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FOOD FORESTS AS A LEARNING RESOURCE

Our flagship ‘education for sustainable development project’ at Kariobangi North primary in Nairobi was kick-started in 2012; 4 years down the line we have seen tremendous results. In between the years, great work has been done thanks to the more than 1000 people that took part in the project. There are those who contributed financially and those who offered their time to work in the project. We can’t mention everyone but we have shared photos of a good number of persons who took part. Our gratitude goes to the staff and leadership of Kariobangi north primary for their support despite the many challenges. Many thanks go to Eco Schools who saw the potential of the project and offered to boost and push it to another level.

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Eco Day Celebration

The children of kariobangi north now have the opportunity to see first-hand best horticultural farming activities being implemented in their school. Those with a passion for farming will have a platform to transform that passion into an enterprise or career. The school’s food forest has different fruit trees that include: apples, grape, sapote, loquat, breadfruit, mangoes, pears, guava, peach, Jabotica, brazillian cherry among others. The school has also planted sweet potato, banana and vegetables which they sell to the local community. This project offers a great learning experience, there is so much practical knowledge on different fruit types one can acquire when she/he visits the project.

This project plays an important role of connecting students with nature at an early age converting them into better stewards of our environment. We need to resurrect the tree planting culture that was emphasized by our former president His excellency Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, and we believe the best way to do that is to target school going children. Of great importance is the acquisition of food growing/production skills that will go a long way in helping the students later in life. Students gain hands on experience in a hands off environment where they are allowed to experiment and make their own decisions. Students acquire practical knowledge in areas like; Composting, group dynamics, food safety, how to market their produce, pest management, fertilization, seed propagation, record keeping among others. The project also offers great benefit to the entire surrounding community who are free to visit the school orchard and learn one or two things from the different fruit species. Soon they will be able to purchase seedlings from the school’s tree nursery.

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Students taking notes at their food forest.

As an organization, we have no share in the projects we implement; anything we plant belongs to the school and all proceeds thereafter are reverted back to the project. Our purpose is to ensure the fruit trees planted are well taken care of and to develop a training and business model that will generate income and make the project sustainable. We take a maximum of 3 years in a school project and then we hand it over to the school after we have trained project beneficiaries to take part in the day to day running of the project. There after we only act as consultants in areas of: seedling production, crop protection, production planning, spray techniques & Schedule, irrigation & fertilization, adult learning, market strategy and sustainable farming.

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Members of the community visiting the school project.

We are seeking partnerships to ensure such a project is replicated in at least 2 schools in each county to enable students to plant, manage and harvest their own produce as they learn important life skills. Developing an orchard as a learning resource creates an opportunity for the students to be aware of environmental issues and come up with simple solutions to address them. Food security at a local level is tremendously important, especially when crisis hits. Farming is the foundation, as humans we need energy to function and the only source of energy is food. It’s high time we support farming and conservation initiatives both at a personal and institutional level; teach your kids to grow food, support tree/food growing programs in local schools, make donations to credible organizations such as the Green Belt movement among others. We all can be part of the solution by simply planting and taking care of a single tree.  And to our dear leaders who ride on any food crisis to gain economically and politically, we only have this to quote; “If you can’t feed them, you can’t lead them”- Anonymous. Plenty be found within our boarders.

 

Fruit Trends in Kenya

For the better part of the last six months we’ve been on the ground making a follow up and conducting farm visits to the farmers we have partnered with. This post will highlight what fruit crops home gardeners and farmers are embracing and the commercial viability of the different fruit types. We encourage sustainable diverse cropping systems where farmers plant more than one crop. This spreads economic risk and offers the opportunity of reducing production costs and increasing profits. The more farmers’ successfully produce more of one type of crop, the more they are whipped by low prices making them a victim of their own success. That’s the greatest irony of farming as dictated by the laws of supply and demand, hence the need for diversified farm systems.

Such diversified systems require thorough planning and close monitoring to cater for the different components. For easy management we recommend 2-3 main crops and a set of rotational crops, for example, we have a farmer initiating a mixed fruit orchard in Murang’a doing hass avocado, tree tomato and apples. A serious fruit farmer should also embrace an integrated pest management strategy and maintain the farm in ways that make them attractive to beneficial insects and pollinators such as bees, and implement interventions to protect them. No pollination, no fruit.

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Pomegranate tree in Nairobi

 

Start with what you can manage as you progress. Farming is a journey, more of a marathon than a short sprint. It requires more resilience and focus on a desired farming venture. There those who get it right in their first attempt and there those who fail initially or severally but later on get it right because they chose not to give up. Grow that which has market potential, whether it is for home or commercial purposes. Copying what your neighbor or other farmers are doing is not a sin; but don’t just copy for the sake of copying. If you can read this post, then you are intelligent enough to do your own research before investing in a given venture. What you settle for has to be a crop that performs well in your locality and thrives in your soil. Test and analyze your soil and optimize it accordingly, the health of the soil determines the health of the plant.

Failure is inevitable, the love and passion of your venture will play an important role in such times. One of our clients insisted on planting apples, grapes and other fruits at the coast just for the love of apples, she even went for high chill varieties against our advice. She failed severally, many apple seedlings she purchased from different nurseries died within the first year. But she understood that there was a price to pay to conduct her own research and know what works for her. Despite of the many failures she now has the privilege of harvesting a few apples of different varieties from her 2 year old plants after 4 years of trial and error. She is now planning to do grapes and apples commercially. Consult widely, do your own research and search yourself too. Identify fruit crop(s) that you will love cultivating, works well for you and can generate good income.

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2 year old Apple tree @ the Kenyan coast

 

 

Our country is blessed; plenty of different fruit trees and food crops thrive in different parts of the country. Local farmers are spoilt for choice on what to venture in. A typical Kenyan farmer faces a lot of challenges and hurdles from farm to market. The successful ones will be those who will emerge as problem solvers and solution providers despite of the many challenges; those who focus on providing practical solutions to problems experienced by the population rather than sit on a problem or write a thesis/research paper to be archived on the shelves. Globally, our country is a horticultural giant, there is a huge demand for our horticultural products that include; flowers, herbs, veges, fruits and nuts. For Kenyan farmers to meet this demand, best farming practices should be embraced to ensure quality and food safety. Locally, there is a rising demand of healthy farm produce that is free from harmful chemicals. Produce crops that comply with GAP standards from the on-set no matter the target market. Below are some of the fruit varieties that are commercially viable and worth giving a try.

Avocado– The hass variety is the most preferred for those targeting the export market due to its high oil content, appearance and low perishability. There is a niche market for Fuerte and Pinkerton variety locally; there high perishability does not make them good candidates for the export market.

Passion Fruit – The two common varieties are; sweet yellow and purple passion. Both varieties do well locally and there is demand for both in the local market. The export market prefers purple passion; Europe is one of the main markets. In the past few years farmers from Rift valley have shifted to passion fruit cultivation without regret and we are seeing a lot of activities in Uasin gishu, Bomet, and Kericho.

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Passion fruit orchard @ the Rift Valley

Mango – There are different mango varieties that thrive in different parts of our country, but so far there is high demand for the Apple mango variety that thrives in hot areas. Other popular varieties include; Kent, Tommy and Haden. There is an emerging export market for Kenyan mangoes in China, hope this holds up.

Citrus– New citrus orchards are being developed in the coast, eastern and rift valley by farmers who are targeting to meet the local demand. Most of the citrus consumed locally are imported because the local supply does not meet the demand. There is need for improving production and quality of local citrus. The different varieties cultivated are: Pixie, Minneola, Clementine tangerine, lemon, Washington navel, Valencia among others.

Strawberry – So far chandler variety is the most successful varieties to cultivate. Most farmers are producing for the local market. We are trying out Quinault variety and some other giant strawberry varieties to see their viability.

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Strawberry harvest in Nyahururu

Tree tomato – A good number of farmers have ventured in tree tomato cultivation to meet local demand. Red oratia is the most grown variety. One can choose to cultivate grafted tree tomato or the non-grafted ones.

Grapes– This is one of the fruits whose potential remains unexploited by the Kenyan farmer despite it doing well in various parts of the country. Most commercial grape ventures are established by wineries and geared towards wine production. Grape plants grown in the country are mostly grown by home gardeners for personal consumption. The local demand for table grapes and raisins heavily relies on imports.

Apples– In the near future high quality locally grown apples will be at the shelves in your grocery store. New apple orchards are cropping up in different parts of the country targeting the local market. Different varieties have been tried and tested in different parts of the country and the results are promising. These varieties include; Cripps pink, Anna, Golden Dorset, Fuji, Gala, Red delicious and Braeburn.

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Young Apple Orchard @ the Kenyan Coast

Bananas – This is the most important fruit crop in Kenya. Banana farming has been gaining momentum thanks to attractive market prices and availability of quality propagation material through tissue culture. There are different varieties that perform well in Kenya, study what the market wants and go bananas.

Pears and plums– A good number of farmers in Molo, Limuru and some parts of Kiambu  have cultivated pears and plums that they supply to the local market. There are low chill pear varieties that do thrive in warm areas. The hood variety is a low chill variety that has been proven to do well in Kenya. We have distributed a few seedlings to various farmers in western Kenya and Nyanza to gauge their performance.

Kiwi– So far we have no success story on kiwi cultivation, we are still in the infant stages. We can’t confidently say that the kiwi plant thrives in Kenya. The oldest plant we are monitoring is almost 3 years old and we are seeing no sign of fruiting. The greatest challenge in kiwi production is the propagation material. Most kiwi seedlings in the market are propagated from seed; this takes long to fruit or might fail to produce fruit.

There also other fruits which are mostly grown for personal consumption or on a smaller scale. They include Persimmon kaki, Sour sop, Pomegranate, custard apple, star fruit, lychee, guava, loquats, peach, fig fruit, rasp berry, white sapote, jack fruit, apricot and dragon fruit among others. In case of any queries feel free to reach us via mail at admin@plantafruit.org. Fruitful season ahead and remember to consume atleast one fruit a day before any meal.

 

Working with kids

The first phase of our project at Karen can be deemed a success. Together with the kids at Mokoyeti Brook centre- a CBO in Karen and various stakeholders, we planted 30 fruit trees. There are many joys and rewards received while working with kids. The major score of this project was guiding these young ones into becoming responsible citizens of Kenya and the planet as a whole.

The kids themselves planted the fruit trees and up to now still take care of the planted fruits. Each and every kid has his/her week to look after the fruit trees and ensure they get enough water. As the kids grow they have to take it upon themselves to ensure the culture of planting fruits is extended to the rest of the neighboring communities through various strategies adopted amongst themselves.

Our prayer is that the rest of Kenyans should join us in our mission to ensure each and every Kenyan has a fruit tree in their yard. Kenyan kids and youths should encouraged to embrace agriculture. As big governments are reluctant to combat climate change, we believe its up to individuals and the private sector to lead the way in conserving the environment. We have to lobby for homegrown policies that ensures the environment is conserved, and don’t have to wait for some big foreign government to come to our rescue.

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