3 Ways SIA Partners are Celebrating Earth Day Everyday

Earth Day celebrations may last over a weekend but what about the long-term? Here are three examples of Spirit in Action partners promoting techniques that benefit the earth and their communities:

Woman in Malawi shows the bounty from her family's farm

Ester shows the bounty from her family’s farm.

1. Intercropping in Malawi

Have you heard about the Three Sisters? Beans, squash, and corn grown together get the blue ribbon in the intercropping category. Corn stalks grow tall, beans use the stalks as bean poles, and squash leaves provide shade that  stunts weeds and locks in the soil moisture. Also, the nutrients in bean plants keep the soil healthy year after year.

More and more people in Manyamula Village are adopting this beautiful combination that is good for the heavily-used farmland and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed. We visited Saul and Ester’s farm in 2011 where we saw their flourishing intercropping of beans and corn.

Saul and Ester are members of the MAVISALO Savings and Loans cooperative and they share and learn with the other 150 group members about intercropping and other sustainable farming techniques.

beans and corn

Beans planted at the base of the corn use the stalks as support.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

SIA partners from 5 countries are enthusiastic to try new bio-intensive agriculture methods.

2. Ukweli Training Centre in Kenya

Anyone who has met Samuel Teimuge knows his passion for simple methods and technologies that can help people produce more food and protect the environment. At his Ukweli Training Centre in Eldoret, Kenya, local experts show groups of people from all over eastern Africa a sampling of these beneficial technologies. For example:

  • The kitchen garden plots use double-digging (a method of turning the soil before planting) and composting;
  • A chicken pen extends over a fish pond and chicken droppings fall into the water to provide nutrients to the fish, increasing the size of the fish (more about chicken-fish farming);
  • An agroforestry display shows about starting seedlings, and replanting and caring for trees; trees provide shade, fruit, and fencing, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

The poultry house over the fish pond provides plenty of nutrients!

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

Joshua shows off the great crops grown with compost and no other inputs! More food and less expensive to produce.

3. Side-by-side Comparisons

With such good results from simple agricultural techniques, why doesn’t everyone take on the methods? Joshua Machinga and his team at Common Ground know that old habits die hard, so they have planted two sets of crops to convince people to change.

The 5-year experiment places crops that use conventional fertilizers next to crops that use rich, organic compost to display tangible benefits of using compost for long-term soil health. The evidence right in front of people is pretty convincing!

*Spirit in Action has a number of resources about composting, double-digging, organizing model farm days, and intercropping available for free. If you would like me to send you any of these materials, please email the SIA office.

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The Best Kind of Leftovers

Our partners are cooking up big change in their communities and there are so many inspiring stories, photos, and quotes to share! I couldn’t fit them all in the Spring & Summer 2013 Newsletter, so today’s blog is a bit of newsletter leftover stew…

(The newsletter went off to the presses yesterday but you can download a PDF COLOR copy here today.)

1. Women Starting Businesses in Kenya

SIA Small Business Fund local coordinator in Kenya, Dennis Kiprop, is excited about the new cohort of 5 women-led business groups:

“I thank God for such an opportunity to serve and train these small business groups. The greatest joy is to see them grow in God and be able to support their families in the long run with the businesses they are doing. Most of them are the key providers in their own families. Thank you for the great support, prayers, and love.”

Women fill out business plan

Rose and Salina fill out their business plan after attending a training session led by local SIA Coordinator Dennis Kiprop.

Goats are kept in elevated pens in Malawi.

Goats are kept in elevated pens in Malawi.

2. Forestry Project in Malawi

The front page of the newsletter has a story about 5 Small Business Fund groups in Malawi that are collaborating to start a forestry project.

The tree-planting business will not only help reforest the area and help the soil retain more water, the trees are also important for infrastructure in the rural Manyamula village. Tree poles are used for building houses and also for penning goats.

This photo shows the elevated goat pen which keeps the animals safe and allows the owners to collect manure for their gardens!

3. Short (and important) Supporter Survey

We want to hear your preferences! We have a short 9-question survey for our supporters. Will you tell us how you want to hear from us and what you like about SIA? Take the survey here. Thank you!

4. Memories of Del’s Encouragement

I asked Camily Wedende, a solar cooker entrepreneur in Kenya, about what words of inspiration from Del still stuck with him. (See the newsletter of how Camily is helping others promote solar cooking in Kenya.)

“Del used to write about letting go. To let go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To let go is not to deny, but to accept.

To let go is not to fix, but to be supportive.”

Canaan Gondwe with a giant cucumber!

5. Giant Cucumber!

I LOVE this photo of SIA local coordinator Canaan Gondwe (Malawi) with the giant cucumber that grew in his community with seeds sent by our dedicated volunteer, Aileen Gillem.

Seeds were given to needy families in the community for them to use in their kitchen gardens (small garden plots with many types of vegetables growing). Cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions all thrived, supplementing the staple food, maize (corn).

Gardening for the Long Term

Watching the presentation about tree seedlings and reforestation.

SIA SBF Coordinators watch a presentation about tree seedlings and reforestation.

Spring is in the air all over the USA this week! To celebrate the rain and the warmer temperatures, I am reposting this discussion of agro-forestry from last April on Spirit in Action’s blog.


Our international partners working in Kenya have long recognized the value of agroecology. This type of farming system, also called bio-intensive agriculture, uses techniques that help to replenish the nutrients in the soil and uses minimal amounts of chemical fertilizers and other inputs to grow vegetables and fruits. Agroecology methods bring greater crop yields while using much less space, water and energy, than conventional, high input methods.

In Africa there is great hope for the widespread embrace of agroecology technologies, especially because it benefits “small farmers who must be able to farm in ways that are less expensive and more productive.”

“But, [agro-ecology] benefits all of us,” says a NY Times op-ed, quoting a UN Human Rights Council Report, “because it decelerates global warming and ecological destruction.”

The UN Report shows that “small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods” including compost, double digging, and relying on beneficial plants, animals, and insects for pest management. Indeed, Olivier De Schutter, author of the UN report, said that “Malawi is now implementing agro-ecology, benefiting more than 1.3 million of the poorest people, with maize yields increasing from 1 ton/hectare to 2-3 tons/hectare.”

Agroforestry training in Kenya

Samuel Teimuge talks to a group about agroforestry to combat deforestation in Kenya.

Samuel Teimuge, who worked with SIA to start his Ukweli Training Center many years ago, teaches bio-intensive methods and has seen how they can increase production while having a minimal affect on the environment. He also leads workshops to help reforestation efforts in the Rift Valley. Trees are important for slowing erosion on the steep slopes.

Mark Bittman from the NY Times urges us to consider agriculture from a global perspective, understanding food as a human right and sustainable agriculture as a high-priority for the world.

In addition to supporting bio-intensive agriculture training in Kenya, it is just as important to support small-scale farmers here in the US, like these young farmers in Oregon.

Do you use bio-intensive methods in your own garden or farm? Share your stories in the comments section!


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Stewards of the Rivers and Forests

“The river of life, each curve more beautiful than the last.” The unfolding of beauty and possibility expressed in this Maaori saying was clearly present in an inspiring talk I heard last month by Tukoroirangi Morgan, a Maaori leader. He was at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NASIA) Conference to share how his tribe was able to successfully become the recognized stewards of the important Waikato River in New Zealand.

Restoring and protecting the health and wellbeing of the Waikato was their goal. They achieved their success, not by fighting for ownership of the river, but by advocating for co-governance of the river. Now, they are able to clear their sacred river from farm and city pollution and contamination, with government and tribal members equally sharing the responsibility.

Tukoroirangi’s story is inspiring because so many indigenous groups around the world are also struggling to preserve and restore the environmental wonders around their communities – and it is a hard, long struggle.

In Kenya, the Ogiek Tribe, northeast of Nairobi is fighting to save the Mau Forest, which is being destroyed by paper companies who are clear-cutting the land. There are about 30,000 Ogiek people in Kenya but the tribe is not officially recognized in Kenya and therefore doesn’t have representation in the Parliament or government, making their goal harder to reach.

A video from an African news website shows about the struggles of the Ogiek and tells about their desire to also become stewards of their environmental wonder. This video reinforces the importance of promoting sustainable agriculture in Kenya.

If video does not work, try this link: Kenya’s Ogiek Tribe & Reforestation

I am proud of the reforestation projects near Eldoret, Kenya that Spirit in Action has supported and this video only makes me more passionate about rebuilding and promoting the health and wellbeing of the forests in Kenya.

Related Post:


  • http://www.pantribalconfederacy.com/confederacy/News/pdf/ogiek.pdf
  • http://www.ogiek.org/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Kenya
  • http://www.river.org.nz/file/Vision-and-Strategy.pdf

Planting Trees for a "Greener Kenya"

“Environmental protection has become a priority in this country and there is a lot of technical input the government is employing.” This statement could easily have come from any U.S.-based environmentalist. But, it comes from one based in Kenya.

Dennis Kiprop, a Spirit in Action partner in Eldoret, Kenya wrote recently to share with me about environmental movements in his country and explain how people are employing bio-intensive agriculture to replenish the nutrients in the soil. Dennis, SIA-supported small business leaders, and many others are planting trees to create a “greener Kenya”.

Kenya emits significantly less CO2 than the United States and still Kenyans are seeing the effects of global climate change. Currently, only 3% of Kenya’s original forests remain, a result of trees being cut down for timber and firewood. To help reforest their environment, four new tree nursery businesses were started with $150 Spirit in Action Small Business Fund (SIA SFB) grants in early 2010.

SIA partners in front of their many tree seedlings

The SIA business groups grew indigenous seedlings for two reasons. First, they are businesses, so they harvest the trees in a sustainable manner and sell the wood to neighbors. The businesses have so far been very successful and all have reported high demand for their product.

Secondly, they are working with other groups from three surrounding villages and Samuel Teimuge, a long-time SIA partner, to raise and plant the seedlings to protect their local water source. This part of their work receives additional support from Trees for the Future, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that has been supporting reforestation efforts for over 30 years. Since 2008, Trees for the Future has distributed just under half a million seeds to partnering organizations in Kenya, including Samuel Teimuge’s Ukweli Training and Development Center.

After a meeting with the groups to discuss their goals, Dennis reported, “They will protect six streams whose waters drain to Lake Victoria by planting around the catchments to maintain the reservoirs. They also want to eradicate predicted dryness. I like the way they are giving their time and energy more in long-term investments.”

As with all Spirit in Action projects, these groups are also thinking about how they can pass on the gift they have received. Dennis is enthusiastic as he tells me, “I think reforestation is one of the largest dreams for Kenya and we are all participating in Sharing the Gift and “paying it forward” to the three villages and their surroundings that benefits the entire region for a long time.”

“Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” –Psalm 96:12

Dennis Kiprop tends to the tree seedlings.

Dennis Kiprop tends to the tree seedlings.

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