Dennis Siroh, Rusinga Island, Kenya -19 January 2016
Yesterday we had a long drive, about 500km, to Rusinga Island in Western Kenya. It was, according to google maps, going to take about 7 hours but in reality took 12. Google maps didn’t take into account the unexpected two stops by the police, the 500 speed bumps and traffic jams in towns. Welcome to Africa! We did though see some great sites. we went through the Great Rift Valley
We also went through the highlands where there were large areas of tea plantations.
One of the reasons we drove this long distance was to see Dennis Siroh and the great work he is doing on Rusinga.
Rusinga Island has been degraded by human activities over the last 30 years. The island’s population has gone from 5,000 to 35,000 in this time. This has led to deforestation as people have cut down tres to smoke fish and there is no livestock fencing so the cattle and goats have eaten the regrowth down.
The hill in the background has few trees left and this has also led to less rainfall on the island. The island has traditionally been fishing-based but lake Victoria has been over fished, so there are fewer fish caught. The common crops are also just maize and beans which are only in the ground for three months and can fail. This has led to the project that Dennis is involved in with the Organic Farmers of Rusinga Island and Permaculture Research Institute Kenya. The idea of the project is to encourage permaculture principles on small farms so they can feed themselves and have surplus to sell. Below is Dennis’s small holding:
The idea of permaculture is to have high diversity of plants which all have a use and to make the best use of the rainfall. Some of the crops Dennis grows are papaya, sweet potato, cow pea, bananas and moringa, just to name a few. Moringa is the most interesting crop. It is a tree that is nitrogen fixing, produces, fodder, timber, leaves are medicinal and the oils are sold for cosmetics. LUSH, the UK cosmetic company, have grant-aided some set up costs and also buy the oil from the Moringa seeds for their products. The leaves of the tree are also dried and made into a powder
This powder helps the immune system and helps slow down the effects of HIV, which is a problem here. From Dennis’s half acre plot he feeds seven people and has surplus food.
The next person we saw was Julie:
Julie is the star grower. She feeds her large family and by the sounds of it, a lot of the village. Today she was harvesting three different crops: moringa, cassava and beans. This plot has only been in for two years and Julie on average only spends 1-2 hrs per day working in there. We left with papaya and cassava for lunch.
Next we went to see Doreen:
Doreen is also one of the founding growers, and was growing bananas and pumpkins together.
Bananas need a lot of water and nutrients. Pumpkins provide shade to conserve water, and can eat the pumpkin leaves and the pumpkins. Speaking to Doreen and Julie they told us that they meet every two weeks to share ideas with the group and they also save money as a group and lend it out to people for investing in new ideas and inputs.
We then visited the project offices where there is a demonstration site.
There Isaiah showed us the nursery they have. They will propagate trees and plants and give them out to farmers. They will also save seeds from the farms and hand them back to the farmers. They also showed us the plant Tephrosia:
It is a pesticide plant as it repels insects including stem borer in maize and also aphids, although it is poisonous.
They are also going to try to exploit agro-tourism in the island. Rusinga is known as bird island and is an ornithologist’s heaven. Once they have healed the landscape there is huge potential from tourism.
We had a great day at Rusinga and were very impressed with what they are doing. The island is a input salesman’s nightmare as it has never used artificial inputs but can still produce large amounts of food when looked after. They only have just over 20 farmers in the project but aim to increase that to 6,000. The effects for the people will not only be economic but social and environmental. Thank you Dennis for your time.