Tag Archive: Organic farming

In Kenya, the long rains season is setting in according to the warning by the weatherman and as usual, cases of common cold are expected to rise. As people seek to keep this viral disease at bay, one farmers’ group in Kakamega County has one of the best remedies. These farmers are growing and processing medicinal herbs that ward off common cold, among other ailments. This has attracted both local and international attention.
For the Muliru farmers’ group, it all started in 1996 when farmers turned their vegetable gardens into farms of a medicinal herb that the community has relied on for years to cure the common cold but was then diminishing. This herb, locally known as Mwonyi and scientifically known as Ocimum Kilimandschacum is well-known to communities around Kakamega forest for treatment of symptoms of common cold and measles.
Traditionally, this medicine has been prepared by plucking and boiling the leaves in a pot and then inhaling the vapor to cure the cold. Someone must have seen their struggle and thanks to the International Center for Insect Physiology (ICIPE), The University of Nairobi and The Kenya wildlife service, a research was conducted and better ways of exploiting the herb to benefit both the farmers and the environment were discovered. What followed was mass cultivation of the Ocimum plant and manufacturing value added products.

Balm produced from Ocimum Kilimandschacum

Balm produced from Ocimum Kilimandschacum

The group members contributed money and bought a piece of land to construct a processing plant and offices for their activities that became fully commercial. In 2000, they raised sh160, 000 and borrowed sh850,000 for construction of the processing plant and the offices. As we speak now, over 460 farmers have been engaged not only in Kakamega but also in the neighboring Vihiga County. The group has also learnt to diversify – they are engaging in organic production of vegetables.
Farmers admit the combination is paying off. They get Ksh10 for a kilo of wet Mwonyi herbs while dry ones fetch sh40.At the plant, a distillation machine installed in 2002 is used to extract oil and granules for making balm. Once the oil has been squeezed from the dry and wet leaves, the waste is converted into organic manure, which is then used in the cultivation of their traditional vegetables in a garden adjacent to the plant.
A kilogramme of the produced oil goes for Sh6,555. This sees the farmers selling about 7kg to 10 kg per week which they produce. Before this product is released into the market, it is sent to ICIPE for refining and packaging. Other products produced from Mwonyi and other herbs include Naturerub balm, which are sold in supermarkets and chemists. Actually, the work of these farmers has made them win international awards. This saw the group receive an award of $5000(Sh430,000) .They again bagged another award in the same year worth $5000.
Just like the moon, there are two sides to this story too. Despite these achievements, these farmers experience some challenges. They name high costs of production as the main one. This is exacerbated by lack of electricity on their facility leaving them with the costly option of using gas. This gas costs them up to sh57,000 a month. Also, they are facing competition from imported balm and those from established manufacturers.


Organic Farming

What would have happened had our great great fathers ways of farming had not been tampered with? They used no chemicals, practiced mixed farming, left land to regenerate naturally and valued trees….they practiced organic farming. Things have changed with all manner of chemicals and technologies being used on the farms and it’s said that all these were introduced to enhance the farming system’s productivity. Did our grand fathers not produce enough without them? While I have no doubt about these good intentions, am deeply worried about the unfolding trends with current farming practices. Never than before, we are plagued by unending droughts and famine, farmers complain of low yields and the ever increasing demand chemical fertilizers and pesticides – where subsequent usage has to be higher than the previous one for the same results. How is this sustainable?

Effects of drought

And in an otherwise familiar trend, which many now fear could turn into a culture of sorts, diplomats and international celebrities in large 4x4s make their way into plagued hamlets to start the seemingly familiar and never-ending array of international aid appeals and humanitarian campaigns for the hunger stricken populace. Would we be here had we not adopted the conventional farming practices? I would say no.

Organic agriculture is the way to go. It uses techniques such as green manure, compost and natural pest control to maintain soil productivity, it has the potential to help farmers attain food security for their families, cut down on cost of inputs therefore saving more, and hence lessen their dependence on aid while ensuring environmental sustainability.

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