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Permaculture Model Site in Ruiru

We have been very fortunate this past year, despite a difficult 2020/21. We have had the opportunity to work on meaningful impact projects, ones that are going a long way in regenerating landscapes for good.

One of the project’s we have had the pleasure to work on is at the Ruiru Rehabilitation Centre in partnership with the Strong Roots Movement (SRM), USA. Raqib Vali, a fellow Kenyan Indian and one of SRM’s team member’s first heard of and was introduced to HFG EA’s Founder Sheena in 2020, when she presented a webinar on permaculture and growing one’s own food for the Ismaili community and network during the initial stages of the pandemic. They exchanged emails back and forth, discussing permaculture and regenerative projects in Kenya. Upon completing his degree in Ecology in the US, Raqib was interested to explore Permaculture and the need for rehabilitating ecosystems using the permaculture toolkit. Raqib and Sheena finally met in person in Nairobi last year where he shared an exciting project proposal he and two other friends, Shannon and Merina, co-founders of the SRM had applied for. They were successful in applying for the University of Florida Projects for Peace grant for a ‘Nurturing Nutrition in Nairobi’ project, aimed at building food farms to address severe and chronic nutrient deficiencies in some of the most underserved schools in Nairobi. They selected the Ruiru Rehabilitation Centre, a centre that cares for vulnerable children who are primarily orphaned. The centre has been existing since the 80’s and has earned much respect for providing the children with care, education and interests in performing arts. The centre was open to carrying out this project with the Strong Roots Movement-USA in collaboration with us at Harvesting for Good East Africa.

We visited the site and met up with the key staff there where we worked on the site’s need list and expectations. The centre already had an existing shamba which supplied the centre with sukuma wiki, spinach, tomatoes, onions, coriander, parsley, celery and bananas. We conducted several meetings around the site to get a gist of what they envisioned. Mr. Dilip, an active Board Member talked about the need for a food forest supplying them with a variety of fruit trees, and having a brand new shamba producing a variety of vegetables and herbs and the excess being sold to generate income back in the centre for these activities to continue fruitfully in the long term. He envisioned the centre becoming an educational site which aligns with the ethos of HFG EA.

Model farm development draws people together not only from the centre itself but its surroundings which goes a long way in demonstrating permaculture, biointensive gardening, waste management, soil building, water harvesting, seed saving, and much more. The centre could bridge this gap by bringing together the adults, teachers, caregivers, children and surrounding communities to draw inspiration from and learn about these techniques that will not only enhance the overall landscape, but utilising land better, creating functional farms that incorporate integrated planting techniques with trees and vegetation together (alley cropping) and learn to appreciate one's own food grown right where they are using organic material. The centre had a portion of land that was bare and was also once a dumping ground for building material. The centre cleaned up much of it before our first visit there and it was a perfect setting to have a food forest and multiple garden beds run across the land.

The soil here is primarily black cotton soil, one that is tough to work with and break down physically. It took a lot of planning to see what material we would break the existing soil with and effective techniques that would enhance soil health long term. We worked extensively with the gardeners on site who have been enthusiastic about learning these techniques and improving the existing gardens on the site as well. With our partners at Fluid Farming, they constructed the water tower and installed drip irrigation which has been a success. The centre’s manager, Alfred has been instrumental in empowering the staff and children on the site. With the many hats he wears to ensure the centre is running its daily activities and running smoothly, he is also fully engaged with the gardeners and the shamba activities. He has been involved in the planning stage from the get go and in providing us with all of the information that we needed to make this project happen. Without a strong backbone, we know that projects can’t thrive but his work and the encouragement he gives to the staff, caregivers, and children is evident to all that are in his presence. We have been fortunate to work with such a wonderful centre, thanks to the Strong Roots Movement. They visited over the summer and were involved in some of the practical development.

We have been following up with the project since and are continuing to develop the site to a model in development that is attracting visitors and agriculture enthusiasts to come and observe, learn, share and interact. The land produced a variety of abundant harvest last season and the staff and children continue to enjoy eating fresh produce right from their land! It is impressive to see the children enjoying eating new produce like lettuce, strawberries and herbs that they had never tried before. We can see a change in attitude amongst the gardeners too as they try these new crops and maintain the landscapes as a whole. They embrace both success and challenges and continue to share their findings with us, making this participatory when we visit and they’re feeling encouraged. They’ve also transformed the existing shamba that was there into a brand new shamba after the training we went through with them. It has been a positive process working with this group.

This season, again starting with a dry spell, the gardeners have been preparing the land for the new season. This time, we have been guiding them in succession planning now that we have trialed with a number of crops that have been successful. Techniques such as companion planting, integrated pest management and mulching have been valued wholeheartedly as the gardeners are seeing a better crop production overall than the existing monoculture that was being practised before. The soils are thriving and the plants and trees are coming up at a rapid rate which is a great indicator.

We look forward to sharing more as the project moves along and are excited about the partnership with Strong Roots Movement to continue growing. The centre requires more support with just less than KES 2,000, we can continue purchasing new seeds, seedlings and trees. Please get in touch with us to see how you can get involved and book a visit to the site with us.

Much gratitude!

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