More food, better food: 324 water tanks are making a difference

Here is an update from on the More Food, Better Food: Empowering Kenya Women Farmers Global Affairs Canada project, written by project co-manager Teresa Mellish from Farmers Helping Farmers
May 25, 2020

Imagine when Catherine Kathambi wakes up in the morning and has to get her 5 beautiful grandchildren ready to go to school. She is a widow and they all depend on her.  She lives in Mboroga (near Meru)  on ½ acre of land and she makes uji  (porridge)  for them  for breakfast but she has run out of water.  There is a standpipe in her community so she takes her 20 litre jerry can and goes to the standpipe.  She joins the queue to get her can filled- but as she gets close to having her turn at the standpipe, the water stops.  No more water for today. 

Catherine Kathambi stands beside her new 5000 litre water tank at her home in Mboroga. Her grandchildren are sitting on the tank base:  Elda Kajuju  (10 years),  Hyvin Gatwiri (12 years  holding 2 year old neighbor Shan Makena ),  Trizah Nkatha    ( 13 years),  Brian Mutuma ( 9 years) and . Kelvin Mutethia  (6 years)

The only other water she can get is from a near-by stream; even though she knows the water is not clean, she hopes for the best and heads for the stream to fill her jerry can and carries it home. 

She makes the uji, gets her grandchildren cleaned up and sends them off to school. They are late for school and will be punished for being late. 

Then she realizes that she has some laundry to do, so she heads back to the stream and fills her jerry can again so she can do her laundry and hang it out to dry. 

During the afternoon she makes three more trips to the stream to get water so she can cook supper for her family.  By the end of the afternoon her back is sore. She has spent half of her day hauling water home for household use. She had no time to weed her field or her kitchen garden. 

Now imagine how her day looks when she has a 5000 litre water tank in her yard.  She has clean water to cook her food; her grandchildren will be clean and will get to school on time.  She can set her laundry to soak while she goes out and weeds her garden for an hour. Her kale  in her grow bag is  growing nicely so she can include it in her supper menu.  Her orange flesh sweet potatoes are growing well so she harvests a few and cooks them so her children can have them for breakfast the next morning. 

She has time to go to the field and weed her maize as well as her potato crop which she plans to sell for much needed cash. 

She harvests and stores the rain water. When the rain water runs out she can run a hose to the standpipe and fill her tank at night (when there is no other demand for it)   on the two days a week it is available.   She will share the water she has with her family members and neighbours. 

With funding from Global Affairs Canada , Farmers Helping Farmers has installed 324 water tanks at the homes of the  members of 7 womens groups.  Farmers Helping Farmers signed a contract in September for the project entitled: More Food. Better Food. Empowering Kenya Women Farmers. Knowing that access to water is the most urgent need of farm families, we assigned four of our Kenyan personnel to start installing water tanks in November. By the end of March, 324 tanks were installed.  Each of the 324  women paid for the costs of the base for the water tanks to sit on. 

This project provides for support and training for farm families to improve food security  which we do with the members of 8 womens groups, 3 dairies and 5 schools.   When COVID-19 hit Kenya, the Government of Kenya directed that no group gatherings were allowed  (same as here in PEI).  We directed our personnel to work only with individuals and we prioritized their work on vegetable production.  They were establishing vegetable seedling  nurseries for each of the groups- so they would have seedlings to transplant into grow bags.  Then the women would not have to go to the crowded markets to buy vegetables. 

Kenya has 1161 confirmed cases of COVID-19  and until this week, Meru County had  no confirmed cases. However this week they have confirmed two cases.   We are at least happy that the members of the 8 womens groups have access to water at their homes.

FHF has directed our personnel to stay at home for the time being. 

FHF is doing the work we can do balancing this with the safety of our staff and the members of the womens groups and dairies. 

Because of COVID-19, we are very sad that we have to cancel our fund raising barbecue in August. We are equally saddened that  the Village Feast has to cancel its fund raising feast in July.  

We will certainly continue to need the support of Islanders and our donors. 

Farmers Helping Farmers gratefully acknowledges the support of Global Affairs Canada. 

January 2020

FHF has signed an agreement with Global Affairs Canada for a four-year project with $1 million in federal funding.

The project, More Food, Better Food: Empowering Kenyan Women Farmers, will combine the full range of our proven approaches to improve food security and nutrition of hundreds more farm families.

More Food, Better Food will require us to attain a new level of volunteer involvement and donor support.

Over the four years, 49 volunteers will be needed for three week placements in Kenya, and over $250,000 will need to be raised to contribute FHF’s share of the project’s cash needs.

How Farmers Helping Farmers is working to improve potato production in Kenya

Report to Farmers Helping Farmers about my trip to Kenya in January and February of 2020 working with Kenyan potato farmers.

By Peter Townshend

“How Great Thou Art” was playing in the background as we sat in the shade of the house talking to a small group of people as we waited for the rest of the farmers to come. I wondered why they were playing my favorite hymn and Pauline our hostess said it was her favorite hymn too. We were listening to the day long and country wide funeral broadcast for Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya’s second and longest serving President who had recently died at the age of 95, not universally loved in his life but seemed to be well respected in death.

It was a beautiful day on a beautiful farm in Nkubu.

We had an opportunity to address a group of local potato farmers about farming in Canada. We were waiting because people don’t go to a meeting on time in Kenya. If the meeting is scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m., this means you start thinking about getting ready to go to the meeting at 9!  Eventually everyone will come and when they arrive, they will be enthusiastic and engaged.  All meetings start with a prayer.

There are basically three styles of farm and farmer in Kenya.

There are the large white settler farmers which run as commercial operations with modern techniques and equipment. These farms are successful and deal with the same problems that face agriculture around the world. Their local issues would be lack of support services like equipment dealers and transportation.

Then there are the small farms or shambas, as they are called locally, I would divide them into two categories. First are a small size of one to two acres where most of the work is done by women and generate very little cash. The larger ones, up to ten acres, are considered “rich” farmers by the community.  These still don’t have much in the way of equipment but do generate cash and create day jobs. On this size farm the men generally stay home and work with their wives to manage the operation.

The Meru County Government has recognized the work that Farmers Helping Farmers have been doing in Kenya for 40 years with dairy farmers and families. The Meru County government Is very interested in improving local potato production and has asked Farmers Helping Farmers to access the industry with a view to developing similar production training to the dairy programs.

That is why I was there and, after two visits, we see lots of potential and lots of room for improvement.

Mechanization on the shambas consists of a machete or panga and a grub hoe or fork jambe.  No tractors or electricity and lots of back-breaking labour. Think digging potatoes with a stick!

Potatoes are the number two agricultural crop in Kenya behind maize or corn.  I am told the potato production in Kenya is larger than the potato industry in the UK but is very different.

We identified two aspects of Kenyan potato production that we may be able to help with.  One is storage and the other is pesticide handling and safety 

Potato storage in Kenya is different than it is in Prince Edward Island because they produce two crops every year so only store for up to six months. Most storages leave much to be desired and good storage is virtually nonexistent. 

On shambas, it usually consists of a shed that is uninsulated, with sunlight shining through gaps in the boards and often a window.  There are some experimental storages constructed of straw bales covered with stucco, which are a big improvement The Meru County government is trying to put up some proper storage which can be shared by multiple growers.

This lack of storage is a major problem for marketing. There is a big supply of potatoes at harvest time, which occurs in January and February and then again in July and August. This has a depressing effect on prices.  Potato prices rise several months later when the quality and quantity of stored potatoes is low.

The other problem we see is with the application of pesticides. As potato growers in Kenya try to improve production practices, by using certified seed and proper fertilization, they also increase spraying for the same reasons that Canadian growers do, using similar products.

Virtually one hundred percent of the spraying on shambas is done with backpack sprayers, mainly by women and often by women of child-bearing age.  Safety equipment is very rare, even gloves are not commonly used. Operators spray in front of themselves walking through the wet foliage and spray mist. This creates a situation which is unacceptable.  

Kenyan farmers use the same products as we use in North America and Europe. Companies sell them in small packages suitable for backpack sprayers.  Labels are much less detailed than we see and give mixing instructions for backpack sprayers. Re-entry intervals or times are impossible to observe because they are walking in the field while applying.

The team working in Kenya to try to improve this situation consists of Ken Mellish, Kendra Thurston, and myself with a lot of technical assistance from Ken Lingley of On Target Spray Services and Eric Richter with Syngenta, both home in Canada. Farmers Helping Farmers staff member, Stephan Mwenda and our driver Franklin Muthamia were invaluable to our project by providing local knowledge when sourcing parts and labour, translation and technical help. 

We took sprayer components consisting of a pump, regulator and nozzles from Canada, designed and supplied by Ken Lingley and purchased the hardware for the sprayer cart in Kenya.

Our plan was to build a small cart which could be pulled easily through the fields by hand and would have a batter- powered pump with a twenty-litre tank and enough nozzles to spray two to four rows of potatoes.  We were able to purchase the battery, a solar-powered battery charger,a tank and motorcycle wheels in Kenya.   We got great service from the aptly named Try Hard Traders Hardware in Meru. Many shops in Kenya have very descriptive names, my personal favorite is The Well Hung Butcher!

We found a helpful welding shop on the roadside in Kiberichia and put together a frame for the sprayer. Our first design was a one-wheeled version to minimize tracks through the field but we found it to awkward and difficult to handle, so we scrapped that idea.

Next, we built a two-wheeled version which straddled two rows and had a boom with eight nozzles designed to spray four rows on thirty-inch centres. This solved a lot of our problems and is relatively easy to operate.

We had the opportunity to show the sprayer at a local farm open house field day on our last day in Kenya. The sprayer generated a lot of interest and positive feedback.

Now that we have a prototype and a better understanding of the problem, we hope to do some research and experimenting on Prince Edward Island. The goal is to go back to Kenya and build ten to fifteen more units and get them out in the fields to see what works and what needs improvement. 

The spray cart concept will only work on the larger fields. There are additional challenges to spraying the small plots with anything other than a carried sprayer. The fields are always fenced in and usually the gate is only wide enough to walk through.  There is no headland or space at the end of rows and row width is inconsistent.  As part of our project, we hope to modify a backpack sprayer to spray behind the operator.

Hopefully we can make some improvements to the issue of safe application of pesticides. The best case scenario is that we design an affordable, small scale sprayer which is efficient to use and provides an acceptable level of safety for the operator.

Questions from Kiirua

By Emily Gallant and Hope Gallant, pre-service teachers from UPEI doing a practicum in Kenya

Hi again! The Gallant teachers are back with an update from week 2 at Kiirua Primary. 

Class 6 at Kiirua Primary

With each day, our students are getting more and more used to us. They can understand us better, and are even more comfortable asking us questions. Here is a list of some of our favourite questions to date: 

“Where does snow come from?” 

“What are your houses made of?” 

“What does your money look like?”

“Do you all drive cars in Canada?”

“Is English your mother tongue?”

“Do the children wear uniforms to school?”

“Do children have to have shaved heads in school?” 

“Do your students use pencils or pens?”

“What do the students eat at school?”

“Do you use textbooks in school?”

“How do you discipline students in school?”

“Will you sing us the national anthem of Canada?” 

“Do you have a president in Canada?”

“Do you teach Religious Education?”

“Are there black people in Canada?”

“Do you have cholera in Canada?”

“Does it rain in Canada?”

“What is the temperature in Canada?”

“How do you dry your clothes in Canada if it is so cold outside?”

“What time is it in Canada?”

“Do you have lions in Canada?” 

“How do you heat your houses?” 

“Do you have counties in Canada?”

Many of these questions are quite entertaining to us, and the students laugh out loud when we tell them the answers. Other answers are hard to explain. For example, have you ever tried to explain what a dryer is? The best I could come up with is that it is a giant microwave oven for clothes. Some questions are hard to explain for other reasons, especially because of the differences in school cultures between Canada and Kenya. 

Emily teaching an English lesson

During one of these questioning sessions, the students asked Hope what snow was made of. When she told them it was made of water, a student leaned over to me and asked “Can you drink snow?”. When I told him that yes, snow does melt into water, he said “So in Canada, you always have water to drink”. This comment stuck with me, and Hope and I discussed it with Paulette and Heather later that evening. 

We realized that the idea of drinking snow, while perfectly acceptable, is not one that we ever have to contend with. For all four of us, we have running water inside of our homes that is clean enough to drink and bathe in. The fact that the first thing this student thought of was how snow could be used as drinking water was incredibly eye-opening for us, and we realized just how many aspects of Canadian life we take for granted. 

Students waiting for lunch outside the Farmers Helping Farmers sponsored cookhouse

Lessons from the classroom

Hello from Meru town, Kenya!

I am Emily Gallant, one of the pre-service teachers currently completing my practicum in Kenya! I am here with my fellow pre-service teacher Hope Gallant, as well as two volunteers for Farmers Helping Farmers, Heather Jones and Paulette Jones

We have been in Kenya for one week now, after meeting up with Heather and Paulette Jones in Nairobi last Friday, February 21st. After spending a wonderful weekend seeing the sights in the capital city, we arrived in Meru on Monday, February 24th (after a short delay due to a retained debit card…) and made it to the home of our dear friend Jennifer Murogocho!

Students at Kiirua Primary School

We started our teaching practicum at Kiirua Primary School on Tuesday. We arrived at the school with Jennifer, Paulette and Heather, and were warmly greeted by the headmaster and deputy teacher. The day we arrived, Grade 8 was holding a meeting similar to parent-teacher interviews. We were introduced to the students and their parents, and had the opportunity to see how these meetings take place – very interesting!

The students at the school are so incredible. We are amazed at how eager they are to learn, and how focused they are on their studies. At the end of every class, they ask us all of their burning questions about Canada – some of which we absolutely do not expect! We are also enjoying spending our breaks and lunch hours outdoors, with all of the students. It is so nice to have the opportunity to get to know each student at the school outside of the structured classroom.

Hope in the classroom

We had the chance to tag along with Heather and Paulette one afternoon to see how their project is going. They have been visiting many schools in the area, gathering pictures and information from the staff. We have loved visiting these schools and getting to see the impact the cookhouses sponsored by Farmers Helping Farmers have had on so very many students.

We are so lucky to have such a welcoming support team in Kenya.  Jennifer, Tony, Henry, Susan, Peter and Paul have all helped us so much as we navigate Kenya’s cultural terrain. That’s all for this week’s update on our adventures in Kenya – bye for now!

Hope and Emily Gallant
(UPEI Pre-Service Teachers 2020)

Friends and Training for Life

By Krystina Lewis, Ashley Kroyer, and Angelina Gorrill, AVC/UPEI senior vet students

It’s hard to believe we have been here for almost three weeks now. 

The project “More Food, Better Food; Empowering Kenyan Women Farmers” provides us as veterinary students with the opportunity to educate farmers on dairy management to help them increase their milk production; specifically, we get to work with some of the local women’s groups. This experience has provided us with the chance to use and better our teaching skills. We have been thrilled with the positive feedback we have received after each seminar; many farmers have expressed how much they have learned from each seminar and how happy they are to see young, intelligent women passing along their knowledge.  

AVC’s Ashley teaching about disease prevention 

University of Nairobi student Rose teaching about calf and heifer management. 

We have been welcomed by every seminar group with open arms although one group does stand out. Mwende Women’s Group welcomed us with song and dance! 

It has been an honour to meet so many groups of strong, intelligent women. The women were engaged throughout each seminar. They Mwende Women’s Group gifted us beautiful green polo shirts that was similar in colour to their matching dresses!

Dr. John VanLeeuwen and AVC students Angelina, Ashley, and Krystina with some of the Mwende Women’s Group in Tigania after receiving our polo shirts. 

This past week we also met with Destiny Women’s Group. It was very special as they gifted us with our Kimeru names. Since Ashley spent 3 months in Naari in 2018, she already had her Kimeru name; Kendi which means someone who makes others happy. Krystina was given the name Karimi which means an active farmer. Angelina was given the name Mwendwa which means someone who is loved. It was very special for us to receive these names.

On our last day we were able to get a tour of the University of Nairobi Veterinary School from our new Kenyan vet student friends Rose and Festus. To our surprise, we were greeted by Jacob, the Kenyan student from our first week. It was so wonderful to see him again and catch up along our tour. We also bumped into Alube in the hallway and were greeted with a warm hug. It’s clear we have made life-long friends here in Kenya and we wish them all the best for the future.

We would like to thank all the Farmers Helping Farmers team, both Canadian and Kenyan, for this amazing experience. We were able to work with and meet so many wonderful people. 

Tuonane tena – see you again!

Walk-in cow clinics in Kenya: organized mayhem but a huge success

Veterinary students Angelina and Krystina with some of the local children at the Mbaaria walk-in clinic. The stickers were a big hit! 

By Krystina Lewis, Ashley Kroyer, and Angelina Gorrill, AVC/UPEI senior vet students

On February 1st and February 6th, the Farmers Helping Farmers veterinary group held walk-in clinics in Mbaaria and Buuri. Despite some rain mid-morning in Mbaaria and the stresses associated with the first walk-in clinic in Buuri, both clinics were a huge success. Over 400 cows were dewormed and over 80 cows were treated by the veterinarians and veterinary students at each location. Many farmers graze their cattle on pastures which exposes them to parasites and tick-borne diseases. Deworming and tick-prevention is therefore essential for these animals. 

A short time-lapse video of the deworming station in Mbaaria where Kenya vet students Evans and Jacob and PEI vet students Krystina, Ashley, and Angelina work closely with Kenyan farmers to deworm the cattle.

Understanding how to move individual and groups of cattle is critical for these walk-in clinics.

Moving cattle as per the image below will help to ensure that the process is less stressful to the cow. By standing in the area marked “A”, the cow will walk forward and by standing in the area marked “B”, the cow will stop moving.

Cows will also follow other cows so this method also applies to moving groups as well.

These clinics attract many members of the community so keeping the cattle calm is important for the safety of the veterinary team, the farmers, the community members, and of course, the cows.

The Farmers Helping Farmers veterinary team including University of Nairobi students Alube and Michelle, after completing the walk-in clinic in Buuri. 

Cows will also follow other cows so this method also applies to moving groups as well.

These clinics attract many members of the community, so keeping the cattle calm is important for the safety of the veterinary team, the farmers, the community members, and of course, the cows. 

The Farmers Helping Farmers veterinary team, including University of Nairobi students Evans and Jacob, after completing the walk-in clinic in Mbaaria. 

Some of you may remember Ashley from previous Farmers Helping Farmers blogs as she spent 3 months during the summer of 2018 in Naari, but this is the first time Angelina and Krystina have been to Kenya.

It’s been great having Ashley around to help the other veterinary students with learning both Swahili, one of the national languages in Kenya, as well as Kimeru, the local language in Meru County.

Knowing how to greet and introduce ourselves (even if it doesn’t always come out properly!) has brought smiles to the seminar groups. It also supports working together as a team at big events, such as these walk-in clinic

Ng’ombe – the Swahili word for cow. 

Make your own fertilizer

Or why Roger Henry donates money for pitch forks!

By Teresa Mellish

A pile of composted waste materials has nutrients for growing crops worth 6000 Kenya shillings. This is because it replaces 2 bags of fertilizer, each costing 3000 ksh.

With funds from Global Affairs Canada, Farmers Helping Farmers senior horticulturist  Stephen Mwenda demonstrated to 12 members of the Destiny Mboroga women’s group how to have usable compost in 4 months.

The waste materials included dried corn stalks, ashes, straw,  manure, green plant material, water, kitchen waste and air.

Ken videotaped the demonstration so it will also be available for other groups. Stay tuned for that and other videos coming soon to our Farmers Helping Farmers YouTube Channel.

One of the pitch forks that Roger Henry donated money for was used in the preparation of the pile.

He has been donating money for pitch forks for many years and they have made a huge difference.

Roger, a compost specialist for many years with Agriculture Agri-Food Canada, was in Kenya in 2013 with a Farmers Helping Farmers team to teach farmers in two women’s groups abou turning manure and plant waste into compost for their crops.

Here’s a story from 2014 about Roger Henry and the pitch forks.

Ken has also been visiting the lucerne farms of the Buuri dairy. On Prince Edward Island, we call it alfalfa!!

Then there are the locusts!

We knew there were locusts in northern Kenya which are travelling south.

Today we saw a group of them on a road.  Creepy little critters!

Why comfy cows matter

-by Krystina Lewis, Angelina Gorrill and Ashley Kroyer, AVC vet students with Farmers Helping Farmers in Kenya

A Kenyan woman at one of the cow clinics

On January 30th, UPEI veterinary students Ashley, Angelina, and Krystina and University of Nairobi veterinary students Evans and Jacob, along with Dr. John VanLeeuwen, conducted a seminar with one of the Buuri dairy groups.

Approximately 15 farmers from the Kibirichia region came together to take part in the first of six seminars being conducted as part of the Farmers Helping Farmers train-the-trainer model. It is associated with a new 4-year project entitled “More Food, Better Food: Empowering Kenyan Women Farmers”, in partnership with Global Affairs Canada.

A Kenyan woman at one of the cow clinics

One of the topics discussed in the seminar was the importance of cow comfort. We were pleased to notice the farmers were very attentive and were asking fantastic, thoughtful questions throughout the entire session.

Some of the questions kept us on our toes as we haven’t been asked them before. One aspect of the cow comfort seminar is where we demonstrate two “knee-tests” which help determine if a cow’s stall is soft and dry.

For the first test, you drop to your knees to test softness of the stall. If your knees hurt from the fall, it represents how your cow feels as she is trying to lie down and therefore the bedding is not soft enough.

For the second test, you stay in a kneeling position for 30 seconds and when you stand up, if your knees are wet, then the cows bedding is not dry enough for her.

The farmers are very receptive to this demonstration and it promotes a great conversation about cow comfort and welfare.

Comfy cows are happy cows and happy cows produce more milk!  

Krystina Lewis demonstrating the knee test

Following the seminar, the veterinary team followed farmer Joshua to his farm. Once there, the group discussed cow comfort and the changes Joshua and his wife Mary could easily make to ensure their cows Mwendwa (meaning “loved” in the Kimeru language of the region) and Rena (meaning “grace” in Kimeru).

Joshua and Mary already had a great foundation for their zero-grazing shamba (“farm” in Kiswahili) but a few changes in neck rail placement and the stall width would help ensure the stalls and cows stay clean and dry and would help reduce the risk of udder infections. 

The vet team for January 2020

The veterinary team has been a little surprised with the weather.

By January, the rainy season is supposed to have ended and the dry season is supposed to extend until late February or early March.

However, we have encountered rain every day since arriving on January 25th!

Although, this isn’t ideal for our clinics, it hasn’t dampened our spirits. The rains have made for awesome green vistas.

Hopefully we see some more sun throughout the remainder of our time here so that we can experience Kenya to the fullest!

Enjoying the view

More Food, Better Food project begins


By Colleen Walton, Farmers Helping Farmers

The FHF Nutrition team, Colleen and James, made a follow-up visit to Murinya Primary School to see if the school had implemented the recommendations made by 2019 UPEI students to upgrade the school meals.

We met a most enthusiastic Deputy-Headmaster who reported that she had instructed the new cook to make all the changes possible within their current constraints – most notably that the school does not yet have a big vegetable garden.

This garden will be developed in the next few months. But in the meantime we were excited to find that the school is now soaking maize and beans before cooking, have increased the proportion of beans in an effort to increase iron and protein intakes, and have reduced the salt content of their githeri.

As well, the school has changed to using Vitamin A fortified vegetable oil!

We weighed all the ingredients, weighed the portions of githeri served to the different ages of students and ultimately computed to what extent the githeri provided nutrients for the students.

James is busy now doing the computations. We certainly know that with soaking we can increase the iron intake of the student and the fortified oil is a step forward in reaching the necessary vitamin A for good eyesight and improved disease fighting.

We are all anticipating the benefits that the garden with carrots, oranges sweet potatoes, swiss chard and kales will provide to these hardworking students.

Today the nutrition team joined a dairy club in Naari and provided the Family Nutrition seminar with a taste of special githeri. (A stew full of healthy veggies!)

Here James is presenting on the need to avoid drinking tea one hour before and on hour after the meal. This practice ensures more iron from the beans is usable for the person’s body.

And we brought food!

James is safely transporting super githeri for the dairy club seminar.

Collen says: “A taste of super githeri is worth a thousand words!”