By Kathleen Graham, CTI Volunteer, Kenya
Beneath enormous African skies the rolling mountainsides of far Western Kenya are lush green with the spring rains. Farmers anxiously watch the crops they planted in February - will the rain be enough, erasing droughts of recent years; or too much, drowning the beautifully emerging fields of maize, soya beans, sorghum, and ground nuts? Too soon to tell, but hope is everywhere.
ICRISAT driver Daniel Kisavi confidently guides our four-wheel drive over deeply rutted dirt roads often reduced to one lane, from our base at Homa Bay, on the swampy shores of Lake Victoria. So far this week I have visited five of the seven farmers’ groups who sent a participant to the Ewing training session in February, 2009. CTI, with support from the Graham Service Fund (thank you to my relatives and friends), co-sponsored this event, along with ICRISAT (thank you Richard Jones), KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute) and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. Richard introduced me to KARI and the Ag Ministry, who recruited the participants.
At the two-day training each participant learned to disassemble, assemble, and clean the Ewing grinders. And we each took a turn processing local crops - g-nuts, sorghum, finger millet, cow peas and “green gram,” learning to adjust the burrs so the final product would be just the right texture for local taste. And each participant was tested – could s/he stand up and teach the teachers what s/he had learned?? All passed, some barely. Would they be able to convey a few key Ewing principles to their farmer members?
This week is the real test. How have the six grinders that were loaned to the participants’ groups been used? More than half way through the week, even if nothing else positive comes to light, this pilot project exactly fulfills the CTI mission. The farmers in these groups live on agricultural land 40, 50, even 70 kilometers off the tarmac. They carry water from rivers or bore holes every day for family use. They eat what they grow, and little else. Their homes lack electricity, plumbing, and other “modern conveniences.” Yet they tend neat enclosures of chickens and goats, hand hoe a few acres of crops, are well-organized; they take advantage of improved seed from ICRISAT distributed by KARI, and they have used the grinders well, to improve nutrition and to generate small amounts of income, which they share.
Two groups, the Helima Widow’s Self-Help Group and St. Florence’s Self Help Group, share a grinder. All 42 members have been taught to use the grinder. They use it EVERY DAY!! Before the grinder was delivered in February, 2009, most sold their ground nuts whole. A few made nut paste using a mortar and pestle, spreading the mash on flat stones, to be worked with another stone. Now all members use the grinder to make paste from their nuts, and sell the paste at the local market, where they report there is very strong demand for the high quality product they produce. They also use the paste in what I can only describe as “designer ugee”, a porridge made from sorghum, grain amaranth, finger millet, and cassava, flavored with a little citrus juice and sugar. They have tried to market this nutritious porridge, but it is more expensive than the ugee commonly produced, and people do not understand the value of the new product. For the time being, they feed the new ugee to their families, and take orders from others who want it. Interestingly, it is people with a family member in hospital who have ordered the new ugee, as they feel it is the best food for the sick.
We were served a cake made from soya flour, grain amaranth and nut paste – before the grinder provided the opportunity to make these “custom flours” easily, these groups never baked a cake!! They are experimenting, using sorghum and finger millet to make “finger rolls.” The regional KARI manager who was accompanying me, Nasambu Okoko, was visibly excited by these developments. She had them repeat the ingredients of the cake and the ugee, several times, noting repeatedly herself how nutritious and how novel these products are in this area.
The grinder has been a catalyst for these two groups, “boosting” their horizon and stimulating further activity. Several farmers have increased their ground nut plantings this season, spurred by the knowledge they can add value to the nuts before they go to market, and the profit will stay in their pockets.
Perhaps by the standards of entrepreneurship in the developed world the few extra dollars each farmer in these groups earns this year is paltry, but where we sit in Nyototo township the pride and excitement they share as we munch a newly baked cake is priceless.
It is late, and we are scheduled to leave for another group in the morning, although the ongoing downpour tonight might delay us, as we wait for the sun to dry the roads from slippery mud to navigable dirt. More later.