Helping Rural Smallholders in Kenya Become More Self-sufficient and Knowledgeable
Grow Ileho is a Kenyan agricultural initiative whose roots are in the principles of economic self-determination; the smallholder makes as many decisions as possible for their project.
Africa’s problems are complex and well documented. Kenya, for instance, has beautiful land, amazingly resilient people, and community we can only be envious of. What the people generally lack is access to resources – education and money in particular, clean water, a safe and clean food supply and quality medical care next. All of these things go together; one needs to have means to expand their resources, the education and knowledge to leverage those resources to their highest and best use, and enjoy good enough health to see a project through.
Grow Ileho is a demonstration project that evolved out of my master’s thesis on participatory development. I wrote, and believe, that no matter the difficulties – and there are challenges, to be sure – a successful development initiative in rural regions must be locally run and managed, with as little interference as possible from a sponsor. On a trip to Kenya in 2010, we surveyed over 400 people to ask their opinions on development issues. What works, what doesn’t, and what does the community need most? Even this seemingly simple exercise was fraught with difficulties; the level of corruption is so endemic that it is culturally embedded. To a westerner this is a paramount challenge. Nevertheless, the first project was planned and implemented with seed money from the Mission Committee at Northbrook Presbyterian Church in Beverly Hills, MI.
The NENO Group, who was chosen for the first project, researched greenhouse tomatoes, thought about chickens, and finally settled on a high quality Aryshire heifer and supporting services as their initial project. The heifer has regular veterinary visits, has both an acre of Napier grass and bagged feed, has access to clean water, and has had two calves. The project expanded last year to include pigs.
Our biggest challenge now as we are positioned to expand the program is to incorporate business and agricultural training resources that are appropriate to the grade level of the participants. We discovered during the survey that many women in Kenya had left school at an early grade level, equivalent to the third or fourth grade in the US.
As of this writing (January 2018), project principal Oscar Siema Mmbali has settled in as the first pastoral minister for the Friends United Meeting in Belize. We are discussing community building in Belize, using the lessons from Kenya to build on.
Please feel free to write me and ask any questions you might have. I’ll be happy to answer them. Core components of these projects are access to educational resources, clean water, and expert supervision to monitor the projects.
Thank you for reading this, and please see my photos from the Ileho region and other parts of rural of Kenya here. On a less cheerful note, read “A Death in Kenya – Villance Libosho Lukhavi’s Story” Villance was a young, promising engineering student whose life was cut short by an industrial “accident” at the plant of one of Kenya’s biggest firms, The New Kenya Cooperative Creameries. They will never be held accountable.
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