Voices from Africa.

AuthorNierenberg, Danielle

Worldwatch Senior Researcher Danielle Nierenberg spent two months late last year touring several countries in East Africa in search of farming innovations that are adaptive, sustainable, and ecosystem-friendly. Supported by a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this and related work will culminate in State of the World 2011, a report designed to guide policymakers, foundations, and international donors interested in the most effective agricultural development interventions in various agroecological and socioeconomic settings. The mate rial below is adapted from blog entries Danielle posted during her trip. Updates and more information can be found at our "Nourishing the Planet" blog (http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/).


October 29

I met Kes Malede Abreha, described by my interpreter as a "farmer-priest," on his farm near Aksum in the Central Zone of Tigray region. A small, wiry, soft-spoken man with a neatly trimmed beard, Kes Malede is one of the leading "farmer-innovators" in his community. Roughly eight years ago, he started digging for water on his very dry farm. His neighbors thought he was crazy, telling him he would never find water on the site. His wife even left him, moving their children into town.


But about 16 meters down, Kes Malede hit water. After his wife returned, he began sketching ways that would make it easier to "push" that water to the surface. He developed a series of pumps, improving on each one. The one he's using now is built from inexpensive wood, iron, and metal piping, all available locally. It can push or lift water not only to the surface, but also through a system of hoses to irrigate his fruit trees and farm crops, including teff, sorghum, tomatoes, and other vegetables.

As part of a group of farmers who can apply for and receive funding for their innovations from the global, NGO-initiated organization, Prolinnova, Kes Malede is teaching other farmers in the community by example, showing them how small investments in technology can make a big difference on the farm.

He's now helping other farmers--the same ones who thought he was crazy--by teaching them about his water lifting system and by selling modern, box-style beehives that allow farmers to both manage the bees better and pollinate their crops.

October 30

Prolinnova isn't the only foreign NGO working outside of Aksum. The German development agency GTZ is also operating programs in the area, helping farmers develop erosion control systems, irrigation, and integrated pest management (IPM). The erosion here is phenomenal--we teetered over gullies, some as much as 16 meters deep, which have developed over the years because of bad weather, overgrazing, and unsustainable cropping practices. But over the last five years, GTZ has worked with farmers to develop intercropping systems, helping to build soil fertility and prevent erosion by making sure that the soil is not left exposed. The group has also helped farmers develop zero-grazing systems--instead of allowing sheep, cattle, and goats to graze freely on already eroded land, further impacting the health of the soil and disrupting vegetation, animals are corralled or penned and farmers bring fodder, such as elephant grass, to them.


November 9

Driving through the crowded streets of Kibera, it's nearly impossible to describe how many people live in this area of about 225 hectares, the equivalent of just over half the size of Central Park in Manhattan. Everywhere you look there are people. People walking, people working, people selling food or tennis shoes, people sorting trash, people herding goats--people everywhere. Anywhere from 700,000 to a million people live in what is likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa--it's hard to count the exact number here because people don't own the land where they live and work, making their existence a very tenuous one. Often people are evicted from their homes (most of them wooden shacks with tin roofs) because the city government doesn't want to recognize that Kibera exists. But it does. And despite the challenges people here face--lack of water and sanitation services and lack of land ownership are the big ones--they are also thriving.


Our hosts for this visit were Mary Njenga and Nancy Karanja, researchers with the group Urban Harvest, an organization with offices in Kenya...

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