Building permaculture bridges in Kenya

Text and photos by Kipper, SONED – Travel (Project) report Kenya 18.02.-17.03.2020

Exactly 31 years after I started my first trip to Africa at Diani Beach, south of Mombasa, I have now started this trip again, this time accompanied by Sonja. The reason for this was a wedding invitation to Kisumu and the long-cherished wish to visit some Kenyan project partners, to exchange ideas and to explore opportunities for cooperation. In the short term we have received funding from the Schöck Family Foundation.

After 4 days of relaxation and acclimatization on the beach, we took the new Madaraka Express from Mombasa to Nairobi. The stations of the new train route are huge steel and glass structures and appear completely oversized, especially since the trains only run twice a day in each direction. In my perception, the security checks seemed a bit exaggerated; the fear of terrorist attacks also seems to be of great concern. From the train you can see the animals of the Tsavo National Park; we could see Giraffes, Gazelles and several herds of Elephants.

In Nairobi we were picked up by Karin and Tim, 2 master brewers from Berlin, from the train station and immediately taken to a large night club, where the beer of their brewery was promoted that evening. Then we drove together to the farm in the Rift Valley where the Bateleur Brewery brews its varieties of craft beer. We were allowed to visit the brewery and taste some of the 16 types of beer. A joint trip to Lake Naivasha was the only joint venture, as Karin and Tim are very busy in the brewery and work 10 or more hours a day.

We drove on to Kisumu, where we were expected by Steven, the director of CADIF (Community Aid Development International Fund) Kenya. The next day we went to the wedding of Nina and Jack, a German-Kenyan couple who met in Malawi over a year ago after an Erasmus + workshop in our presence. A huge festival on the shores of Lake Victoria with many visitors, some priests and a lot of hallelujah in scorching heat. On the following days Steven showed us some CADIF projects, among other things through the placement of international volunteers: at Dunga Beach an ecostation in a Papyrus Swamp with a mini-museum and an observation tower for bird watching; a new fish market with an attached biogas plant for the conversion of  market waste into energy as well as Jacks Watersports Academy, which was partially flooded because the lake has been overflowing in recent weeks. The next day we visited a small clinic in a slum of Kisumu.

Then we drove to Rusinga Island to visit the Badilisha Ecovillage. Evans was waiting for us and showed us the area with offices, library and seed bank, seminar rooms, pizza oven, lake water treatment and removal station for the neighborhood, tree nursery, forest garden, fish pond, market garden etc. An impressive demonstration project for applied permaculture. In the evening Evans took us home, where a Swiss volunteer also lived. The next morning, we accompanied Evan to a reforestation project on a bare hill where his team built check dams to stop erosion and plant seedlings of endangered tree species. Through awareness raising with the local herdsmen, the afforested areas are no longer grazed and some parts have start form a dense young forest. Before leaving the Island, we visited the Kanyala Little Stars Academy in Mbita, which was supported by SONED e.V. between 2010 and 2012 and again in 2018. Visiting the different classrooms, we experienced interested, happy schoolchildren who, according to the school principal, achieved very good learning results in a national comparison.

From Kisumu, we traveled on to Kitale to see the projects of OTEPIC (Organic Technology Extension and Promotion of Initiative Center). Philip Munyasia first showed us the Amani garden, which his team had created in 2012 and which, has since developed into a lush forest garden with magnificent avocado, medicinal and useful trees. It is nourished from its own well water, which is pumped with solar power, a self-built biogas plant that fires the stove and a lounge, as well as a mushroom station, tree nursery and vegetable garden. Everything in a confined space, which is why in the last 3 years, there has been an extension of the project to another area just outside the city of Kitale. The new permaculture center will be built here, on a 5ha. piece of land. There are also a few things here: banana trees, avocado trees, a young forest garden, vegetable garden, and some traditional round huts for living quarters, mushroom cultivation and crop storage. Philip was particularly proud to show us the herbs and vegetables that he had grown from seeds that he had brought with him from Germany. So we immediately tried a stem cabbage (Kohlrabi) and realized that Philip had never tried it raw.

What impressed us most, however, was the huge uncompleted conference center that is being built on the site. This shows the visionary power of Philip and his team, because many around him may have thought that this group of young slum enthusiasts could not cope with such a construction site. But the building is almost finished and already roofed, there are four large water tanks on the roof, other huge underground cisterns are bricked and are supposed to collect the rainwater and the gray water separately. A biogas plant and a sewage treatment plant are planned for the black water. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to do to build a functioning center here and we hope the OTEPIC team gets the necessary support.

On Saturday we drove to the orphanage that Philip initiated. In a rented building with a garden, 22 orphans of different ages live together like an extended family, supervised by a volunteer team led by Millicent, a student teacher. On Sunday, we visited Philips mother in the slum where Philip also grew up and where his engagement started. His mother’s little house seems to function as a center for the neighborhood, with frequent visits of locals and one gets an idea of how Philip’s strong commitment came about. In the neighborhood, Philip showed us the first community garden, which he started with friends and neighbors as a peace initiative to give young people a perspective. In the house next door, there is a room for meetings by OTEPIC and an urban tap water that Philip has fought for from the administration, ensuring easy access to water instead of locals having to walk to the river.

The last stop on our visit was KIPEPEO near Luanda. After Julius and Jethron showed us the office and community farm and brought us to our host family, there was little time to prepare for the agreed workshop. This should take place in the Community Center, which is only partly completed.

From March 12-14, 2020, 14 participants from six Kenyan organizations (CADIF Kenya, OTEPIC, Badilisha, Kipepeo, Books for Trees and Ndoto Zetu) came together for this network workshop. After participants presented themselves and their organization, we gathered individual expectations of the workshop in a dream circle. These were recorded in a dream protocol and rated by the participants according to priorities.

Subsequently, the prioritized topics were discussed in 2 rounds of group work: 1. Criteria for permaculture learning centers; 2. Involvement of the community / neighborhood including people with special needs; 3. Permaculture and sustainability for children / in schools; 4. A strategy for a “Permaculture diploma process for Kenya” 5. Intensive Permaculture gardening in small areas; 6. Lobbying and public relations, 7. “How should permaculture design courses in Kenya run (special needs) and 8. Perspectives for this network. The group work was then presented to the plenum with further discussion. The next day, four topics were taken up again and worked on. In an open space we exchanged knowledge and tips about composting, fish farming, tree cultivation etc. A seed sharing circle closed the day.

On the last day, the next steps for the network were agreed, we planted the over 50 tree seedlings delivered, the workshop was evaluated together, and everyone involved received a certificate.

Conclusion: Everyone found the workshop good: the content, the other participants, the exchange of experiences, the inspiration, the location and the fabulous hospitality and accommodation by the community. Further cooperation has been agreed and is to be written in a Memorandum of Understanding. A Permaculture network was initiated and the establishment of permaculture demonstration and learning venue was agreed: PLANT-Kenya (Permaculture Learning, Action, Networking and Training Centers in Kenya). We rotated to arrange a series of Permaculture design courses with a list of regional peculiarities / needs. A group developed a draft for a Kenyan Permaculture diploma course and a strategy for implementation. In addition, the organizations involved discussed further avenues for cooperation. Everything else went well, except for my proposed concept of a self-managed conference did not work due to the lack of participation and I had to moderate the three workshop days. In the end I got a nice certificate, but also good reviews. In any case, I have the impression that the workshop was very successful and is an initial spark for further network activities. For SONED in Berlin, too, there are many opportunities to work with this new network.

Towards the end of the workshop, I only got a call from Berlin that our return flight was canceled by Turkish Airlines, then Karin called me to come and bring 3 boxes of beer as a giveaway from the brewery. So KIPEPEO’s invitation to the community evening was a cheerful one. Karin and Tim came to dinner with Njoroge and we all had a lively evening. The next day we drove to Kisumu again because Njoroge really wanted to see Lake Victoria and we had no objection to stopping by Dunga Beach with the eco station and the hippos before heading back to Nairobi and then the next day towards Corona Berlin or into the unknown.