RODI Kenya develops sustainable farming programmes that are focused on addressingthe perennial challenge of food security
The agricultural sector is the mainstay of our economy, contributing approximately 33 percent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The sector employs more than 40 percent of the total population and 70 percent of the rural population. However, agricultural productivity has stagnated in recent years. Smallholder farmers and agricultural enterprises continue to face challenges growing their businesses and improving the quality of agricultural goods. One organization that seeks to change this narrative is the Resource Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI Kenya). With a humble beginning at West Pokot in 1989, it was registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) in 1999, before expanding to Kisumu, Kapsabet, Eldoret and Kakamega. Its current headquarters is in Ruiru,Kiambu County, off the Eastern Bypass. According to Ms. Esther Bett, the executive director, RODI –Kenya, the organization’s focus is to have a sustained food secure and crime free society. It therefore works closely withprisons, judiciary, police service, community groups and schools. “Our main objective is to fight poverty and crime. We do that by training people on agro ecology, organic farming and sustainable agriculture,“Ms. Bett says.
In addition, RODI Kenya helps people with cases in courts – especially the ones whodon’t know their rights, court procedures and processes. Moreover, the organization has established an agro ecology training centre wherestakeholders are trained on organic farming and safe food production. “While working with prisons, we realized that the inmates were having challenges getting soap and cleaning equipment, “ says Ms. Bett adding that they therefore started training inmates on how to make hygiene and sanitization products like hand wash multi-purpose soap and disinfectants. The inmates are also trained for three months on different aspects of sustainable agriculture. These include: soil fertility management, management of seed nurseries, production of different crops as well as management of diseases and pests. In the same breath, they are trained on personal leadership. “We also encourage inmates to overcome the stigma of engaging in criminal activities and start transforming,” avers Ms. Bett. Further, theinmates are offered training on communication skills. After the training, they are awarded National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) certificates.
RODI Kenya goes an extra mile by following up on the prisoners once they are released. It helps them in setting up demonstration farms in their homes and that become theirlivelihood as opposed to engaging in crime. “All community groups we work with are formed around ex-prisoners who train other farmers as a result of the good work they start among the communities they live in,” says Ms. Bett. “They pass the skills to other community members who also become good in producing and selling healthy foods, “she adds.
RODI Kenya only follows up on prisoners who are willing to be integrated back to the community. According to the executive director, in Kenya, there are about fifty five thousand prisoners (fifty three thousand are men, while two thousand are women).
“We realized that a lot of men develop the habits that take them to prison while they are at the character formation age of eight to fourteen years and that is why we decided to go to the primary schools and work with children in class four to seven in order to equip them with life skills,” she further says. RODI Kenya helps various primary schools to step up demonstration farms for their pupils. This initiative helps the pupils to acquire farming skills including soil management, crop production, poultry and livestock rearing. They are also taught on how to remove scales from fish as well as baking cakes.
Over the years, RODI Kenya has interacted withmany communities in the course of implementing its programmes. The organization has therefore learnt to appreciate theimportance of engaging thesecommunities while developing solutions for them since they are better versed with the challenges facing their respective localities. As a result, various households have been transformed and they are able to sustain themselves. “We have seen people who were struggling with illness because of consuming toxic foods recovering after going organic,” she affirms. RODI Kenya has also trained prisons to produce their own vegetables organically, on top of other foods like millet and sorghum. The organization currently has a footprint in Kiambu, Kakamega, Kisumu, Vihiga, Kapsabet , UasinGishu, Turkana, Nyeri, Murang’a, Nairobi, Wote, Bomet and Tharaka Nithi.
Erastus Maina Ngunjiri who also works with RODI Kenya says that one of the major challenges in the country is food security. This is mainly caused by the high cost of farm inputs. The organization therefore identifies the resources a particular community is endowed with and uses them in driving its transformative agenda. “We have been able to sustain our programmes for many years because of our unique model,” Maina says adding that they work closely with various communities in the country. Their first step is to engage these communities in devising suitable solutions to their challenges. Maina laments that our soils have become unproductive over the years because of continued use of synthetic fertilizers. The onset of the green revolution saw farmers being promised high yields through the use of synthetic fertilizers.“That later became a major problem especially after the introduction of hybrid seeds since once harvested, they cannot be planted again,” Maina notes.
As a result, farmers have faced unending challenges while trying to produce crops. Prior to that, most farmers used to practice traditional farming methods. After harvesting, they left their farms without any crops for some time so that the soil could regenerate. Modern farming on the contrary promotes the use of synthetic fertilizers due to its commercial nature.
“Some communities rear livestock and they therefore get manure which helps them to regenerate the soil,” says Maina. “We have also developed various organic farming methods which enhance food production, “he adds. One of the processes which is used by Rodi Kenya to convert food waste into a soil amendment with nutritional value is known as bokashi. It is a Japanese word which means ‘cooking on its own.’ Charcoal dust, rice husks, rock dust or ash are mixed with food waste while preparing bokashi. “With the introduction of bokashi in our target communities, we have seen increased yields and this has helped our farmers to get more income from their small pieces of land, “ Maina emphasizes.
There are different forms of organic fertilizers. Super magro to start with is made from fresh cow dung, milk, molasses and yeast. The ingredients stay in a jerry can for about thirty days before it is ready to be used as a foliar. “We use bokashi as the base fertilizer and super magro as foliar fertilizer to boost the crops. Fresh cow dung has a bacterium called bacillus subtilis that helps to break down the organic matter in the cowdung, “says Maina. The other type of fertilizer is pile compost. “In this type of fertilizer, we get all the trash from the farm and itsdecomposition takes two and a half to three months. This way, we are able to feed our soils properly and to regain the fertility it deserves,” Maina avers.
Organic fertilizers help the crops to resist diseases and pests. This reduces the use of pesticides and fungicides because the plants have high immunity. RODI Kenya also trains people living in urban centres how to make kitchen gardens owing to scarcity of land. The organization has also devised a method of vertical farming called the pyramid garden. By using pyramid garden,one is able to plant more vegetables in a small area compared to the convectional way of planting. The pyramid gardens are sold to the farmers. “ We also do out-reach programmes through which farmers are trained on the use of different organic concoctions like pepper or chili powdered with garlic to make a solution that is used for pest control, “says Maina.
RODI Kenya’s programmes are funded by donors. “Because of the support we have received from different donors since our establishment, we have been able to transform the lives of the people we have interacted with”, Ms. Bett affirms. The logic behind forming partnerships with institutions that are already established is to minimize on the cost of mobilizing its target groups. “Our projects are cheaper since we are able to reach more people with fewer resources, “adds Ms. Bett. It is a model that uses local resources hence the name Resources Oriented Development Initiatives. The organization works directly with the local communities because they are well placed in managing their farms and resources with minimal supervision and costs.
As an organization, RODI Kenya hopes to continue working closely with its partners. Since the outbreak of the Covid- 19 pandemic, the organization has put inplace various interventions in order to address nutritional challenges in various communities, besides assisting them withsanitizers and liquid soap.RODI Kenya hopes to create more partnerships with the media in order to develop training materials on top of equipping its headquarters in Ruiru as a training institution. “We are planning to be training at least five to ten people in every community, who will in turn train their colleagues,” says Ms. Bett.
The organization also hopes that more Kenyans will come on board and support its projects financially. “If we can get a few donors and organizations to support us in this process, it will go a long way in ensuring that we are able to produce safe food that will make our bodies healthier, our environment safe and ultimately, we shall live longer,” ends Ms.Bett.