How to garden in a drought 

How to garden in a drought 

Dispatch from Kenya: 

“The dry season is supposed to be December through March, but this year the rains aren’t coming, even up until now.” This we heard from Joseph Gichioni and so many others in central Kenya. Rahab Mugambi, a member of CIFORD Kenya in Meru County, confirmed that water is their biggest problem.

The rains aren’t coming. Climate change is right there in front of them. In a place where the great majority of people rely on farming for food and livelihood, the lack of water is a serious issue.

So CIFORD Kenya, (whose name stands for Community Initiatives for Rural Development), is working with farmers to make the water that is available last as long as possible. The community-based organization, which we visited over the weekend, has a training garden with various configurations of gardens to reduce water use.


Josephat stands in a “horseshoe” garden. This type of garden channels the water to the center of a group of plants, retaining the water. It also provides space for the farmer to walk into the cluster of plants to easily weed and care for them.

Sunken beds help pool rain water to get the most moisture to the plants.

Margeret Ikiara, director of CIFORD, shows us the “mandala” garden, which has rocks in the center to disperse the water.

Using these methods, farmers are able to successfully maintain “kitchen gardens” – small plots next to the kitchen, mostly for home consumption. They grow staple vegetables like kale (called skuma wiki in Swahili) and tomatoes.

They use water from the trickling streams, from sporadic rains, and from the county-supplied water faucet. However, the faucet only has water one or two days a week, and they never know when that will be dry.


Caption: Rose shows me her maize and beans. She uses the waste water from her kitchen and washing for her garden plot. (Also shown, photographer Mike Hegeman’s thumb!)

Almost every member we talked to over the course of the day stressed how much these gardens had reduced their household expenditures and improved their diet and food security. “We have food all year now, and we don’t even have to buy it at the market anymore. We grow it right here,” said Margaret Karayu (pictured below) proudly as she showed us her verdant garden.

Spirit in Action support for dynamic community organizations like CIFORD help them to find and teach local solutions to the global problem of water scarcity and climate change.

We leave Kenya tomorrow and I return home. This has been such a positive trip and I have met so many wonderful people who are serving their communities and working with unbelievable dedication to change their lives. I have seen women carrying heavy jugs of water long distances, and met passionate teachers and leaders. I can’t wait to share more of what I saw with you…after I get a good night’s sleep in my own bed. Thank you to all who supported this trip and who support the work of SIA. You are so appreciated by all who we met. 

SIA Updates: New grants, crops in Malawi, and a run-raiser!

SIA Updates: New grants, crops in Malawi, and a run-raiser!

1. Five new small businesses sponsored in Malawi!

Last week, five new entrepreneurs attended a day-long workshop with Small Business Fund local coordinator Canaan Gondwe to plan their new business ventures. Over the course of the day they formed Business Plans and described the roles each family member would play in the business. Help me in welcoming:

New business leaders in Manyamula Village, Malawi, received SIA grants this month!

2. Run-raiser

We’re going to write the name of Spirit in Action all over Alameda, CA! When I say “we,” I mean SIA friend Joshua Brooks. 🙂 Joshua is going to trace SIA’s roots (Alameda is where Del lived and our first office was located) and run a solo half-marathon on March 18th to raise money for the SIA Small Business Fund! I hope to have details about how to follow along in real time soon. To contribute to the campaign, click here. 

3. Crops threatened in Malawi

“The outbreak of fall armyworms has erupted in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and follows a crippling El Nino-triggered drought which scorched much of the region last year.” The armyworm caterpillars are attacking the maize corn crop, which is the staple food and is essential to the diet in Malawi. (Read more about the effects of the armyworm in Malawi.)

So far, the crops in Manyamula Village are mostly unaffected. The crops will be harvested in April/May and so we pray that they will be fine until then!

Canaan Gondwe’s crop of “groundnuts” (peanuts) is about read to harvest! 

4. Fresh manna

SIA Board Member Barbara Deal sent this to me, remarking how closely it resembles the language that Del used to talking about needing “fresh manna” each day.

“I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

-Langston Hughes

Sharing the Gift: Moringa Edition

Sharing the Gift: Moringa Edition

“Of course I remain grateful to you and Spirit in Action for your patience with me and the encouragement you have always given to us in our work. Please remember that anytime you will be in need of expert knowledge to support any community-based Moringa project, in any part of the world, you can count on me to offer free voluntary service. It is not an exaggeration to say I can help in any work on Moringa from cultivation, processing and the entire value chain development.”

Sharing a piglet may be the most tangible way of Sharing the Gift. But the offer of “free voluntary service” by Newton Amaglo, SIA grantee and long-time correspondent with Del Anderson, is another exciting way that our partners pay-it-forward to benefit the larger Spirit in Action community.

Del and Newton (then an ambitious researcher at the Kwame Nkrumah’ University of Science and Technology, in Ghana) discussed bio-intensive farming, which can produce large amounts of food in a small garden plot. They also shared an excitement for the possibility of Moringa – a fast-growing and highly-nutritious tree – to improve the diets of people around the world.

moringa_growing_4-16

How can Moringa be incorporated into a diet? Newton explains, “the leaves can be harvested fresh and eaten cooked or uncooked in vegetable salad, soups and stews. It can equally be dried at home, milled, and stored in air-tight containers where it can be added to meals.”

In 2008, SIA gave $5,500 to Newton and his research team to start Moringa plantations at an elementary school and one of the local prisons. Prison food is as bad around the world as it is in the US, and so they were in particular need of nutritious supplements in their diets! The training and garden plots were just getting off the ground when Newton left Ghana for China, where he began working on a Masters degree and PhD in Horticulture.

In his letter Newton told me more about what he was researching, “During my Masters I worked on Moringa leaf production under high density and I have been working on various Moringa seed oil extraction technologies. I pray that all these years of painful sacrifices and studies will go a long way to help the human race.”

moringa_harvesting_4-16

Harvesting the Moringa plants.

Needless to say, I eagerly took Newton up on the offer to share his findings! He emailed back with a very helpful guide for starting a small-scale Moringa garden at home. The guide, (with pictures!) shows how to prepare a four meter square plot by turning up the soil (double digging) and adding manure. Then you sow seeds in the four quadrants and the Moringa leaves will be ready to harvest after two months!

The research is already rippling out through the SIA network. I remembered seeing small Moringa plants when I visited Meanly Mbeye’s home in Malawi in 2014 and thought that she could benefit from the information about intensifying her production. I sent the instructions to Canaan Gondwe to pass along to her and other community members.

Canaan was excited to receive the document and to learn more about Moringa. “The tree seedlings you saw at Meanly Mbeyes home have grown big and they are using the leaves for nutrition. May Newton share more literature of his research. Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative is interested in this.” And so, the research of one SIA partner is shared to another, strengthening our network and improving diets.

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family's farm. Moringa leaves contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and protein!

Menaly with the Moringa trees around her family’s farm. Moringa leaves contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and protein!

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

Grant Update! Sustainable Farms in Kenya

“We must translate our science into practice.” A simple statement which boils down a Moses Mukongo’s approach to farming in the western part of Kenya. Moses learned about the science of sustainable agriculture at Manor House, and now he and his team at Community Mobilization Against Poverty (CMAP) are passionate about sharing that science with small-scale farmers who can put it into practice. These are farmers who are growing food for their own families and to also sell some at the local markets in the areas surrounding Kitale in western Kenya.

Grant for Workshops

Since receiving a SIA Community Grant last December, CMAP has hosted a series of sustainable farming workshops, benefiting over 165 people. The trainings involve men and women, with women playing a major role in traditional farming in Kenya.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

Kapkoi women farmers preparing their spinach nursery for transplanting.

The trainings involve sessions about double-digging (to promote healthy soil and create raised beds), companion planting (maximizes space and pairs plants that will grow well together), composting (healthy soil and nutrients for the plants), and the use of open-pollinated seeds (so that seeds can be saved from season to season). (Read more about these techniques here – you can implement them in your garden/farm too!)

Moses is passionate about promoting these techniques and telling people the many ways their farms can benefit from using them. “The practices are low-cost and non-polluting, they produce maximize agricultural yields, build soil fertility, and minimize inputs of water, energy, and fertilizers!” The practices not only help people grow more food to eat and sell, they also benefit the environment and help mitigate effects of drought or poor soil.

Sharing the Gift

We ask all our community-based organization partners to “share the gift” by helping others in their community. CMAP embraced this call by implementing the “Five-Farmer Challenge.” Every farmer who attends the workshop is challenged to reach out to five other farmers to share what they have learned. They have also reached out to one of the local primary school to start a school garden as part of their “Farmers of the Future” project. This is the ripple effect of SIA grants!

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Students during the Farmers of the Future training at the elementary school.

Learning from Nature

“In sustainably producing food we must use nature as our guide,” writes Moses in one of his passionate letters to me, “we must escape from the poverty of affluence which is always striving to accumulate more of things and we must ‘seize the day’ in recognizing the opportunity for finding a new way of living in harmony with nature and humankind in the new millennium.” Well said!

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

The CMAP Research and Demonstration garden at the beginning of the 2015 cropping season.

Dreaming of Spring

Dreaming of Spring

“What are those crazy things hanging in the tree?” I asked the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinators when we saw them on the site of our conference in Uganda last summer. Most of us didn’t know what it was since Uganda is much more tropical than where the rest of us live. We did get to try the jackfruit before the end of the week and it was a nice mellow melon flavor. I was at a restaurant in Toronto recently that served jackfruit and it brought back good memories of being together with all our wonderful Small Business Fund leaders.

Much of the country is buried in snow this week and it has me dreaming of spring – of warm earth, budding leaves, and seeds sprouting. I also heard from a new friend in Malawi that most farmers there planted their crops last month, so things should be growing already!

With those thoughts in mind, here are some seed-related inspiration and photos from my trip last summer!

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” — Mexican Proverb

“Who would put a seed in the ground and then plant a stalk in the ground above the seed? For the stalk grows out of the seed – from within it, never from without; So the answer grows out of the question, the fulfillment out of the need, and the Love out of the yearning.” — Glenn Clark, “The Soul’s Sincere Desire”

“A seed never has any doubts as to what it is going to grow into, therefore you must have no doubts whatsoever about the seed which I have planted into your consciousness. Simply know it will grow and flourish and will be perfect.” — Eileen Caddy

Kubadwa's stand of winter maize in Malawi. The winter crop (July, in the southern hemisphere) is very profitable, since it is out of the normal growing season. Canaan Gondwe, the local coordinator, told us that "it is hot cake," selling quickly in the markets - and fetching a good price! The Small Business Fund program and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative loans help farmers invest in winter crops.

We visited Kubadwa’s stand of winter maize in Malawi. The winter crop (July, in the southern hemisphere) is very profitable, since it is out of the normal growing season. Canaan Gondwe, the local coordinator, told us that “it is hot cake,” selling quickly in the markets – and fetching a good price! The Small Business Fund program and the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative loans help farmers invest in winter crops.

Kubadwa (left) has shared the gift with Kamanya Zuru. He gave him two plates of bean seed and showed him about how to plant  the seeds, use compost manure and double dig the beds to prep them for planing.

Kubadwa (left) has shared the gift with Kamanya Zuru. He gave him two plates of bean seed and showed him about how to plant the seeds, use compost manure and double dig the beds to prep them for planing.

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