Mother’s Support Groups visit Manor House Agricultural Centre in March 2018.

I can’t claim that the farming we do in the Lumakanda area is organic. When maize (corn) is planted, fertilizer is added at the same time. Later after the second weeding a second top-dressing of fertilizer is applied. If there is an insect infestation on maize or other crops, insecticides are used. Recently, though, Gladys read in the newspaper about a concoction of hot pepper, liquid dish detergent, and cooling oil to make a natural insecticide. She successfully used this on our collard greens and swiss chard that was being attacked by insects.  

There is an agricultural training center near Kitale, about 53 miles (85 kilometers)  away, called Manor House Agricultural Centre. Its webpage says (see here), “Manor House Agricultural Centre (MHAC) was established in 1984 in response to a three-year drought that caused severe hunger in many areas of rural Kenya, which precipitated the need for new approaches to farming.” In now teaches organic farming and bio-intensive methods to small scale farmers.

The Women’s Visionary Centre (WVC) based in Turbo, a town about 10 miles (13 kilometers) from our house in Lumakanda, was started five years ago by Lizette Gilday from Canada and Benter Obonyo from Turbo, Kenya. In October 2017 I posted a report on the center (see here). This posting led to a grant arranged by Mardell Gunn and Mark Kistler, Quakers from Alaska. Some of the grant funds were used on March 10, 2018 for 28 of the women to receive training at the Manor House Agricultural Centre in organic farming and intensive gardening techniques. The women then began using these techniques in their own kitchen gardens. A second posting (see here) on the Women’s Visionary Centre includes a report on their visit to the centre and subsequent activities.

Benter Obonyo, social worker for the Women’s  Visionary Centre, as she escorted me to the women’s homes.

I asked Benter Obonyo if I could have a tour of some of the women who attended the Manor House training and see what they have accomplished after one and a half years. We did this on Monday, September 9, visiting ten women. WVC now has five active groups with a total of 75 women growing food for an estimated 500 family members. We were able to visit women in the two groups that had attended the outing to Kitale. While some of the women had sufficient land, the smallest homestead I saw was about 1/32th of an acre.

Above is the demonstration plot of one of the WVC’s groups donated by Centrine Wanyama, the woman in the picture. Each of the women in the group has one of the beds which they double dug (since digging only the first six inches with a hoe does not dig deep enough), added compost, and leveled the bed. This increases the yield from a bed constructed like this is two or more times compared to planting after just one hoeing. The women will plant these beds together soon. Centrine gave me a stalk of bananas as a present for visiting. This is not unusual in the Kenyan farming context.

This picture is of the kitchen garden of one of the participants. You can see how various vegetables are growing. One of the objectives is to encourage women to grow and therefore eat the traditional vegetables which are more nutritious than cabbage and collard greens. 

This is a picture from the same garden with the proud owner, Jackline Wanyonyi, on the right with Benter on the left. At the back is her pumpkin (really squash) patch. She was so kind as to give me one of these pumpkins.

Another innovation is to dig a deep hole for banana plants as Jackline Wachia has done so that the excess rain water collects in the hole.

Sack gardening is another technique to grow vegetables in a small space as illustrated by Judith Miyeso in this picture . This can increase the yield by three or four times. Moreover during the dry season the woman can pour her dish/laundry water into the sack so that there are fresh greens during the dry season.

A picture of a well done kitchen garden with the sack on the left.

This is a picture of a hen house which most of the women we visited had constructed to raise poultry for eggs, meat, and manure.

The concepts of organic farming are just coming to Kenya. But organic farming is up against the tremendous advertising of fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide, and other industrial products that need to be bought. Nonetheless what the Manor House Agricultural Centre is doing with these women from the Women’s Visionary Centre indicated that improvements and progress can be made even by women with small plots of land.


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David Zarembka

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