Why does it matter?

Why does it matter?

Droughts. Climate change. Tough farming conditions. Human rights violations. Self-expression denied. This week, two news stories highlighted how important the work of Spirit in Action is to combat these devastating realities.

New York Times: Loss of Fertile Land in Kenya

“More than in any other region of the world, people in Africa live off the land. There are relatively few industrial or service jobs here. Seventy percent of Africa’s population makes a living through agriculture, higher than on any other continent, the World Bank says.

“But as the population rises, with more siblings competing for their share of the family farm, the slices are getting thinner. In many parts of Africa, average farm size is just an acre or two, and after repeated divisions of the same property, some people are left trying to subsist on a sliver of a farm that is not much bigger than a tennis court.

“Fast-growing populations mean that many African families can’t afford to let land sit fallow and replenish. They have to take every inch of their land and farm or graze it constantly. This steadily lowers the levels of organic matter in the soil, making it difficult to grow crops.

“In many areas, the soil is so dried out and exhausted that there is little solace even when the prayed-for rains finally come. The ground is as hard as concrete and the rain just splashes off, like a hose spraying a driveway.” (Link to full article.)

SIA Partners in Action

SIA partners like CIFROD Kenya are helping to address the challenge of concrete-like soil. When I visited many CIFORD gardens last month in Maua, Kenya, I saw how CIFORD’s sustainable agriculture training helps farmers to break up the soil, replenish the nutrients with manure, and reduce water usage. (Read my blog post “How to garden in a drought” here.)

One of the grateful farmers we visited in Kenya. After implementing the sustainable agriculture techniques he learned from CIFORD, he noticed now much more he can grow.

The Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative also trains members to use manure and compost, and to intercrop their crops by alternating rows of beans and corn. The corn pulls nitrogen from the soil, and the beans help add it back into the soil. This can improve the soil and also increase the farm yields.

BBC: Mass arrests of gay people in Nigeria

“More than 40 men have been arrested in Nigeria over the weekend for performing homosexual acts, police say. Nigerian newspaper Punch reports that the police raided a hotel in Lagos State on Saturday afternoon and says the hotel was cordoned off while the investigation was carried out.

“Homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years in jail in Nigeria, while gay marriage and displays of same-sex affection are also banned.” (Link to full article.)

The situation is similar in Uganda, where gay and lesbian people have no legal protection and there are laws banning gay marriage. Extreme social stigma and threat of physical violence means that it takes great courage to be out as LGBT.

Spirit in Action is in the early stages of partnering with Universal Love Ministries (ULM), a grassroots organization to end violence against women and LGBT people in Uganda. ULM delivers seminars in schools, churches, and communities creating awareness on human rights for women, children and sexual minorities.

I see the work of ULM as an important part of SIA’s mission to help everyone know that they are spiritual beings and that we all hold the divine within us.

Sharon Kukunda shares about why she works with ULM in Uganda:

These two news stories remind me that the work we are supporting is not trivial. It is about life and death. SIA’s partners are boldly helping people live better lives, with enough food to eat, and the right to be safe. Thank you for joining us in supporting this work.

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...