR (Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration), World Vision successfully shares this approach with many African countries, and the governments of several districts in Kenya are now supporting FMNR as a reforestation method in their development plans. As part of the BMZ project, 2711 farming families in Homabay have been trained in FMNR. Together, they renatured more than 600 hectares of land, although initially only 300 hectares were sought. Some of the farmers already combine the cultivation of small forests with beekeeping and thus also obtain honey. Andhamo is also planning to do this.
The resulting network, among which are farmers, foresters and nurseries, whose contact with specialist organisations is overseen by the project, have expanded their vision, adds Rafael Odwaro. What’s more, because of this, he can now be a mentor to the people around him. "The biggest problem that we have here is an attitude problem", he exclaims. Despite this, he invites adults and children to his garden. "When they let the beauty of nature work on them in this blooming garden, we reach their hearts, and then their thinking changes too."
The Odwaro couple have been inspired to carry out their visions always alongside children. "They are the best ambassadors for the families, and that's why you can change things quickly and sustainably with them and their schools", says Rafael Odwaro. The BMZ project has developed a manual on environmental education in schools, but above all, practical experience has been promoted. This is also the case in the Odwaros’ environmental classroom. In this way, the students from the villages below the currently bare hills come to the Odwaros, picking up seedlings and planting them, they try freshly harvested papaya and grind bark into healing powder on grinding stones under the instruction of a knowledgeable, old woman. A volunteer teacher wants to inspire the children´s imagination and asks them if they have ever dreamed of climbing a tree or swimming in a stream. On the school grounds, which are currently dry and overgrown with thorny acacias, an orchard was recently created.
The Odwaros’ eldest son, who now attends university, assists with the teaching during the holidays. Meanwhile, he leads a group of students to a small park, pointing to a zebra made of wood, old clothes and plastic waste. "With your talents, you can manage to make such beautiful animals at the park in your school also, or at home, right?" Several children show their affirmation to the thought-provoking question with a nod. The next Garden of Eden is born. At least in their minds.
On Raphael Odwaro´s website you can find more information about GENLINK: https://genlink.wordpress.com
On the work of World Vision on www.worldvision.de