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Feb 13, 2019

Creating sustainable communities through permaculture

When Joseph Lentunyoi went to Australia to study organic agriculture and permaculture, he encountered a way interacting with the environment that was much different from his Maasai traditions. Whereas his studies focused on achieving a sustainable harmony between people, land, and animals, when he returned home to Laikipia he saw an overreliance on animal herding that was harming the environment. As his community was depending solely on pastoralism for their livelihood, it had resulted in overgrazing, land degradation, and a lack of complex knowledge about agriculture. Thus, in order to teach others about sustainable alternatives, Lentunyoi formed Laikipia Permaculture Centre in 2012.

The enterprise is a holistic center that manufactures organic products in addition to acting as a research, training, and demonstration site.

Turning an invasive cactus in Kenya into wine

Some of the products that Lentunyoi’s enterprise manufactures are cactus-based. In doing so, Lentunyoi is actually confronting numerous environmental and economical issues. The opuntia ficus is an invasive cactus that was brought to Kenya by colonialists for decorative purposes in the 1940s. However, since it is not native to the region and thus lacks natural predators, it has taken over places like Laikipia.

Related article: Converting cactus into renewable energy

Climate change issues such as prolonged droughts have only made the cactus flourish even more in this already arid region. The cattle- upon which the Maasai people depend so heavily for their livelihoods- end up eating the cactus due to an absence of other plants to eat, which kills them.  

At Laikipia Permaculture Centre, they convert the cactus and its fruits into a variety of consumable products. This includes wine, juice, jam, yogurt, oil, and a safer animal feed. In doing so, Lentunyoi is helping to eradicate the invasive species whilst simultaneously encouraging people to like it and see the economic opportunities it presents.  

Manufacturing aloe-based products for Kenya and the export markets

Additionally, Laikipia Permaculture Centre manufactures aloe-based products. For the international market, they export fresh aloe leaves to Japan, the U.K., and Canada; for the domestic market, Lentunyoi trains local women to make cosmetics, shower gel, and soaps from the aloe. Working closely with the national and county governments, the Centre also supplies aloe to other women’s groups in order to further empower them.

Empowering the Maasai community with permaculture

Laikipia Permaculture Centre seeks to not only sell organically-sourced products but also empower the community. They offer courses on such topics as permaculture design, integrated pest management, and compost making. Participants are even eligible to receive a microloan upon completion of the course. This allows them to have funds to start their own enterprises revolved around sustainable agriculture.

The Centre also has partnered with 4 local women’s empowerment groups, helping 300 women build ecological enterprises to diversify their livelihoods, amplify their voices in the community, and improve their food security.

Furthermore, they have created permanent employment for 17 people and are indirectly employing 200 people through their operations- including women who harvest the aloe. Laikipia Permaculture Centre also offers internships for both local and international students.

Related article: Fighting invasive worms, empowering women

Confronting climate change issues through permaculture

Through utilizing sustainable farming methods, Laikipia Permaculture Centre is mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental concerns. They use organic farming, which replaces chemical fertilizers and pesticides with biological alternatives.

Closely related is the issue of food security. When there are droughts and overgrazing of land, there is not enough enough food for people to eat. The Centre is thus teaching people about having their own backyard gardens and is looking into investing in water pumps for agricultural purposes.

Related article: Combating malnutrition, food waste, and climate change through sustainable agribusiness

Laikipia Permaculture Centre gets incubation from Kenya Climate Innovation Center

Lentunyoi and his enterprise joined Kenya Climate Innovation Center in May of 2018. They have joined our mentorship program, which will allow them to receive trainings on topics like business development, marketing, HR, and accounting.

Through the holistic ideas of permaculture, Lentunyoi seeks for his enterprise to be resilient in the future. In doing so, they can continue doing what they do for themselves and the community without exploiting the environment, animals, or other people.

He also doesn’t want to be the only one doing permaculture.

“So many people are scared of sharing their idea out of fear that someone will steal it from them,” Lentunyoi explains. “However, you can die with your idea inside of you, and someone else will still execute it. Honestly, the more people who do it, the better. Let’s all do it!”


By: Alise Brillault

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