Kenya: Permaculture promotes food security on Rusinga Island (by Sawa Pius, for Farm Radio Weekly in Kenya)

| September 22, 2012

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Farmers on Kenya’s Rusinga Island are embracing a new way of farming that helps them cope with harsh climatic conditions.

Shem Anditi is a local resident who has taken up the practice of permaculture. As a result, he is now able to provide food for his family. He says, “I have benefited a lot. This permaculture is a good project. I can now get … money from customers regularly.”

Permaculture is the design and maintenance of agricultural systems and settlements which mimic the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems.

Before turning to farming, Mr. Anditi was a fisherman. But his family often didn’t have enough to eat.

Rusinga Island is a small island in the Kenyan part of Lake Victoria. Fishing was a major income-generating activity in the area for many years. But fish stocks have dropped and fishing can no longer sustain the population. The island receives rainfall for only four months of the year, making it difficult for farmers to grow enough food to sustain their families.

Evans Odula lives on Rusinga Island. He believes that fish stocks are decreasing because of overfishing and the use of illegal fishing gear that catches undersized fish. He says, “The lake has also been depleted with chemicals used in agriculture, and to a large extent climate change has also seen the fish disappearing.”

Mr. Odula decided to help Island residents develop new ways of surviving. In 2008, with support from international friends, he started a local NGO called Badilisha, which means “change” in Swahili. The NGO has embraced permaculture as a farming model which suits the climatic and social conditions on the island.

He explains: “Permaculture means ‘permanent agriculture.’ We [encourage] farming that is eco- friendly [with] no use of chemicals. It is a way of farming where people are able to provide food throughout the year while protecting the environment.”

Shem Anditi has adopted permaculture. He uses manure as fertilizer, and does not burn vegetation when preparing land. He uses leaves and crop residues to mulch crops so that the soil retains water. This enables crops to tolerate the hot sun.

Farmers like Mr. Anditi harvest rainwater from rooftops and store it in tanks for use in kitchen gardens. He says, “I grow cabbages, tomatoes, [and] kales and I have a dairy goat project.” He sells vegetables and milk locally, and is now able to provide school fees for his three children.

Ester Odhiambo is a retired government official. She also promotes permaculture on the island, through her organization Kibisom. She says: “When I came here in 1996, there were a lot of problems. All these women were coming to get something for their children to eat. Sometimes people spend days in the lake and come without fish.”

Mrs. Odhiambo organized several trainings for women to learn permaculture. Lilian Awinja has a certificate in permaculture and is now training other farmers in beekeeping, water harvesting and how to grow crops. She says, “I have learnt a lot. My life has changed … through Kibisom, I have learnt that you can use your hands and body to earn a living.”

Because of permaculture, residents of Rusinga Island are now happy that their sons and daughters can go to school and that young boys do not have to spend long days on the water fishing.