This is a picture of the homestead of Rezpa Sabatia, Gladys’ late cousin, who lived down the road from us. She and her husband, the late James Sabatia, were one of the original settlers in Lumakanda in the early 1960s. If you can see the corrugated iron building on the right among the tress, this was their carpentry shop, James’ business to support the family and invest in the farm. They also have the town’s slaughter house on their property where one or two cows are slaughtered each day. They have never sold any of their 20 or so acres, but each of the three sons was given about 2 acres as their homestead where they have built their family house. Nonetheless the rest of the farm is still cultivated as one unit.
One of the misconceptions about small-scale farming is that it should be an economic activity that will allow the farmer (meaning, a man) to grow enough food to feed his family and have enough surplus to sell to support a decent lifestyle. This includes funds for housing, clothes, food such as sugar that needs to be bought or when there is a drought, schooling, medical expenses, funerals/weddings, and so on. Therefore, if the farmer or someone in his family has to secure paid income outside the farm to cover some of these expenses, it is considered a failure.
Since twenty acres was what was considered sufficient for a self-sustaining farmer, for the One Million Acre Settlement Scheme in Kenya, this estimate gave twenty acres to each settler family. In the beginning the settlers were not allowed to sell or divide any of their acreage, but, since this was so contrary to custom and need, it soon fell by the wayside. Some of these farmers have sold off some or even much of their acreage, while many more have divided the land up among the sons. In Kenya women do not inherit land since they move to the plot of their husband. While the fact that women could not inherit land was outlawed in the 2010 new constitution, on the whole custom overcomes law and except in rare incidences the situation has not changed.
This is a picture from our kitchen door of our neighbor’s, Ruth’s, plot. She lives in the building on the left, while her son built the house on the right. Ruth, an settler whose husband passed away a long time ago, has never sold any of her land. If you look on the right behind at the yellow house, this is on her neighbor’s plot. It is a very nice house. Clearly the owner has had outside income to build such a nice house and plans on moving there on retirement.
To the contrary, the small-scale farm is a family enterprise. Everyone in the family is part of the enterprise. For example, during planting, I have seen the whole family from the small toddler who was just carrying a small tin can of seeds to the old mother who was not strong enough to do anything but dispense the water and food, while the stronger members including the school-aged children helped with the planting. We have learned that we cannot do a three-day workshop when planting time arrives because everyone is in the field. Planting of maize and beans, which is best done as early as possible after sufficient rainfall, is usually finished within a week.
Frequently someone in the family has paid employment in Nairobi, other major cities, or elsewhere. Almost ten percent of the adult Kenyans work overseas and send home funds to help out the family. Gladys did this for two years in Zambia, three in Pakistan, and twelve in the United States. Many times the family has spent considerable amounts of money for the education of this person who has paid employment. The family does not see this as a failure but as a success by the family.
People in Kenya retire when they are 55 to 60 years old which gives them many more years of active life. The custom is for the Kenyan with an income to build a house for the family in the rural area where he/she comes from so that he/she can retire there. Part of this income is used as investment in farming from buying cows to inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. Farming takes capital investments and this comes from the family members with paid employment. They see working in Nairobi or elsewhere as just a temporary sojourn. At the end of each month when people are paid, they overwhelm the transport system as they visit their original home. At Christmas time Nairobi is emptied of people as they return to their real homes in the countryside.
As Gladys and I are doing in Lumakanda, the retired Kenyans who have moved back to the countryside frequently take care of grandchildren with the employed family members helping to pay for their upkeep.
These are banks of one room rental apartments near our house. People who work in town, but live elsewhere, rent these rooms while at work, but travel to visit and invest back in the area where they originally came from.
Lumakanda like most places in Kenya has a large number of one room rentals. Here the employed people in town rent these cheap rooms for about 2000/- ($20) per month so that they can support their family and invest in their homestead. If their home area is overcrowded as is the case of the area where Gladys comes from, those who have the financial ability buy land elsewhere. Gladys decided to buy a plot here in Lumakanda because many of her relatives had moved into the area. A sister lives about 3 kilometers away (2 miles), a late elder cousin lived right down the street, and another lives in nearby Kipkarren River where the local Quaker church is called Viyalo Friends Church after the name of the village where Gladys comes from.
This pattern is repeated from generation to generation.
Foreigners who come to Kenya are amazed at how warm and friendly Kenyans are, even if seemingly poor. I attribute this to the fact that Kenyans are well-rooted, secure in knowing their place in the world/life, and fiercely loyal to their land and extended family. Even if they have to leave the homestead to find employment or to go overseas to work, they invest in the area where they came from knowing that they will be welcomed to return when the time comes.
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