Julie lives on Rusinga Island. She is a woman, a mother, a farmer and a widow. Her husband died in 2002, leaving her with a half built house, with only rough walls and no roof. Though her children were well educated they did not manage to find a job and were unable to support their mother. Eleven years on Julie still lives in the shell of a house — just a few pieces of cast-off tin roofing covering one room, weighed down by some stones, where she sleeps and cooks. But Julie does not complain, she is a hard working woman and since she took a PDC in 2012 she has been part of the group that formed as a result of the course — Rusinga Island Organic Farmers Association (RIOFA).
Following the PDC, RIOFA received further training from PRI-Kenya in permaculture. Julie took her knowledge home with her and next to her dilapidated house she set up a wonderful kitchen garden, with greens, pumpkin, sweet potato, maize and beans as well as onions and chillis for pest control. Her kitchen garden is her pride and both feeds her and provides a surplus to sell. Now her eyes are really focused on her larger fenced area where she wants to set up her food forest, integrated with cash crops such as Moringa.
Not far from Julie lives Nancy. Nancy has seven children, most of which are her own and a couple who are orphans of close relatives she has taken on. Nancy is also a member of RIOFA and her kitchen garden is equally diverse and abundant and has the extra added feature of fruit trees. Her garden feeds her and her seven children and provides surplus to sell. She has also learnt to save seeds with PRI-Kenya and says this has reduced her costs significantly. Well, in all honestly she didn’t so much learn to save seeds as she was reminded of the practice of her grandmother who used neem leaves and ash to save seeds in ceramic bowls. When we ran the workshop on seed saving the women all nodded knowingly — it was just someone else had told them it was better to get them from the shop.
A little bit further down towards the lake lives ‘Professor’ Ezra Owmoma. Nobody knows why he is called Professor but he insists to be called so and he certainly likes to lecture. Professor’s farm is right next to the lake and before taking his PDC he was using chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow his crops. With the rains, excess fertilizer would run right out into the lake, disturbing the lake’s eco system and the already declining fish stocks. After his PDC ‘Professor’ became the ‘Permaculture Professor’; his farm an abundant and integrated showcase for permaculture principles with buckets of natural fertilizers and pesticides brewing in a corner.
RIOFA are dedicated to making 2014 the year of change. Their vision is to see themselves become model farmers and peer educators for their community. Through permaculture they want to help their community address food insecurity, health and nutrition and environmental degradation and bring the island back to a lush and abundant state. They also want to do what they call ‘agribusiness’. They want to be fully fledged organic certified farmers selling both locally and to an international organic produce market. PRI-Kenya want to support them in this vision through offering permaculture workshops and workshops in organic certification as well as with support for essential infrastructure needs.
Already with the support of LUSH Cosmetics, all farms have been fenced and can now start proper work without the disturbance of roaming cows and goats. As soon as the farmers got their fencing they also had to commit to starting their live fence. Community members around the area now want to be part of the group in order to get a fence! So how do you approach this? You cannot fence every farm on the island! An overall community strategy is needed to control grazing on the island, so PRI-Kenya has been working on this with local authorities and elders.
We want to support RIOFA for next year and have already secured some of the funding to take them towards their vision and RIOFA have also committed to contributing funds towards the project. But if we are to fully support them we need to raise more funds. We have just launched an Indie GoGo campaign which aims to raise the money needed to support RIOFA, and anything we raise on top of our goal we will dedicate to putting a roof on Julie’s house.
Please have a peek at our campaign and help make this dream happen! And if you’re short of money to give right now, please help by forwarding a link to this page to all your friends!