TreeKenya’s Agritech platform connects smallholder farmers to accredited organic, carbon and financial markets
As a major employer and driver of economic growth, agriculture lies at the heart of the Kenyan economy. Yet, out of a population of 46 million, 14.5 million people face food insecurity and poor nutrition every year.
Today, 63% of food in Kenya is produced by smallholder farms. They manage a large share of natural resources – such as water, land and soil – despite very limited access to education, technology, finance and markets. Along with felling, the harsh chemical fertilisers and pesticides used on the lands are damaging and directly contribute to greenhouse gases.
For farmers to respond to the increasing demand for food, they need to be able to rely on well-functioning research and development, training and information systems. In the wake of sustained efforts to modernise farming practices, the role of technology is at the crux of maximising the value chain.
With the right access to the latest technology and agroecological inputs, local farmers can become stewards of biodiverse farmlands that hold great potential for carbon storage. Encouraging farmers to grow a variety of native tree species, using organic-only practices also facilitates the production of healthy and nutritious food.
At TreeKenya, we provide an innovative, free digital platform to enable smallholders to access organic value chains, up-to-date information and digital services. Our agritech initiative, backed by climate-smart technology and sustainable precision farming, aggregates farmers to transform the food and agriculture system.
The proprietary platform merges the best of agriculture, climate, food, finance and technology information. As a Plan Vivo validated Monitoring and Evaluating application, it presents a system change to smallholder regenerative agriculture, improving output and increasing farmer development enriches the livelihoods of farmers and the quality and nutritional value of the crops.
Carbon credits enable the programme and incentivise farmers to plant high-value trees for their nuts, fruits, seeds and leaves – such as moringa, neem, avocado and citrus trees. Coupled with the land converted to certified organic, 60% of carbon sales go straight to the farmer for tree and soil organic sequestration.
Our circular solution secures long-term offtake agreements with organic retailers; establishes organic seed banks at participating schools; and builds a database of farmers with transaction and payment trails, enabling micro-finance & insurance businesses to sell their services.
We aim to arm farmers with the same intelligence as Big Ag – weather, land mapping and precision farming - with satellites monitoring and evaluating. Moreover, we enable access to crop and finance insurance, protecting farmers against growing agricultural risks - particularly locusts, natural disasters, disease and theft.
By providing these services, farmers gain more control over their productive assets and overcome the degradation of the natural resource base. They will also be guaranteed markets for their organic production from farm to fork.
We are at the vanguard of smallholder farmers achieving economies of scale and enhancing their market power.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Thika Rescue Children Centre, located at the outskirts of Thika town, Kenya, is a home for young boys aged between 5 to 18 years rescued from the streets in Nairobi. Currently, the Centre has a population of 98 boys who have mostly lost contact with their relatives, as a result of domestic violence.
As a government-supported institution, it aims to rescue boys until they are reunited with their relatives. However, not all boys who go there are successfully reunited. Some stay in the Centre until they reach 18 years old when they are then released back into the community. At this point, the government expects them to take care of themselves. Back at the Centre, the government supports their food supply and medication. However, there is no budget allocation for clothes and school fees. Here, the Centre’s management works closely with well-wishers to fill the gap. Based on the annual budget allocation, the Centre is unable to provide a balanced diet in their meals to meet the children’s nutritional requirement.
With 13.2 hectares of land, SCOPE Kenya has been supporting the Centre to use part of their land to establish a food forest, producing vegetables and fruits, to supplement their feeding programme and improve the health of the young boys. Over the last few years, the institution has managed to produce a diversity of vegetables such as; black nightshade, amaranth, spinach kales, cowpeas, cherry tomatoes and onions. Other food crops include; sweet potatoes, cassava, bananas and herbs, mainly lemongrass and roselle (hibiscus). They have also incorporated medicinal trees like Moringa Oleifera.
Today, the Centre is producing about 40% of the boys’ vegetable requirement. This has not only improved the health of the boys but also reduced the expenditure on external supplies.
On Friday 13th November 2020, SCOPE Kenya joined Thika Rescue Children Centre in a tree planting day. We planted a total of 100 pawpaw and 50 sweet yellow passion fruit seedlings. Each boy was allocated two seedlings to nurture, and once well rooted, we will hold another planting phase. This is to ensure that there is a high survival rate for the trees planted. Other crops like banana suckers, pumpkin seeds, Roselle (hibiscus), lemongrass and moringa were also planted.
The purpose of this activity was to build the capacity of young children in tree planting and environmental stewardship, increase the number of trees planted in the garden and facilitate the production of different fruits to enrich their diet.
John Macharia (TreeKenya Country Manager)
Photo: Edward Pycraft
In 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to lead an academic study into the lives of one of the most emblematic tribes in the world, the Maasai. Accompanied by a videographer, Gus Cross, and a Professor of Anthropology from the University of Nairobi, Dr Tom Ondicho, we set out to produce an ethnographic baseline report and documentary film on a Maasai community in Kenya.
Equipped with a camera, drone, clipboards, pens and a voice recorder – nothing could prepare us for the 2 weeks that lay ahead and the learning that would follow. Nestled under the majestic, yet imposing Mt Kilimanjaro, straddled like a horseshoe around Amboseli National Park, lies an area the size of London, circa 1,500 km². With its tongue-twisting name, Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch, swiftly shortened to OOGR, we braised ourselves for a bumpy 4x4 excursion into the interior of this conservancy with a facilitative & non-prescriptive lens.
Upon arrival we were met with our local guide and partner who led us to the first boma, a Maasai village built in circles, fortified by cow dung and acacia branches. What immediately struck me was our hosts' ease towards visitors, and almost altruistic hospitality. Within a few minutes, we had settled into a traditional feast and local delicacy, goat, attended by the village elders. After a gluttonous episode, we were led to an ornate display of handcrafted beaded jewellery created by local women.
These particular settlements, named ‘cultural bomas’ are strategically positioned to pick up tourist traffic from 5* star hotels and safaris exploring Amboseli National Park. Here was a tribe, long heralded for their survival instinct, adapting their livelihoods from traditional pastoralism to tourism
The weeks that followed were spent working our way towards the heart of this ancient land. Stopping in villages to interview women, morans (young warriors), children, teachers and chiefs, we started to build a picture of the rich Maasai history. As a fearless nomadic tribe, widely known for hunting East Africa’s plains, the Maasai would travel vast distances in search of fresh pastures, once a renewable resource. Their livestock, thread in a delicate balance with wildlife and nature, conserved and replenished the ecosystem. As a symbol of wealth and serving as a critical insurance policy, large families were carefully curated leaving a rich tapestry of human life across the savannahs. Now, with land subdivided and cut off by parcels of privately-owned land, increasing population, livestock numbers and climate shocks, life is becoming more difficult.
The untold story is that we have been hunter-gathers for 99% of our genetic history. A specie co-existing with the natural world and whose survival was based on the ability to read weather, the stars and species around us. This human connection to nature was coined ‘biophilia’ by Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson. It is rooted in our evolution and by spending time with this tribe, it came alive and immediately made me crave for it again.
Shuffle forward to present day. My Amboseli trip has opened a floodgate of learning and in particular, an exciting new appointment as a Trustee of CHASE Africa. As a charity, their development approach supports and promotes community-led family planning, sexual health education and natural resource management in rural communities. Growing from very humble beginnings, starting as a tree-planting initiative in the Rift Valley, they have reached new heights with their smart outreach programmes. Realising that positive impact is best achieved by local organisations who are embedded within and trusted by the local community, they are able to unlock huge potential. Currently, CHASE Africa provides funding and services to 9 local NGOs across Kenya and Uganda working towards a shared vision.
Communities like the Maasai are on the frontline of what the West has only recently understood as ‘our civilisation’s greatest challenge’: climate change. We watch as ancient societies, dependent on scarce natural resources, are stripped of their livelihoods with the absence of seasonal rains, rivers and rich forests. Coupled with Covid-19 and the pressure of modernisation, these tribes have very few tools left at their disposal. Navigating this alone has repeatedly proven fatal, as the world has shown little mercy.
Analysing this deeper, it seems that the yardstick for successful and sustainable NGO interventions is their ability to preserve, or (re)instate community rights and culture. By equipping and empowering the most vulnerable in society we can create permanent change. This model of development is a step away from creating a dependency culture, towards greater autonomy. Enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution are the rights to free education, information sharing and basic health services – yet so often, we see examples where these are threatened.
In an age of disinformation, local communities and NGOs are at the vanguard. A common misconception CHASE Africa face is the idea of women becoming ‘barren’, ‘cancerous’ and ‘sterilised’ through forms of contraception. Even though it is the right of women to decide when they want to have children and more, how many. Sadly, a young mother is invariably stripped of her formal education, often leading to a life of destitution. These false beliefs are often shared among men, who see family planning as a cultural barrier. However, time and again we see that with the right stewardship and support, opinions can change.
As I read through CHASE Africa's Partner Reports, I was overwhelmed with positivity. Here are real-life examples of marginalised communities overcoming life-changing issues, in the backdrop of a pandemic that brings developed nations and their societies to a halt. It is a clear testament to the strategy and hard work of CHASE Africa and their partners. Operating through the outreach of Community Health Workers (CHWs), locally appointed and trained by the Ministry of Health, we have seen mobile and even motorbike clinics continue to provide locals with primary healthcare services, family planning services and information about environmental conservation and natural resource management.
For example, Big Life Foundation, an organisation I know well from their operations in Amboseli, have managed to reach over 13,000 people each quarter with crucial information on health and sexual reproductive health. This is up from 7,000 per quarter in 2019. What’s more, they have seen a 92% increase in the number of women under 19 years of age taking up family planning from Q2 to Q3 2020. These are not just numbers; this is a community adapting and overcoming challenges.
As I reflect on my time with the Maasai, it is their readiness and capacity to make change that has a lasting impression. Adopting this predisposition is our only chance for survival in these uncertain times. We have has a lot to learn here, in particular how to live within our means and take care of nature around us. The clock is ticking, we need to act fast if we want to continue co-inhabiting our planet with fellow species. The question is, are we ready to make necessary changes to our behaviour? Greed and self-interest govern too much space. I thank CHASE Africa for presenting me with the prospect of continued learning and helping make positive change.
Edward Pycraft, Keystone Legacy
Photo: Gus Cross
I want to share a story with you that emanates from what’s brewing in my cup on this cold, rainy October evening in London: a warm, comforting tea. Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, after water. In India alone, the annual production of tea is approximately 857,000 tons, generating 190,000 tons of tea factory waste before the tea has even been packaged. As I discreetly place my tea down on its coaster, I feel a sense of anxiety coming over me, knowing that 90% of what is left behind is waste. With the world’s estimated daily consumption at a colossal 18 to 20 billion cups, the wider question begs. How do we tackle the challenge of post-consumption waste? Is there a way of capitalising on this resource?
Anthropogenic activities such as conventional farming, non-renewable energy production, mining, factory run-offs and the construction industry, adversely affects wildlife and negatively impacts human health. The speed of technological development coupled with humans’ insatiable demand for consumer goods, places a mounting pressure on our natural resources and the environment.
Take the example of metal pollutants; when heavy metal-contaminated soils and water bodies enter into our food production and human life support systems, they pose a serious human health risk.
While some metals such as cobalt, copper, iron, molybdenum, manganese and zinc, classified as essential micronutrients, are critical for plant growth. Other metals, commonly found in soil and water, like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, lead, selenium, uranium, vanadium and wolfram are contaminants, and non-essential for plants. These metals, even at low concentrations get absorbed into plants and cascade up through our food chain. Through a process known as biomagnification, toxins are amplified as they move up the trophic levels towards our mouths.
Adsorption of heavy metals by upcycling a material like waste tea
Existing physio-chemical methods of heavy metal extraction are often expensive and complicated, demanding high-tech solutions. Yet, the world community is in great need of low-tech, easily applicable and affordable solutions to mitigate the growing problems with pollution. With increasing research into alternative, cost-effective adsorption materials, we see a plethora of options available to us. Take peanut hulls, neem leaf powder, straw, peat, pomegranate peel, and now, finally, tea waste.
The impactful urban potential of waste management
The extraordinary and rather unexplored potential for extracting waste materials, leads us to the next part in the chain. How can we integrate waste management solutions in urban environments in an interactive way, closing the loop between production, consumption, and the waste we produce? A step further, how can we harness this methodology to create a new architectural style? One that does not shield the “ugly” backside of our societies, but instead engages our citizens through active experiences moving towards a more circular economy and healthier lifestyle?
Waste, energy & recreation
Having studied in Copenhagen, close to the industrial waterfront, I had a rather peculiar view from my bedroom window: a powerplant that creates clean energy from 440,000 tons of annual waste. It is the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world, raising the bar for resource optimisation with an energy efficiency of 107%. The incineration process recycles material through a recovery of resources that would otherwise not feasibly be recycled. With the help of very efficient modern techniques, the segregation process from bottom ash reaches more than 90% of the potential for most ferrous and non-ferrous metals. The bottom ash, a by-product of the energy production, following strict procedures, is then used for road construction and similar construction purposes, replacing natural resources such as sand and gravel.
Sounds good? There is more to come. The mountain-shaped waste management plant has a tree-lined hiking trail and ski slope on the roof, as well the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world. At its peak, your welcomed by an après ski cafe with a 360 view of Copenhagen. This new model of architecture and waste management offers the city a whole new level of urban fabric that contributes positively to public health, wellbeing and people’s economy, through reduced energy bills. Following this model of success, the Chinese metropolis, Shenzhen are building the world’s biggest waste-to-energy plant set to open later this year.
Upcycling of waste materials in architectural design
A good way of avoiding contaminants entering the food chain is by creating less waste in the first place - failing that, we need to find purpose for otherwise wasted materials. The recent innovation, by the sustainable Danish architectural firm GXN designed and built a competitive “OSB” building board by upcycling tomato plant waste. Their visionary product not only demonstrates a circular economy, but also outperforms conventional materials on durability. Who knew that agricultural waste could replace the current single-use construction philosophy in architecture?
With COVID-19 delaying, pausing and even cancelling many big construction projects worldwide, the time to analyse, improve and rethink our industry’s model of operation has never been more pressing. While buildings are historically long-lived, our cities are perennial: citizens are counting on their survival to enable future generations to thrive. Our current ‘short-term win’ economic model manifests itself in new buildings prioritising profit. The way we build today is damaging the environment rather than healing it. Discouragingly, the construction industry is responsible for 50% of landfill waste and 40% of drinking water pollution worldwide. It is now common practice for big building projects to clear vegetation and excavate, destroying biodiversity and reducing, if not eliminating the potential of much needed CO2-storage in our trees and soil.
Previously, the role of an architect was a ‘Chief Builder’, having the sufficient expertise on design and construction to oversee a project from inception all the way to completion. With the innovation of design and technology, architectural projects have become increasingly complex. Presently an architect is an irresolute role that varies remarkably from country to country, blurring the lines between what our responsibilities are and what they should be. With fast growing challenges arising from man-made climate change, we will have to start looking at ways of reclaiming our lost responsibilities, exploring new alternative services, and promoting a higher level of collaboration within the build team. Consequently, we ask ourselves whether 2020 could be the year where we change the rudiments of architecture?
The cataclysmic pandemic has changed the world in profound ways. Businesses are re-inventing themselves, integrating new ambitious sustainability strategies. Countries are stepping up to the Net Zero 2030 and 2050 challenge. As architects, we are the first frontier of the build environment, we serve as gatekeepers and should hold our industry accountable for its emissions and detrimental impact on our natural world. We know the solutions exist and although we have only touched on a few of them here, their potential is unlimited. Today, we see beautiful examples of economically viable, sustainable buildings and green urban planning strategies, so I pose the question: what is holding us back? As a young architect, I’m excited by what the next 10 years hold and encourage an organised, sustainable industry approach.
Emilie Jaspers, Sustainability Advisor (Keystone Legacy)
The pandemic has revealed our fractured and vulnerable financial model that has long been centred around short-term “wins” at the cost of our society & environment. The economy is now set to contract sharply, by at least 5.2% in 2020 according to the World Bank, accelerating the need to create real change.
In front of us is undoubtedly our greatest innovation challenge to date. How do we halve global emissions to stay under 1.5c and create an equitable world for future generations, all within a decade (2030)? To achieve this crucial target set by climate scientists, our countries, industries and communities need to come together to transform towards ‘net-zero’ as the minimum.
With the ‘climate tech’ solutions out there and many more being conceptualised; we ask the question, how can each of us our play our role?
At Keystone Legacy, an international agroecology initiative, we recognise the importance of building back greener through sustainable, regenerative precision practices. However, what seems more apparent than ever is the absence of a coordinated approach between all actors. Governments, although fundamental in setting policies for climate action, have to this point proven to be behind the curve and self-serving.
The opportunity now lies in the business community and the public sphere. Here, purpose-driven partnerships can be forged that demonstrate to our politicians where our interests and priorities are. In particular, the onus is on us, the younger generation. We need to raise awareness around climate change and implement the world’s mission. In short, it’s an anthropogenic crisis; humans have caused it, we can reverse it. And it all starts in the mind.
Man-made climate change is a symptom of our superpower. Our ability to believe in shared, imagined realities – nations, media & corporations – has led us to the top of the food chain and given us unparalleled influence over our planet. Like all superpowers though, they can fall into the wrong hands and threaten our very existence. Today, we live in a world built on stories and beliefs of the past that are failing us.
Social media, long heralded for optimising biological connection across the world, is showing its true face. We, the people, are products sold to the highest bidder, advertisers, many with a nefarious agenda of populism and disinformation. Why do we have climate change deniers? It seems that as homo sapiens, we are ill-equipped to face this wall of carefully programmed Artificial Intelligence (AI) praying on our weakness, with high rates of addiction, alienation and extremism among its ‘users.’
Understanding this, presents each one of us with a heroic duty. How can we harness our shared superpower to save the planet, other species and ultimately, ourselves? More than ever before, we need to enter into a new, enlightened collective consciousness. One that rejects speciesism and recognises that we are all part of the same biosphere that is contingent on the health of all species and ecosystems to function.
Once we’ve reached this paradigm shift in our minds, the narratives that have long served fictitious entities which sever our ties with nature, can be replaced by belief systems that actually do serve the people. And the answers are in front of us. If we respect nature, we can better understand its principles and the functioning of its ecosystem. As David Attenborough expresses in his latest call to arms, ‘A Life on Our Planet’ documentary: “We need to rediscover how to be sustainable, to move from being apart from nature to being a part of nature once again.”
Tribal communities are our testament that we can co-exist with nature again. Yet, it is deeply concerning that today, we live in a time where a tree is more valuable dead than alive. Even more alarming is the latest PNAS report, which shows that only 4% of mammals are ‘wild’, with humans and our livestock accounting for 36% and 60% respectively. We have pushed wildlife to the brink of extinction, and humans are not far behind.
This pandemic has created a social, political & economic vacuum. We, as citizens and businesses have a real chance to reimagine our stories and realign our values. Social media can be reengineered to demonstrate truth. In doing so, we can broadcast a counter-narrative, one that is climate positive and compassionate with a long-term, sustainable impact.
Our time for collaboration and co-creation is ripe: we can all be conscious consumers and demand responsible value chains from our businesses. Likewise, businesses can deliver purpose and substitute shareholder, for stakeholder capitalism. We have already witnessed the psychological and material benefits from localising food systems and stewarding biodiversity during what the fortunate few call “The Great Pause.” These lessons now exist in our social network. With the right collective will, they can guide us towards permanent, positive change.
Edward Pycraft, Keystone Legacy
Agricultural lands cover more than 1/3 of Earth’s land surface and account for an estimated 20% of all CO2eq emissions from human activities. (FAO, 2017)
Today several social, environmental and economic constraints threaten the resource base that agriculture depends on. In particular, the marginalisation of smallholder farmers’ rights, practices and knowledge which hinder sustainable food production systems and widen vulnerability levels amongst local communities.
Research shows that regenerative agricultural systems have the potential to curb climate change by reducing emissions and capturing carbon. Here, soil organic carbon sequestration, an enhanced carbon sink is the most effective mechanism.
A shift towards organic farming techniques enables food sustainability and provides a set of farmer friendly solutions for climate resilience.
As a programme officer at CREP, a Kenyan agricultural and environmental conservation NGO, we have spent the last 6 years empowering community farmer groups in North East Kano through our agro-ecological programmes.
Our farming groups implement a series of organic production practices that optimise nutrients, energy flows and minimises supply chain risks during adverse and extreme weather events.
On a granular level, by increasing soil biological activity, we are able to maintain long-term soil fertility and minimise the use of non-renewable resources leading to enhanced biological diversity and vital ecosystem improvements in the local communities.
In addition, farmer groups experience significant economic gains through advances in safe crop production systems, food security, family nutrition, health and education within their households.
Application of organics
With no external farm inputs, such as synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, we are able to control carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.
Farmers use organic manures through integrated livestock production which enhance waste management systems and minimise emissions of greenhouse gases through composting and fermentation of bio-fertilisers.
For the last few years, most small holder farmers within the project areas have been grappling with the fight against crop devastating worm (fall army worms) which have spread in many maize growing regions.
This has forced numerous farmers to apply chemical pesticides with adverse effects including more resistant worms and burnt crops.
In response, our programme puts into practice the production of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides to tackle the challenges faced by farmers in a sustainable way.
In 2018, during the short rainy season 40 litres of sulphur brew, later named “LIMSA-B” were prepared for trial. A total of 55 maize farmers experiencing high worm infestations in 3 regions were targeted. The results were very impressive with reduced worms, increased growth rate of crops and neighbouring farmers requesting bio-pesticides for their farms.
Our programme took good note and in 2019, during the long rainy season we prepared and mixed 60 litres of the same bio-pesticide and 100 litres of Super Magro (foliar feed) for over 80 farmers.
We soon witnessed small plots drastically improving crop yields, soil quality, water efficiency and controlling pests, as they adapt to climate shifts.
The final product, aptly named “BIO-COMBINED” is by far the farmers' best option and is 100% environmentally friendly.
Since our trials, the product has reached over 200 farmers and students from colleges & universities related to CREP.
Our next milestone is to get the national agricultural policy to support these climate smart, organic farming practices as part of their climate adaptation and mitigation strategy.
Only by stepping up this agenda of change to the national level, are we able to seriously contribute to achieving the SDGs, Kenya’s Big Four Agenda & Climate Action Agenda 2030 in an integrated and comprehensive manner.
Geoffrey Omondi, Crep Programme (TreeKenya Parnters)
Photo: Hailey Tucker
Organics are produced and processed through a system that encourages biological natural cycles, allowing farm animals to exhibit natural behaviour, whilst excluding the use of synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilisers, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms.
Why do we support organic agriculture?
Well, it’s easy to manage and cheap. The fertiliser and pesticide products are chemical free using locally available, organic materials that do not interfere with the soil and environment.
We like to follow 4 simple, organic principles:
Organic agriculture is geared towards achieving health in plants, animals, human beings and the whole planet. Holistic approaches to health are best achieved when the individuals health is embedded in the ecosystem. In human health we think in-terms of social, mental, physical and ecological well being exhibited in immunity, resilience and regeneration.
It follows that our harvest should fit the cycles and ecological balances in nature. Ecological balance can be attained through the design of farming systems, establishment of habitats and maintenance of genetic and agriculture diversity.
Organic agriculture is based on living ecological systems and cycles. These systems are the living soil, farm ecosystem, and aquatic ecosystem. Inputs should be reduced by reuse, recycling and efficient management.
Animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord with their physiology, natural behaviour and wellbeing. Natural and environmental resources that are sued for production and consumption should be managed in such a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations.
Fairness is cultivated through equity, respect, justice and stewardship of shared world, both among people and in relations to other living things. The relationship cultivated should ensure fairness in all levels and to all parties: farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers.
Now back to our beans. They were planted using animal manure, sprayed with plant extracts with traps for any insects which might interfere with the produce.
This way the beans are produced in a healthy manner optimising microorganisms in the soil with care to eliminate chemical residues.
Our farmer managed to produce 10 bags each 90kgs within a half acre to feed her family and sell the surplus locally to improve food security and fairness in the community.
Regina Muthama, Katoloni Missions (TreeKenya Parnters)
Tree planting in Kenya has been boosted by the efforts of the Government of Kenya through the Ministry of Environment and Forestry liaising with other non-governmental and private actors. What is clear, is that there is more value out there than just adding to the forest cover especially when organic farming practices are adopted. Firstly, going organic enhances food production and increases the number of beneficiaries, particularly in less developed parts of the world. This is shown by the increase in market value of organic farming products over the years and the fact that countries in Africa, Asia and South America lead in the number of organic producers.
When conventional agriculture focuses on maximising large scale mono cropping of mainly hybrid commodities, we see an over-reliance on the use of fertilizers and chemicals to control pests, both of which lead to more acidity in the soil and massive death of microbes. By contrast, organic farming takes a holistic approach to crop production giving attention to environmental conservation, soil fertility and water systems. These organic inputs not only rival their chemical counterparts but leave the soils richer and plants robust enough to withstand the shocks of climatic changes or pest infestation.
For example, the root structures of our organic maize variety are hardy and hold the soils better. You will note the shine on the organic variety and the frail look of the hybrid stalk. So, alongside the overwhelming environmental benefits, we see organic farming actually producing higher yielding, more valuable crops.
The one other major advantage of organic practices, use of local or indigenous seeds and saplings is that the farmer is empowered by having the choice and source of inputs as opposed to the system which dis-empowers and leaves them at the mercy of the merchants of hybrid & exotic seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
In Kenya, many organizations are already practicing organic farming. Leaders in the pack are the 50 plus members of Schools and Colleges Permaculture programme (SCOPE) and Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association. The Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI), a founder member of both associations has gone further to host two international workshops on biofertilizers and other organic farming inputs.
As the partners of TreeKenya embark on tree planting in the country, there is every reason to go organic for the environment and future of our planet.
Gachora N Waweru, RODI Kenya (TreeKenya Partners)
We are very pleased to announce that our organic cooperative programme, TreeKenya is now registered with Plan Vivo Foundation.
Over the next few months we are raising capital to regenerate smallholder farms and schools across Kenya with a strong rate of return for our impact investors through carbon credits and organic harvest sales.
More than cooperative
TreeKenya certifies small-scale farms and schools organic connecting them to local and regional markets for selling their produce at the best price.
As a gender equitable, community-based programme we are able to give equality of opportunity to women, men and children. Our proposed target groups are rural communities that face many problems including; gender inequity, inadequate skills and knowledge in agroecology, declining soil fertility, decline in crop productivity, desertification, high incidence of pests and diseases, locust plagues, low diversification of agricultural enterprises at the farm level and low access to affordable and friendly credit.
Through going organic, we are able to increase income and food security for participants, while reducing environmental degradation and regenerating their land. Our activities include agroforestry, afforestation and agroecology to achieve high yielding, organic crops and indigenous trees ready to harvest for superfood, cosmetic and medicinal production worldwide.
That way the programme will generate impactful, high returns for our investors through long-term, verifiable carbon credits and farmer off-take agreements.
Plan Vivo as a certification body
Plan Vivo administers the Plan Vivo Standard – a proven framework for community land use and forestry projects.
By certifying projects worldwide, they demonstrate sustainability, ensure that people’s livelihoods truly benefit and vital ecosystems are restored.
What's more the Standard is internationally recognised for its focus on ethical and fairly-traded climate services, meaning a greater share of climate finance (60%+) reaches those who most need it.
Keystone is honoured to work with the Foundation and see TreeKenya create measurable impact!
It is without doubt that the pandemic has impacted our food supply chain - An industry once evolved to feed a globalised world has now been scaled back to the local level in some cases…
As part of China’s economic transformation in the 1990s, they increased their food production systems to industrial scale. One notable side effect of this meant that small-holder farmers were undercut and pushed entirely out of the livestock industry. In a bid to search for new ways to earn a living, many turned to farming ‘wild’ species that had previously only been eaten for subsistence.
At the time, this was seen as a profitable sector and ‘wild food’ was formalised, increasingly becoming branded as a luxury food item. However, the smallholder farmers were not only pushed out economically, but geographically as well. This is evident through the exponential growth of industrial farming which acquired huge swathes of land, thereby encouraging small-scale farmers to cultivate closer to the forest edge and in forbidden territories. As our planet’s population continues to increase, so too does the occurrence of humans encroaching into exotic places and valuable ecosystems, and the risk of exacerbating infectious diseases becomes ever more apparent.
Similarly, the Chinese ‘wet markets’ alone present a further risk of virus transmission. When these exotic animals from different environments are kept in close proximity to one another, it provides a breeding ground for viruses to jump from one species to another, giving them reason to amplify, mutate, and develop into something much worse. In recent decades human infections of animal origin have been widely documented, such as the Asian Flu in 1956, SARS in 2002, and H7N9 which killed four in ten people. If humans continue to interfere on these biodiversity hotspots, nature will find its way of fighting back.
Most of the attention so far has been focused on the deplorable conditions of ‘wet markets’ in China. It is without doubt that these wet markets will need to be better regulated, but it is also important to look at how our food is produced on a global scale.
While scientists do not have a definite answer to how exactly COVID-19 originated, it is believed that other pandemic virus threats such as swine flu and bird flu almost certainly evolved at pig and chicken factory farms. Links have already been established between increased pandemic risks and intensive animal agriculture, hence there should be a stronger focus on factory farm conditions, and possibly rethink how we can feed our populations in a safe way. Maybe we should all just turn Vegan?
The pandemic has also highlighted the poor conditions in the meat processing industry. In recent weeks Germany has seen several coronavirus outbreaks among meat factory employees and has even put two districts in western Germany in quarantine after more than 1,550 workers at the Tönnies slaughterhouse were infected with the disease. There is undoubtedly a need for better regulations here too.
As we have spent more time in lockdown, people have become more attuned with the nature that surrounds them. Many people have even tried growing their own food, which is certainly a positive development for the future. In line with this, urban farming and vertical farming will become more crucial. Localising food production will lead to significant cuts in fossil fuel consumption, help consumers reduce their carbon footprint, and help provide them with the opportunity to purchase food that has been grown in their community.
With our planet's population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, there's no escaping the fact that food production around the world needs to increase while also ensuring citizens’ health is kept in check. It is important now that we use our voices and vote for those who will hold agribusiness to higher standards on social and ecological grounds, take an active stance against the illegal wildlife trade and encourage the localisation of food production so that future generations can be sustained.