The 17th of December 2020, I visited Syntropic Agroforestry demo plots with Wilfred Chibwara in Kwale which are utilizing community currency to support setup and maintenance and will be redeemed for food as harvest begin. Thanks to initial trainings by Roland van Reenen they have come a long way from when they started. Special thanks to Mwanaidi Ibrahim, Naduwa Mwero and Jacob Mwatumbi for all their hard work! Here are my observations and recommendations:
Visit to Miyani Syntropic Agroforestry Farm.
In the first demo plot, besides the trees, bananas, and casava different crops were planted including maize, cucumber and okra. Currently, maize has matured and will be harvested soon! It is looking much better than nearby mono-cropped farms which we hope will soon adopt the technique. Cucumber and okra will also start producing in the coming weeks. A few more crops are now being planted including kale and capsicum but the planting is very sparse.
After maize is harvested, all the maize stalks should be used for mulching the beds. When harvesting maize ensure that the root mass of the maize remains intact in the soil. (Don't uproot it!). Only chop the upper part of the maize stalks and let the roots remain and decompose in the soil.
Another tall crop such as sunflower should be planted to replace the maize. Sunflower is drought resistant hence can survive with little water in the dry season. After 3 months, during the onset of the long rains in March/April. The sunflower will be ready to be harvested, seeds dried and used as food (roasted sunflower seeds or used as chicken feeds). Sunflower stalks can be chopped and dropped as mulch therefore enriching the soil.
Ensure that the soil is completely covered with thick mulch. This can be any type of plant matter be it grass, weeds and tree leaves. Cover the entire bed, on top and the sides. Secondly, mulch all the paths with logs and tree branches. Mulching will help preserve water in the soil and keep off weeds. Additionally, when the mulch decomposes it will add into the soil organic matter.
Start planting a living hedge around the demo plots. This will act as a windbreak and a sunscreen to reduce the intensity of the sun. The plot is highly exposed to the elements and would result in slow growth of crops.
Plant intensively and diverse crops in every space. Currently, only a few crops have been planted. These crops are also sparsely planted. This is not efficient use of space and water. Fill up all the empty spaces with different crops such as nitrogen fixers e.g cow peas (kunde) and pigeon peas (mbaazi), insect repellents such as dhania and lemon grass to keep away pests, flowering crops to attract pollinators and pest predators and increase the the number of biomass crops. These include vetiver grass, moringa, nappier grass and tithonia. This will ensure that there's continuous production of biomass which will be used to cover and build the soil.
It takes a while to get accustomed to how intensely one can plant when coming from the usual mono-crop farming - Kai Njeri
In conclusion, the group has done a great job in starting up the projects. Seeing even this level of growth in a semi-arid environment that was classified as food-insecure is amazing. However, the groups will need support on the succession in the next round of crops and to continue monitoring. The motivation of the community given by accepting community currency will eventually be repaid with their ability to use it to purchase food from the farm. Motivation to continue maintaining the gardens is especially important during the first year of establishment. This is due to the fact that during the first year that's when most of the challenges crop up, such as pests and disease, crop failures and building of the soil.
I look forward to supporting them through this journey!