A local farmer with four greenhouses for commercial purposes.
Notice the water tanks that supply drip irrigation to the plants.
There is considerable amount of alarm and angst about world growth in population to 2050, particularly, in Africa which will account for more than 50% of the growth. I am not as alarmed as others about where the food to feed the extra 1.3 billion Africans in the next 33 years will come from. As I travel around I see extremely large possibilities for large increases in food production. This, though, is not the topic of this Report from Kenya. Rather I want to focus on two innovations that are taking off in Kenya – bio-gas and greenhouses – and how they interact. I am using as an example our three-fourth acre plot in Lumakanda.
Bio-Gas Slurry System: Almost three years ago, Gladys and I bought a bio-gas slurry system for about $750. This is how it works.
On the left side is the intake pipe with the funnel on the top. Every morning and evening 5 gallons of slurry, consisting of half cow manure and half water, is poured down the funnel into the digester at the bottom of the system. The top tank of the system is filled with the bio-gas (methane) and it moves up and down depending upon the amount of gas produced and collect. The green hose at the top takes the methane gas from the system to the burner in our outside kitchen.
On the right side of the bottom tank is the outlet overflow where the digested slurry drips out into a container below. This slurry is valuable organic fertilizer. At the present time we spread it on our crops and according to the person who installed our system, the use of the slurry as fertilizer is the greatest benefit of the system.
Each day we produce enough bio-gas for two or so hours of cooking. This is supposed to be enough to cook for a family of four or five, but we usually have at least nine people in our home. Moreover we boil water for drinking and milk from our cows plus other additional uses of energy. Consequently the system is not capable of supplying even half of our cooking needs. Nonetheless what we do use cuts down on our use of firewood (quite cheap) and cooking gas/propane (quite expensive).
The main drawback of the system is that the flame is not particularly hot. Therefore it can’t be used to cook ugali (hard corn mush) for a large number of people which happens daily with the Kenyan diet that most of the people in the household eat. The biggest issues have been getting the men taking care of the cows to regularly feed the system each morning and evening and getting those who are doing the cooking to use the bio-gas when they are so much more used to firewood. The biggest benefit of the system will come when we use the slurry in our new greenhouse.
The bio-gas system we have is very small. There are larger models including digging a cistern type hole in the ground and then being able to put many times the amount of water/manure that we do. This is usually done with people who have a large number of cows.
The framework for out new greenhouse.
Greenhouse: We have just bought and are installing a greenhouse. Since it is new I can’t yet give reports on its effectiveness and challenges. It is 26 feet by 79 feet (actually 8 meters by 24 meters) and cost $1300. Since it does not get cold here, what are the benefits? First the greenhouse uses drip irrigation so it will use water more efficiently. Second at the high elevation where we live of almost 6,000 feet above sea level, the air is very dry. The greenhouse keeps the moisture inside thus allowing plants to grow more quickly. It also blocks the wind in the dry season thereby decreasing evaporation. At the height of the rainy season, the greenhouse keeps the plants, particularly the tomatoes, from becoming too wet. Lastly since the system is enclosed it reduces the possibilities of plant diseases. Greenhouses increase yields by three or four times and crops can be grown year around.
One of the major exports of Kenya is cut flowers which are mostly sent to Europe during the wintertime – there is a bonanza on Feb 14 for roses sent for Valentine Day. Most people in our area, though – there are many greenhouses around – commercially grow tomatoes which is the favorite Kenya vegetable. We plan to use our greenhouse for our own consumption, selling only possible surpluses. Consequently we will plant some tomatoes, but will also plant greens including swiss chard which I like and traditional greens which Gladys likes, onions, green peppers, cucumbers, and, for me, most importantly, lettuce. I like to have a salad every night for dinner, but most Kenyans (except Gladys) will not eat lettuce, saying that it is “rabbit food.” The supermarkets in Eldoret sometimes have lettuce, but it is frequently of poor quality. In the past we have grown our own lettuce, but this is only possible during the rainy season. Need I comment that vegetables one grows oneself taste so much better than those bought in the supermarket?
Our next door neighbor tried to grow tomatoes during this dry season. Every day about 5:00 p.m. he would come to the well and draw water to water his tomato plants. In the end with the heat, dry winds, and drought he got a marginal harvest as you can see from the picture above. I felt sorry for him since he had put so much effort into the crop.
On the other hand our Quaker neighbors Florence and Alfred Machayo have a functioning greenhouse. The picture above shows the status of the tomatoes in their greenhouse. They will probably begin harvesting next week.
If you compare these two pictures, you can see why I am optimistic that African can easily more than double its agricultural output to feed its growing population.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
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