A travel diary
from Elisabeth Lechtenbörger, ahu GmbH
“Here in Africa, we see time as a quality you spend with other people.” Paul Karanga, Vice of SACDEP
The journey’s purpose is to unlock new life contexts in the Global South, make direct contact possible “to establish a relationship with people” and inspire reflections on education, AIDS orphans, organic farming, water, and saving and lending circles. The topics of organisational cultures and emancipatory organisation processes and leadership culture will be consistent themes as they are a central component in all projects of the GLS Zukunftsstiftung Entwicklung (Future-Focused Foundation for Development).
The SACDEP founder and CEO Mr Morura himself welcomed us at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi.
SACEP, founded in 1993, is a farming college for small farmers in Kenya, which works without artificial fertilisers and pesticides (in other words organically) for cost reasons. He gave us a very engaging, brief overview of the diverse and multilingual society (44 different ethnicities and just as many languages) and the history of Kenya since its independence from England in 1963.
I learnt that in Kenya, a country with strong agriculture, people are starving; that large parts of the country are in the hands of a few (foreign) companies and small groups that seldom award sustainable contracts. They produce luxury products, coffee, tea, tobacco, pineapples and roses for export – the goods are not consumed or processed in Kenya. Coffee is reimported as Nescafé. The EU is promoting hybrid seeds, Montsano (Bayer and Syngenta) exerts pressure on the farmers and keep the poor poor.
We had an intense and well-prepared visit, we were driven across the country in three Jeeps and, after being briefed about Kenya and SACDEP, we saw at least two project partners or cooperatives each day. People were delighted by the interest; they greeted us warmly and entertained us.
Small-scale farming with homemade fertilisers and small livestock farming – these ideas were explained to us in theory and demonstrated directly in practice on a small coffee plantation. Gardening and composting were part of our duties, too. On day one in Kenya, we prepared a small coffee plot with compost made from a mix of soil, green waste and dung, and then viewed a tea factory in Kangari, Kiambu County. The Kenyans were impressed that we mucked in right along with them. (The planned ploughing with a draught animal was cancelled because last time the Europeans visited, a Kenyan wearing his best clothes had to jump in to bring the ox plough back on course.)
On day two, we drove through a small part of the Delmonte pineapple plantation in Gatundu: lots of pesticide, lots of water, huge areas with raised stands where armed personnel watch over the fruit at harvest time.
This made the contrast with an organic pineapple field even clearer to us. Large-scale farming leaves ravaged fields full of plastic piping and sheeting, and it contaminates the dam water that runs off the fields that is used in irrigation, which runs into the settlements. Pineapple is a plant that only produces fruit once; after the harvest, the fields lie fallow or are taken over by small-scale farmers again, with the pesticides still in the soil. It takes years to detoxify.
In organic farming, pineapples are cultivated completely differently and their scent fills the entire field.
Over the next few days on two Masai group ranches, we helped build several ferrocement water tanks, a pump house was inaugurated and we planted a great many trees.
The Kandere women have also belonged to the group initiative YARD since 2017. They assume the guardianship of AIDS orphans, so that the children do not lose the titles to their land. They greeted us to their land with song and dance and bade us farewell in the same way. This group impressed me the most, along with the Masai at Amboseli.
At their sites (and also at schools served by YARD), we built vegetable spirals and constructed and planted vertical beds (“green walls”) out of plastic bottles. We potted avocado seedlings at a nursery in Kimani.
We visited two Masai group ranches, Loitokitok and Oloshonyoki on the border with Tanzania as well as the Masai at Amboseli who still live in the traditional way. There, we stayed in a lodge run by the Masai.
Indigenous people in the modern world, which continues to expand its margins; the danger of the demise of this identity; that the culture of the Masai is simply overwhelmed; it is all simply scandalous to observe, especially in Tanzania. There, Masai are being driven off their land at gunpoint for a planned safari park, with the connivance of the government. And yet the culture of the Masai is emblematic for Kenya – the Masai shield is the coat of arms on the national flag. Masai and Kikuyu have the strongest national identity in Kenya, and there are always conflicts.
The Steiner School Nairobi was a notable example of a school in Kenya and was a stark contrast to the other schools. A total of 347 children, 120 of them boarders and 80 per cent sponsored by GLS Treuhand. This means that the Steiner School has more resources for the people and the building. School places and jobs as teachers at the school are highly sought after. The teachers were impressive personalities unequivocally dedicated to their duties there. There are 44 different ethnicities in Kenya, and they should all be represented as far as possible.
Money: on the last day there was a presentation by Annette Massmann entitled “What is money?” and a visit to a saving and lending circle – a very strong group. “Banking without walls.” SACDEP runs 300 decentralised sites in 14 districts and plans social banks in all communities. The lending and security association is looked after centrally by Emma Watiri Kinani.
These are microfinancing institutions that follow the original Raiffeisen idea. People know each other. They borrow money “under the tree”, so to speak, and pay it back there. Cash is used, but also M’Pesa (small monetary amounts on mobile phones).
Regina Menoti’s group has been meeting once a week since 1997. The money they save up together from small instalments is allocated in turn, and the investment idea is presented to the group. When someone buys a cow, everyone goes with them to the market so that they can see that the cow actually gets purchased. That is their guarantee. The chest with the money has three keys; there are treasurers (having this position is a great honour) and savings books.
Self-managed strong microfinance groups enable a life of dignity in Kenya, away from being a day labourer in exploitation, poverty and hunger.
Ms Menoti invites us into her living room, introduces the group and tells us about the long road to where they are now. She was trained by SACDEP between 1999 and 2001. The group that she co-founded has grown a great deal; they invest in livestock, both small and big, but also in education and they have an excellent leadership culture. In her town, the Kikuyu and Kambe tribes are represented and they speak both languages.
In 2008, women fled from Moro. “There was a lot of hardship.” “I sat in a pit,” say the secretary and the chairwoman. They were trained for a week at SACDEP and had a bad conscience as they were given food there, while their children had nothing.
The first time SACDEP visited her village, Ms Menoti hid. She was working as a day labourer on a coffee plantation and couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Two other women from her village gave her the strength to listen to the SACDEP representative. After the training, she spoke to other women and brought them to the group.
The savings rate started at 20 cents per week in 1999; today the rate is 100 cents. The amount can be adjusted upwards without limit. The biggest loan given so far has been 200,000 Kenyan shillings with two to three years to pay it back.
At banks, loans cost 27 per cent plus hidden fees, which can range from 30 to 50 per cent interest, and the bank does not give interest on balances. However, loans are only available against collateral.
Initially, many quick loans were granted – “Gubaco”, to be paid back within a month with 10 per cent interest; this allowed them to save up capital.
Each woman has a booklet with all the earnings and outgoings.
At the end of the year, the members are paid a dividend. After six months of membership, a member can borrow money; if they are in arrears, the interest rate doubles.
You can see how effective self-government is and what it can achieve! The whole village has prospects and nobody there needs to starve.
The final point was the opening and viewing of a newly built, official agricultural university from SACDEP, recognised by the government.
At the beginning, the two sides were very unsure of each other, but by the second day we were already more open. Nancy Wanja Ndiga and her team welcomed us warmly and looked after us well. We rapidly built a good relationship with our drivers too.
The programme was concise and very demanding. Each person was treated as an individual and was asked to introduce themselves briefly at each location in front of each group, fairly and openly, in a lively way that involved everyone – there was no passive observation.
The small-scale farmers have a hard, bleak life. The frustration of the producers about the low producer prices is understandable.
Recognisable signs of wealth for the organic pineapple farmer: a car, a stone house.
The Masai live with Mount Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. Being their guest in their beautiful landscape with its red earth was very touching and you could really sense their spirituality. They are a very sociable group. Masai children who are accepted into the Steiner School often don’t manage very well due to homesickness and set off on the long journey home by foot.
The whole of Kenya is on foot – hordes of people walk along the street and cars are marvelled at. Many are seeing Europeans for the first time.
Apart from that, we brought rain with us – good weather.