Championing Organic Farming and Forest Conservation to Improve Livelihoods
At such times of unpredictable weather patterns, high cost of production, deteriorating soil fertility and inaccessible markets, working with an organization that builds the capacity of farmers to reverse the effects of the aforementioned trends is the dream of any smallholder farmer.
Pinemark Africa Limited is a social enterprise that works with grassroots organisations towards actualizing environmental sustainability and economic empowerment of farmers using simple homegrown solutions. The organization receives support from Kenya Climate Innovation Center as one of the agribusiness clients.
We caught up with Petronilla Gathu, the Team Leader at Pinemark, in Masese at the fringes of the Mau Forest in Nyangores, Bomet County. Working with farmers to support their means of livelihoods is something Petronilla is passionate about. On this particluare day, she was- as always- busy with the farmers conducting a demo here and there while responding to their concerns.
This is in recognition of the numerous challenges faced by the Kenyan farmer key among them decreased production occasioned by loss of soil fertility which results from overuse of synthetic fertilizers. Such fertilizers, Petronilla opines, depletes the soil of essential nutrients while killing off bacteria and fungi responsible for creating organic material that is important for plant growth.
Smallholder farmers are also faced with the challenge of poor capitalization. They often have difficulties in accessing equity because of the small parcels of land they till. Still, even with good produce, they may not be able to access markets especially international ones. Due to climate change, the rains keep on dwindling and are habitually erratic. This is the ultimate concern for the farmer.
It is therefore a great relief for them to be able to work with Pinemark in seeking solutions to some of these pressing challenges. The organization works with 1,200 farmers across Kenya with 470 of these farmers based in Bomet County in the Rift Valley region. Pinemark also supports farmers in Kisii, Embu, and Murang’a counties.
The farmers are reached through groups to maximize on resources and community engagement. This also enables Pinemark to reach out to government agencies such as the Kenya Forest Service which is instrumental in the conversation of forests.
In Bomet County for instance, Pinemark reaches out to farmers through Nyangores Community Forest Association by offering them knowledge on sustainable farming practices and linkages to markets.
Nyangores Ward covers part of the Mau, a forest complex which is the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya as well as the largest indigenous mountain forest in East Africa. It is a water catchment area for many lakes, including lakes Victoria, Nakuru,Turkana, Baringo and Natron. It is also a source of many rivers some of which support the most important national wildlife reserves such as Maasai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park.
Initially, the forest adjacent communities would venture into it for resources without keeping in mind the need for sustainability. The forest acted as the source of food, shelter, fuel, and other products and services. Because of increased population pressures, the Mau was increasingly being converted into agricultural land. Not anymore.
Currently, Pinemark together the community forest association, work to utilize the forest waste- dried and decaying organic matter from natural processes in the forest- as a key component of the organic fertilizer that is being produced within Masese.
The fertilizer is used for farming which has led to increased yields for the farmers and because of the improved means of livelihood and the knowledge gained on the importance of conservation of the forest, the surrounding community now takes the lead in ensuring conservation measures are adhered to. They also work with the Kenya Forest Service, the lead government agency in conservation of forests and forest resources, in spearheading this course.
“We link forest resources to community livelihoods by creating the need and sense of urgency to protect the forest,” says Petronilla.
The organic fertilizer, going by the brand name Terra Pretty is affordable to most of the farmers as a kilo goes for Ksh. 30. Pinemark encourages them to practice pure organic farming following international standardization requirements such as those of the European Union (EU) in order for them to access the EU markets. Access to international markets assures increased income.
Pinemark appreciates the mentorship and business advisory services offered to them by KCIC because, according to Petronilla, that is what has enabled them as an organization to reach out to farmers with the knowledge and resources that has led to increase in yields and diversification of sources of livelihoods.
“Encroachment and illegal logging are things of the past. We now take the lead in ensuring this part of the forest is protected and restored,” says, Hillary Rono, a passion fruit, potato and dairy farmer who also encourages other farmers to use Terra Pretty because of its potential for increased yields, its affordability and its ability to improve the soil structure.
With Terra Pretty, they are optimistic that they will be able to meet their basic needs while getting extra cash to comfortably pay school fees and meet other needs for their dependents.
By Vincent Ogaya