Kisumu home to ‘Gar­den of Eden’

Model gar­den in Mi­wani, Kisumu, helps the com­mu­nity un­der­stand the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion from sci­enti ic and bi­b­li­cal per­spec­tive

Business Daily (Kenya) - - FRONT PAGE - Anita Chep­koech Achep­koech@ke.na­tion­media.com

Model gar­den in Mi­wani, Kisumu, helps the com­mu­nity un­der­stand the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion from sci­enti ic and bi­b­li­cal per­spec­tive

There is a “Gar­den of Eden” in Mi­wani, Kisumu County, over­look­ing the pic­turesque Nandi Hills. With nearly 100 va­ri­eties/ species of trees, the own­ers called it so to draw at­ten­tion to its con­cerns about the en­vi­ron­ment and for its boun­ti­ful­ness and sim­i­lar­i­ties to the farm in the bi­b­li­cal tale on Adam and Eve.

The about 10-acre agro-for­est has fruit trees, those with medic­i­nal val­ues and species that can be cut for wood, an­i­mal feeds and flow­ers. It sits on a flat land be­side the fast flow­ing waters of Oroba River that em­anates from Nandi Hills and lets its waters into Lake Vic­to­ria.

It is a model gar­den meant to help peo­ple un­der­stand the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion from the sci­en­tific and bi­b­li­cal per­spec­tive and how they can di­rectly ben­e­fit eco­nom­i­cally from na­ture.

Su­gar­cane has been grown in the area for many decades.

Walk­ing through the grass­land within the farm, you will no­tice egg shells of freshly hatched birds, wild mush­rooms, chirp­ing sounds of in­sects, es­cap­ing squir­rels and a va­ri­ety of but­ter­flies criss­cross­ing each other. Sim­ply put, its na­ture that well de­serves the name ecosys­tem (va­ri­ety).

Mrs Mar­garet Olu­och, its owner who used to work with World Agro­forestry in Fi­nance and later with UN World Food Pro­gramme in Hu­man Re­source, says the farm has trees that give nat­u­ral pes­ti­cides and those that can re­place chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers that are un­friendly to the en­vi­ron­ment.

She ex­am­ines the thick trunks

and mar­vels at the height of den­dro­cala­mus gi­gan­teous,a

gi­ant bam­boo species rec­om­mended for the re­gion by the World Agro­forestry Cen­tre (for­merly Icraf ).

A stretch of 40 kilo­me­tres on the Oroba river bank has a va­ri­ety of bam­boo, the strong­est and fastest grow­ing woody trees and other creep­ing plants for soil ero­sion con­trol.

“Do you no­tice the dif­fer­ence be­tween this side of the bank and the small stretch that has no bam­boo? Clearly, the bank is firm here be­cause bam­boo has held the soil to­gether. We left the other side bare for demon­stra­tion,” she told Busi­ness Daily.

Bam­boo rhi­zomes an­chor top-soil along steep slopes and river banks. It also pu­ri­fies air of green­house gases, ab­sorb pol­lu­tants in­clud­ing heavy met­als and has sev­eral eco­nomic uses.

Hav­ing worked with re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion, Mrs Olu­och has

ac­cessed a lot of re­search about prevent­ing degra­da­tion in the Vic­to­ria basin and poverty alle­vi­a­tion of its three mil­lion peo­ple who rely on the waters, but only 30 per cent of it ac­cess clean wa­ter.

De­spite her pro­fes­sional back­ground, she de­sired to be part of the con­ser­va­tion ef­fort and sought per­mis­sion from in­di­vid­ual re­searchers at the cen­tre and oth­ers out­side to repli­cate their idea and do it prac­ti­cally.

To­gether with her hus­band, Mr Ken Olu­och, she started the project 12 years ago as an ex­per­i­ment on how the eight rivers and sev­eral streams that feed Lake Vic­to­ria can be con­served up­stream, hence end the prob­lems of pol­lu­tion which con­trib­ute to the growth of wa­ter hy­acinth. The or­gan­i­sa­tion is called Sme­jak Nu­tri­tion Trees Pro­mo­tion.

“Lit­er­ally, I forced my neigh­bours to plant bam­boo on the shores of River Oroba. Now its banks are firm and the trees ready for har­vest. We are cur­rently plan­ning to pro­duce char­coal from bam­boo,” Mrs Olu­och said.

Bam­boo can re­place for­est trees for char­coal as it yields more than 7,000 kilo­calo­ries per kilo­gramme which can be com­pared to half the yield equiv­a­lent of petroleum. It is also eco­nom­i­cal since one bam­boo seedling can gen­er­ate about 100 ra­toons as it is self-re­gen­er­at­ing, mak­ing it cheaper in the long run.

“From re­search find­ings, the lengthy, but surest way to elim­i­na­tion wa­ter hy­acinth is through con­ser­va­tion of feeder rivers. Mech­a­nised or man­ual re­moval of the weed is only a short cut,” said Mrs Olu­och.

Dr Christo­pher Aura, the Kem­fri As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor for Fresh­wa­ter Sys­tems Re­search at the Kenya Marine and Fish­eries Re­search In­sti­tute (KEFRI), Kisumu Cen­tre, said high us­age of fer­tilis­ers in agri­cul­ture and sub­se­quent drainage into the lake causes se­ri­ous eu­troph­i­ca­tion, a con­di­tion in which the lake has ex­ces­sive nu­tri­ents which causes a dense growth of plant life in­clud­ing the prob­lem­atic wa­ter hy­acinth, and death of an­i­mals from lack of oxy­gen.

“With in­creased fer­tile agri­cul­tural soil, in­dus­trial and sewer waste and ad­di­tion­ally the de­com­pos­ing wa­ter hy­acinth, there will be in­creased nu­tri­ent load­ing which speeds up the ger­mi­na­tion of hy­acinth plants,” said Dr Aura.

Wet­lands that would oth­er­wise fil­ter the pol­lu­tants be­fore wa­ter flows into the lake have been en­croached on and con­verted into farm­lands.

Mrs Olu­och, who is the chair­per­son of the Oroba River Wa­ter Re­source Users As­so­ci­a­tion (Wrua), said de­spite the in­tense lob­by­ing by state and non-state ac­tors, peo­ple were re­luc­tant to plant trees be­cause they don’t see how con­ser­va­tion can ad­dress their so­cial is­sues at a per­sonal level, other than talking about L Vic­to­ria.

“That is why we in­tro­duced the agri­cul­ture com­po­nent,” she said.

“Peo­ple nar­rowly as­so­ci­ate the im­por­tance of trees with char­coal and fire­wood, but not as other prof­itable uses like medicine, an­i­mal fod­der, pol­li­na­tion agents, shade and beauty,” said Mrs Olu­och

To cap­ture the peo­ple’s at­ten­tion, she then chose to tailor her course on bi­b­li­cal teach­ings about en­vi­ron­ment, right from when God cre­ated his first hu­man Adam and Eve and put them in The Gar­den Of Eden, asked to till the land and take care of it in the book of Ge­n­e­sis. The gift in the gar­den was plant- bear­ing seeds.

She draws knowl­edge from write­ups that link en­vi­ron­ment to the Bi­ble, among them, Stew­ard­ship of God’s World by Dr Roger Shar­land who is the Di­rec­tor of Ru­ral Ex­ten­sion With Africa’s Poor (REAP). She has re­ceived sup­port from churches and other or­gan­i­sa­tions with like minds, in­clud­ing the Angli­can Church of Kenya, the Catholic church, Church of Peace in Africa, Church of Christ in Africa, Evan­gel­i­cal Christ Church of Africa (ECCA) and the Voice of Sal­va­tion and Heal­ing and has been recog­nised as an Africa- Cham­pion for Cre­ation Care and The Gospel. They talk peo­ple out of blam­ing the gov­ern­ment and other bod­ies for their fail­ure to take up cru­cial les­sons on en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion.

So far, they have a mem­ber­ship of over 1,000 women con­ser­va­tion­ists across the 13 coun­ties of the lake basin who are keen on tak­ing en­vi­ron­ment Lau­re­ate Wan­gari Maathai’s gospel of con­ser­va­tion to an­other level. Some do spe­cific projects like or­chards, bam­boo farm­ing, nat­u­ral medicine or just fod­der. But all are con­scious about pro­tect­ing nearby streams and rivers by prevent­ing soil ero­sion us­ing veg­e­ta­tion like ve­tiver which can be used as fod­der, thatch­ing ma­te­rial and per­fume mak­ing and lemon grass which is also used to make bev­er­ages.

Peo­ple with small land por­tions ini­tially won­dered how they would sacri­fice the 30 me­tres stretch from the river bank into their land and still man­age to sus­tain their food se­cu­rity.

Rev­erend Ros­alia Oy­weka of ECCA is a pa­tron of a group that has also ini­ti­ated an agro-for­est, mostly with medic­i­nal plants in Ka­julu, Kisumu County on less than a two acre farm.

“In the less than two acre demon­stra­tion farm, we have an en­ergy sav­ing kitchen that uses less fire­wood, herbs and medic­i­nal trees of all kinds, food and fruits, a tree nurs­ery to help mem­bers find seedlings, a fish pond and drought tol­er­ant trees that re­verses cli­mate change like pi­geon pea,” said Ms Oy­weka.

The as­sort­ment of trees is fenced off us­ing closely planted species that make up what they call the 7 F Hedge com­pris­ing guava, cal­lian­dra, paw­paw, pas­sion fruit, mul­berry, ses­ba­nia and mango trees. Other than be­ing a fence, it is also for fuel (straws and branches are dried for wood), fod­der, food, fer­tiliser (from the leaves) and a phar­macy, ac­cord­ing to Rev George Matengo who over­sees the gar­den.

Ses­ba­nia tree grow­ing over the fish pond has be­come an or­thono­log­i­cal par­adise. Birds have built nests all over its branches. In­dige­nous trees are said to al­low the an­i­mals to nest, feed and shel­ter from preda­tors.

Clearly, the bank is irm here be­cause bam­boo has held the soil to­gether.’’

-- DAN OBIERO

CONSEVATION Mi­wani res­i­dents re­ceive tree seedlings to plant on the banks of River Oroba un­der a Sme­jak pro­gramme.

File

SME­JAK di­rec­tor Mar­garet Olu­och, (left), ohangla mu­si­cian Oduor Od­hialo and for­mer boxer Con­jestina Achieng’ lead res­i­dents of Kabar vil­lage across River Oroba in Mi­wani, Nyando for tree plant­ing on the banks of the river in 2008.

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