Embracing organic farming for better health

By Wahinya Henry
Tuesday, September 8th, 2020
Esther Nyambura and her husband John Karanja, harvest organic vegetables for sale. Photo/PD/WAHINYA HENRY
In summary

A homestead in rural Kangari Village in Murang’a county is a beehive of activity as customers arrive to pick vegetables they had pre-ordered.

The organic vegetables grown by Esther Nyambura and her husband John Karanja are in high demand by health enthusiasts from the village and the wider Kigumo sub-county farmers.

Their half-acre piece of land is covered by mouth-watering green fresh kales and spinach, planted in rows.

The couple took up organic farming technology after they were trained by Organic Agriculture Center of Kenya (OACK), a local organisation, which promotes sustainable livelihoods among small scale farmers.

In neighbouring Gakarara village in Kandara, Dr Mwangi Gachamba is another ardent organic farmer and producer of organic fertiliser for commercial purposes.

His homestead if full of sukumawiki (kales) and traditional vegetables.

He has been doing this through his Therapeutic Foods Limited company, which deals with organic farming and organic food.

Dr Gachamba describes himself as an agronomist who uses cow and goat manure on his farm together with microorganisms.

“We encourage small scale farmers to utilise locally available materials to make organic compost manure and chemical-free pesticides in a bid to save cost and promote better health,” says Duncan Ndirangu, an extension officer at OACK.

The process

To make the organic compost manure, farmers use weeds, maize stalks, nappier grass cuttings and other vegetation.

Duncan Irungu (right) trains the couple on making organic compost. Onlooking are Rosinah Mbenya (second right) and Mary Irungu (second left), of PELUM Kenya. 

The vegetation is arranged on a ground surface, then covered with wood ash from the farmers’ kitchen, before being covered with manure from cows or goats.

The components are then arranged in another layer, following the same procedure, before being covered with banana leaves or just twigs.

The farmer is required to keep this mixture wet by pouring water on it.

Besides, he checks on progress using a dip stick, which is supposed to come out dry and warm, if the manure processing process is progressing well.

“After 21 days, the farmer turns the manure and repeats the process, and a third time after another three weeks,” explains Ndirangu, adding that it takes 63 days for the organic compost manure to be ready for use.

By a mere look of her healthy crop, one would be forgiven for thinking that she has been pumping a lot of chemicals on them.

The couple has  planted different vegetables, including black night shade, amaranth, kales and spinach.

The crops are planted every two weeks to ensure there is always something ready so that they can meet the high demand for the produce.

Ready market

“We mainly rely on regular customers who come for the produce at Kangari market every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday,” says Esther, adding that they make between Sh1,200 and Sh2,000 per day.

Most of her clients will call and make bookings on the harvesting day, while she meets others at the market as she makes deliveries.

At a corner within the farm, is a small section where they make organic compost manure, using locally available materials.

When planting their vegetables, the couple digs shallow trenches, mix the organic manure with soil, and plant their plantlets.

Although Kangari is generally a wet place, the couple depends on water harvesting for irrigation during the dry period.

“This ensures continuous supply of the organic produce even when there are no rains,” says Karanja, adding that the vegetables are always marketable, especially to people who are keen on their health.

And the practice is not new in Kenya. It has been practiced since the ancient times.

Organic gardening techniques are agriculture farming methods, which primarily aim at cultivation and raising of crops using ways that maintain the good health and life of the soil.

This is achieved through the use organic wastes such as farm animal, and crop wastes alongside other biological materials and bio-fertilissers. 

Benefits to the environment

Experts in the field of organic agriculture say that organic farming has benefits to not only human health, but also environment.

Rosinah Mbenya, the programme manager at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Kenya says rivers would remain largely unpolluted if chemical use in farms was to be kept minimal.

PELUM Kenya is an umbrella organisation of other organisations, which promote organic and sustainable agriculture.

In total, PELUM has a membership of 52 organisations, spread across 42 counties.

Rosinah says, the country would have healthy citizens as consumption of industrial-based chemicals are largely blamed to cause many deadly diseases, including cancer.

Mary Irungu, the Communications and Advocacy officer at PELUM Kenya wants the government to allocate a budget to promote organic agriculture.

She says this way, people will be healthier, meaning they will spend less on medication, thus, becoming wealthier.

She also calls on the government to pass policies which promote organic agriculture, and ensure adherence to the policies.

Dr Gachamba says the increase in diseases made him decide to find a solution in food grown naturally.

“Farmers spray crops to control common pests and diseases not realising that the real problem is in the soil as vegetables feed on the soil,” he says.