Wednesday, May 30, 2012


An excellent report by Jill Richardson in Alternet, "How the US Sold Africa to Multinationals Like Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, PepsiCo and Others," illustrates this fact with examples from Kenya:

The stunted, diseased corn one sees [in Kenya] was planted from the "best" store-bought seed and ample chemical fertilizer was applied. ... 

But the corn growing on the demonstration farm of Samuel Nderitu's NGO, Grow Bio-intensive Agricultural Center of Kenya (G-BIACK), is healthy and thriving. So are G-BIACK's other vegetable crops and fruit trees. Why will he harvest a successful crop when his next-door neighbor will not? 

G-BIACK is an organic farming training center, and the crops there were grown with manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizer. G-BIACK also saves seeds instead of purchasing seeds from the store. The farmers in this region, near the city of Thika, farm tiny plots -- as small as one-fifth of an acre and averaging one acre. Many use chemical fertilizer, but since it is expensive, they often fail to use enough. "Here, in Kenya, if you plant anything without chemical fertilizer, if you don't know anything about organic farming, it can't grow," says Nderitu. But, as G-BIACK proves, those who do know how to farm organically achieve great success. G-BIACK was named the NGO of the Year in 2010 by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and the Government of Kenya. And its next-door neighbor with the failed crop is now attending its trainings to learn organic farming.

About 15 km outside of Thika, a farmer named James is also thrilled he switched to organic farming. Farming only one-fifth of an acre, he used to require two $60 bags of fertilizer to plant his crops. Now, he uses manure from his pigs and he is happy with the results. Like most Kenyan farmers, James grows corn, beans, pumpkins, kale, and other crops for family consumption. For income, he can sell a pregnant sow for $240 or a month-old piglet for $20. Before, he would spend much of that money on fertilizer, but now he can use it for other things. He proudly demonstrates how to use his new well, which his increased income allowed him to afford. Next, he plans to buy a water pump so he doesn't have to pull the water out of the well one bucket at a time.

Organic farming in Kenya is not about hugging a tree. It's a simple financial matter. Those who rely on purchased inputs must use their scarce income to buy them. In Thika, where the population is concentrated and land sizes are tiny, many women supplement their farming income with prostitution. The area's AIDS rate is sky-high, although it has come down from the 37 percent high it reached a decade ago. Poverty breeds AIDS by pushing women into prostitution, but AIDS also breeds poverty, as children are orphaned when their parents die. Some are raised by grandparents, others live in child-headed households. By allowing farmers to keep their money instead of spending it on costly inputs, organic farming gives hope of breaking this cycle. How many fewer women will need to enter prostitution if they can instead make ends meet by farming?

Whereas chemical farming is input-intensive, organic farming requires knowledge. A farmer relying on fertilizer and purchased seeds needs money and the entire supply chain required to manufacture the inputs and distribute them to a nearby agro-dealer. But knowledge is free. Robert Mwangi learned how to farm organically from G-BIACK and soon saw his income increase. With five acres, he was never destitute, but now he has enough money to help family members out when they are in need. Mwangi's neighbors have seen his success and he is helping them adopt organic methods too. At the same time, he conducts experiments on his land to see which methods or crops give him the best results. As each farmer in the community conducts an experiment or two on their land each season, they can share their results with one another and all will benefit.

An internationally celebrated farming technique called the push-pull method has also helped Kenyan farmers increase yields -- by a factor of 3.5. The yield increase is due to elimination of an insect pest, the stem borer, and a parasitic weed, striga, as well as an increase in soil fertility. The farmer pulls the stem borer away from the corn by planting a cattle feed crop called napier grass nearby. Napier grass is more attractive to egg-laying stem borer moths than corn, but few of the larvae that hatch on it survive.

A second cattle forage crop, desmodium, is planted between rows of corn. Desmodium, a legume, fixes nitrogen in the soil. It also releases chemicals into the soil causing striga seeds to "suicidally germinate." It releases yet more chemicals into the air that repel stem borer moths and attract parasitic wasps that prey on stem borers. All of the crops used in the system are native, so no corporation profits, only the farmers themselves.

Elsewhere in Kenya, not far from the home of Barack Obama's paternal grandmother, American Amy Lint and her Kenyan husband Malaki Obado champion native Kenyan crops that are perfectly adapted to the region's long dry periods. To an untrained eye, the area looks desolate and devoid of food, but the locals know better. Walking through their rural village, the point out leafy greens, fruits and crops used for building materials, medicine and rope, all growing wild. These aren't a replacement for cultivated staples like corn, cassava or sorghum, but they provide micronutrients in local diets and improve local food security. With so much natural abundance, one must wonder why the Gates Foundation has sunk so many millions of dollars into creating staple crops with the full range of required nutrients genetically engineered into them.

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