During Nairobi Innovation Week, we had an opportunity to meet some of the Kenyan farmers that FoodAfrica has trained. So, the direction toward the county of Machakos, and off we went!

Alex Mutuku Munyao has a small farm on a hillside close to Machakos town. Among other things, he farms maize and avocado, which flourish in a warm and humid environment. Rains in the area come in cycles, so Alex has dug a hole for a water reservoir, waiting for the day he can afford buying one.

Despite seasonal drought, Alex is a happy man. The production is good enough to feed his family and there is even something to sell.

“Before 2012, I didn’t know how to farm, nor did I have any other education. But FoodAfrica though me and made me a farmer”, Alex says.

“And one day I will be a rich man!”, he adds with a smile on his face.

Alex Mutuku Munyao is one of many volunteer farmer trainers in Kenya.

In the meanwhile, Alex Munyano is paying it forward by teaching other people in the area to farm sustainably. One of over 1,000 farmers, he is a part of Volunteer Farmer Trainer programme, a FoodAfrica initiative which has already been implemented by 85 organisations on the continent.

“The Volunteer Farmer Trainer programme has proved to be a very effective method in sharing the knowledge on productive farming”, says Dr. Steven Franzel from World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

“Many farmers are undertrained so it is crucial to get information across cost-effectively. That’s where Volunteer Farmer Trainer programme has succeeded.”

Better production with right fertilization

As odd that it may sound, before FoodAfrica kicked off no one knew exactly of which the African soil was made of. There was a lot of data on a macro level, but not enough information on essential micronutrients existed.

In Finland, for example, comprehensive micronutrient mappings have been carried out since 1950’s. However, the extraction method used in Finland was too expensive to be implemented in East Africa. With a cost of 30 dollars a sample, the researchers could only have mapped a fraction of the soil they had planned.

Thus, FoodAfrica partners Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and ICRAF put their heads together and introduced a hybrid method of extraction and spectroscopy that revealed the exact levels of boron, copper, iron, and other micronutrients with a cost of one dollar per farm.

The scenery in Machakos county is hilly and green.

One of those farms is run by Peter Katumbu. His farm in Mwala produces fruit and cereals but is also home for cattle.

“So my soil needs more boron, manganese, and zinc?”, Peter Katumbu asks while reading the report of the micronutrient levels.

“Yes. The basics in the farm are on a good level, but by applying fertilisers including these three micronutrients, the yields will be even better”, explains ICRAF’s senior laboratory technician Robin Chacha.

Fighting hidden hunger

Not only for productivity, micronutrients are vital for people eating the yields, too.

“In many parts of Africa, there is enough food. But the problem is, that the food lacks micronutrients”, explains professor Martti Esala from Luke.

“In the long run, lack of things like iron or zinc in a diet make you languish gradually. Needless to say, it hinders the development of a growing child – and also animals, like cattle.”

Peter Katumbu having a close look at micronutrient levels of his soil.

Peter Katumbu has farmed his land for over 20 years. Next to his is his brother’s plot. But many of Peter’s relatives have moved away for better live way before help with farming methods was available.

“Now things are good. I have a big farm that I can leave to my children”, he says.

“But how do you farm in Finland?”, he asks keenly. “I heard from the news that you are the happiest people in the world.”

Well, maybe so. But sitting under the sun eating mouth wateringly delicious mangos from Peter’s trees, makes you wonder whether flying back to the snow-covered Helsinki is a good idea after all.

Peter Katumbu’s mangos in Mwala, Kenya.


Text and photos: Mikko Salmi / Luke.