GITHURE, Kenya, Dec 9 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - On a
dusty summer day in this village in central Kenya, a group of
farmers in brown overcoats and black gumboots are spreading
mulch around macadamia trees.
"The mulch insulates the soil, keeps weeds at bay, and
protects the plants against extreme temperatures," explains
Francis Mureithi, a tall farmer, as he scoops up manure from a
Farmers in the region used to grow their crops using
chemical fertilisers that were expensive and left behind
chemical residue, Mureithi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But some are experimenting with organic farming as a cheaper
and more drought-resistent way to grow crops ranging from nuts
to coffee and maize.
Since 2010, the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) and
experts from Kenya's Egerton University have been training rural
communities on organic farming, as part of a project funded by
macadamiafans GmbH, a German-Kenya company that promotes organic
farming and new markets for Kenya.
The aim was to create a new sustainable market system around
the nuts, from cultivating them to processing and exporting
Macademia are good at tolerating drought, said Rhoda Jerop
Birech, a professor from Egerton University, because "their
leaves lose little water regardless of the temperature and
As part of the effort, the farmers earn an ecological
certification for their products - a process which takes three
years and involves visits from field officers who check that the
soil is free of chemicals and the nuts are of high quality.
Birech said over 2,000 farmers have now been trained. And
John Konji, a field officer for macadamiafans, said nearly all
of those who have stuck with the programme have gone on to win
Mureithi, one of the first eight farmers to be trained in
2010, said macadamia farmers traditionally sold their produce to
brokers, who would act as an intermediary between the farmers
and nut processing companies.
"But they were taking advantage of us and stealing money
from us," he charged.
Now, instead of selling their produce to middlemen, the
farmers have learned to process the nuts themselves, from drying
to shelling them and sealing them in packaging.
The nuts are then shipped to Germany, where students from a
partner school in Göttingen sell the produce in an attempt to
learn about social entrepreneurship.
Farmers say the new methods of growing nuts have had big
benefits for them.
"I used to lose 70 percent of my produce in times of
drought, compared to only 20 percent now, thanks to the mulch
that keeps the soil moist," said Stephen Karanja, one farmer.
Charles Mwangi, another farmer, said his harvest has
tripled, to 3,000 kg of nuts a year, after changing his farming
He now sells his nuts at Ksh. 100 (about $1) per kilo,
compared to Ksh. 20 previously, he said.
"This has allowed me to not only feed my family but also
send my three children to university," he said.
Mary Wanja added that organic farming has allowed her to
halve her farming costs, by saving the money she used to spend
"It also more healthy as consumers now eat produce that is
chemical-free," she added.
Anthony Ngondi, head of macadamiafans in Kenya, said the
changes should help ensure farmers are more resilient in the
face of more extreme weather associated with climate change.
"Organic farming has given local communities a reliable
source of income by ensuring their crops can withstand drought,"
(Reporting by Caroline Wambui; editing by Zoe Tabary and Laurie
Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, women's rights, trafficking and property
rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)