Big Family Picnic: Farmers Helping Farmers-style
By Teresa Mellish
Our Kenyan partners don’t know each other. The More Food, Better Food:Empowering Kenyan Farm Women project funded by Global Affairs Canada started late in 2019, and COVID started early in 2020, so there has been limited opportunity to know each other. So we decided to hold a family picnic on Sunday afternoon so they would meet each other.
We invited the executive of each of the 16 womens groups, 4 dairies as well as head teachers and gardeners at the 22 schools FHF works with. We held it at the Kiirua Primary School grounds and rented a tent with 150 chairs.
We hired the Destiny Womens Group to prepare the food which included mukimo, chapattis, watermelon and mangoes. We Canadians made Mac and Cheese. Ken and James also prepared sugar snap peas, which are grown primarily for export, and Kenyans say they do not know how to cook them.
All of the Kenyan personnel and the Canadian volunteers helped: from Ben helping to set up the tent; France and Victoria B washing mangoes, Eric looking after the sound system, Stephen C, Claire and Victoria M running the registration desk, Salome rolling out chapattis, Jill and Ben snapping peas, to mention a few. Ken and Salome shared the job of Master of Ceremonies. Only Shauna missed the event because she was sick.
We used a simple mixer to make sure that people met each other. Each person received a name tag at the registration desk with a number between 1 and 10 on it, and all enthusiastically set out to find 10 other people they did not know who had the same number. These names were written on an index card along with the person’s affiliation. Murori Munyua from the Ex Lewa dairy even collected telephone numbers and said he had found 10 new friends!
Everyone who was invited attended!
After we had eaten, Ken and Salome introduced each group, to cheers from all present! There were no speeches. Kenyan personnel along with their spouses were introduced and John introduced the Canadian volunteers. The Kenyan Directors of the new Kenyan company were introduced. The two Members of the County Assembly in attendance were introduced. Then we all danced Kenyan-style led by the Destiny Womens Group.
I promised that this was the first annual picnic, and already suggestions are being made for next year’s event. Gikundi wants us to invite more people!
By France Routhier-Vos
Resilience is the capacity to withstand, or to recover quickly from difficulty.
Travelling to Africa has been a lifelong dream of mine. Hoping to observe beautiful landscape, impressive wildlife, and to meet new people from different background. Within two weeks, Kenya has offered me much more.
Travelling with Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) has definitely played a big part in the warm welcome we received when we arrived. We met with the Kenyan staff of FHF on our first day in Meru County. They are a team of nine specialists that seem to be a gift to the organization. They thoroughly explained the goals and achievements related to their mission. Some examples consist of giving and installing solar lights, water tanks, grow bags, cook stoves, and biodigesters to womens’ groups and schools. FHF also offers clinics and trainings to different groups of farmers to help them improve their livelihood.
I am grateful to be part of this team led by Teresa and Ken and working alongside such knowledgeable people. My small contribution has been to help teach basic bookkeeping to small groups. To my surprise, there was a real need for small farm business people to be able to manage their money. Classes were well-attended and the somewhat dry subject was very well-received.
Kenyans have all gone through several tough years with the onset of COVID and a long drought. Even in the landscape, the plants try to strive in dry weather. A special plant that I’ve been introduced to is euphorbia. It is used for fencing and feeding the animals, mostly goats and sheep.
What marked me the most so far is the resilience of these people. Having almost nothing but striving to continue growing crops, raising livestock and trying to feed their families. As one Kenyan told me, “People are happy when they have food and they can put their kids through school.”
I also had the opportunity to travel with Teresa and a few staff to some of the most environmentally-challenged areas in the county to welcome two new groups to FHF.
On our way to the very dry region of Nkando, I asked Salome Ntinyari (Teresa’s right hand) if her last name has a special meaning. She told me that it means the contented one. I thought to myself what a beautiful name and how representative of the Kenyans’ character…along with their resilience and contagious joy! Hakuna Matata!
View from a Prince Edward Island Farmer
By Ben Vos
Just a few words on my experience so far in Kenya. As I have been telling many farmers here, I was a dairy farmer on P.E.I. About 20 years ago John VanLeeuwen, our vet at the time, sparked my interest in things he was doing for the farmers in Kenya. I thought about going at the time but leaving the farm at the coldest time of the year, and for that length of time, was just not possible. I also wondered if I would make any difference there because they have lived and farmed there for so long. What was I gonna say, or do, that would make any difference to them?
Landing here certainly changed how I felt.
First thing you notice is how genuine the people are, who greet you with a handshake and a smile. People are dressed very sharp, and certainly care about how they go out in public. Driving through the communities, you see a lot of people herding their cattle, sheep, and goats. Others are selling goods on the side of the road. You also see many people doing hard physical labour.
The thoughts I had were about starving people, asking for food. It doesn’t seem to be like that, if you have access to water. The soil looks very fertile, even though some areas have not had rain for years. People make do with what they have, and try to provide food for their families, and make sure they can send their kids to school.
Being here with Farmers Helping Farmers has given us a great opportunity to see what effect they really have here. I was asked to help farmers with dairy training – giving workshops on topics in the manuals they were given as part of a dairy club.
The main thing I have noticed is their lack of knowledge of things that seem obvious to me. We are teaching them about getting the cows ready to calve, feeding them properly, and the housing facilities. Production on most farms is very low, and there is lots of room for improvement. Most farmers rely on less than a handful of cows to make their living. Teaching them the skills to help improve the production will directly help them with their bottom line.
Most people that we have talked to have never seen white people show up at their farms, and when first talking to them, they seem a bit puzzled. Within a short time you start to see a lot of heads nodding, or laughing at things that they should be doing.
I’m very glad to have been a part of this trip, and hopefully ignite a spark in some of these farmers. I’m sure that they’ve all learned something, and will improve things on their shambas, or farms. I have certainly learned a lot about them, and even myself, while being here. So many things we take for granted are not so in Kenya.
The Proof is in the Pudding: Farmers Helping Farmers Handbook Helps Kenyan Farms Continue to Grow
Jambo! After countless delays, the UPEI vet students, Kasadee, Karen, and Andrea, as well as our supervisor, Dr. John VanLeeuwen (UPEI dairy cattle specialist), have arrived in Kenya and have begun working with local dairy farmers. Here in Kenya, every day is different and comes with its own unique activities, experiences, and people that we meet along the way.
Throughout this week we have attended various question and answer seminars with local dairy groups, including Buuri, Naari, and Ngusishi. These seminars are a great opportunity for the farmers to ask questions directly to a veterinarian (daktari) and learn from each other. We are also learning a great deal, including a goal of five Swahili words a day.
The seminars have been a great opportunity to see how dairy cattle are managed here in Kenya. Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) leads training for cohorts of the dairy groups where the farmers work through the important steps outlined in the FHF-UPEI Handbook for Kenyan Dairy Farmers. Graduates from the program were awarded certificates for their hard work during these seminars.
The dairy cattle (ng’ombe) are the main focus of the FHF-UPEI vet group in this part of Kenya, but this year, Dr. Martha Mellish (UPEI equine professor), along with donkey owner and dressage trainer, Anne Aloi, have started the Working Donkey project.
We were lucky enough to tag along with the donkey (punda) crew on Wednesday where we helped complete welfare assessments, perform physical exams, and provide deworming medication to the donkeys. A seminar for donkey owners was also widely attended in Nkando where many thoughtful questions were asked and answered.
The busy week continued into Saturday with the first walk-in clinic of our trip being hosted in Mbaaria. Each of us were able to pair up with a veterinarian and a translator to treat over 70 cows, heifers, bulls, and calves. More than 280 cattle were also dewormed.
It was organized chaos where we were able to help many farmers and it was a great chance for us to see diseases that we would not normally see in Canada. The walk-in clinic was a great opportunity for farmers to bring in their animals to us, where we saw variety of breeds, ages, and symptoms. The entire FHF-UPEI crew, including veterinarians, dairy farmers, and lots of Mellishes teamed up to host this amazing event!
The highlight of the week was seeing a farmer from the Naari dairy group, Mary, who has vastly improved the conditions on her farm leading to increased milk production. Mary hosted the seminar on her farm and had a clear thirst for knowledge as evidence by the thoughtful questions she asked. She has recently completed the FHF-UPEI Handbook training. The knowledge she gained from the training was clear in her improvements on her farm, including proper nutrition for all her cows and cow comfort.
By implementing the teachings from the FHF-UPEI handbook, she now has three successfully bred cows, as confirmed by us by rectal palpation, two of which she plans to dry off within the next month following the recommendations of our team. While on her farm we toured her new barn, which she has built with the help of FHF staff member Stephen Chandi, which has led to more comfortable cows.
Mary continues to diversify her agri-business by expanding to potato seed as well as other vegetables in her large garden. She also has a new biogas unit where she can use the manure from her cows to help heat her gas stove in the kitchen and the excess can be used as fertilizer in her garden. This farm was a wonderful example of how hard-working Kenyans paired with the education from FHF and UPEI can lead to successful and prosperous farms.
We are looking forward to the next two weeks here in Kenya. Check back here next week for a new update.
Tuonane (see you)!
How water is helping grow onions and mangoes in Kenya
‘A learning day in Kenya’
By Ken Mellish
We are often asked why do we go to Kenya and the expected answer is to help Kenyans. This is a reason but the other reason is to learn. Yesterday was a learning day for me. First, I must explain the growing conditions here. Near the mountain where we live conditions are good, not great, but there is enough to support crops. Maize needs one more rain, beans are being harvested and there is enough grass for cows. When you travel out further from the mountain it becomes dryer until the crops have failed totally. They had a nice start when we were here in November but no rain since then. However, if you have water, anything can be grown with the highly productive soil and unlimited sunshine.
I traveled with Mwenda, our horticulturalist, to visit the northern dry area and our first stop was the onions grown by women’s groups supported by FHF through the GAC Canada “More food, Better food” project. The area was supplied with water from a water line which originates high up on Mount Kenya. The fields were equipped with drip irrigation lines and the onion transplants were set just before we visited in November. The onions were now ready to harvest. Streight rows of red onion of a good size for the Kenyan market. Today the onions would be harvested and brokers would come and buy them. Hundreds of kilos of onions in an area where the goats are wandering to look for food.
We traveled slowly along some bumpy dusty roads until we came to Anne‘s small farm. Suddenly, we see patches of bright green in contrast with the brown, dried vegetation by the roads.
FHF, again with GAC support, has equipped Anne with a 5,000 liter water tank which she has connected to the Buuri water scheme. The water from this scheme is available in rotation so a tank is necessary for a continuous supply. Anne is growing kale, cabbage, potatoes and sweet potatoes. In an area where people have little to eat she is producing food for sale. She has planted avocado trees and Mwenda has promised to come back and graft some improved scions on them to make the plants highly productive.
We came away with a small bag of new potatoes. The dream of all PE Islanders, new potatoes in January. I learned that this area is highly productive if you have access to water and the ability to put it to work.
On our last stop we visited a mango farmer, Mr Stephen Kiambi. He has one acre with a small water spring and every inch of the land is producing. The main crop is producing mangos but there is also citrus and grasses for cow feed. I remember five varieties of mangos from his farm. This spreads the market season and provides a nice variety of fruit. The trees were hanging with huge fruit and under neath the fruit there were a variety of grasses to feed his cows. Because of this very high quality he is receiving a retail price at his farm to add to his productivity.
One innovative item on the farm was trap for the flies that lay eggs that hatch and damage the mangos. The trap was a plastic bottle with slots in the side of it and a pheromone inside to attract the males of the species. They are attracted from one kilometer away and enter the bottle but can not escape. So he does not have to spray this mango trees. We departed the farm of this mango aficionado with a bag of mangos and new insight into how even in a difficult area smart farmers thrive.
We returned home and by this time it was getting dusk. There is no twilight at the equator and we went from dusk to dark quickly. We learned that Kenyan roads are very interesting when night falls.
Three generations of the P.E.I Mellish family head to Kenya with Farmers Helping Farmers
Three generations of the Mellish family are in Kenya this month as part of the first large group of Islanders to return to the country with Farmers Helping Farmers since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ken and Teresa Mellish have been travelling regularly to Kenya since the P.E.I.-based non-profit group was established in the early 1980s.
This month, their daughter, veterinarian Dr. Martha Mellish will be part of the group, along with their 16-year-old granddaughter, Victoria Mellish and her mother, Shauna Mellish. Both Shauna and Martha have been to Kenya on previous trips.
Victoria Mellish says her trip was planned very quickly, after her grandmother asked her — when was she coming to Kenya.
The family had been hoping that Victoria could travel to Kenya in 2020, when she was in Grade 9, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed those plans.
Now, in Grade 11 at Montague Regional High School, she says the time feels right.
“I’ve always wanted to go with Farmers Helping Farmers and my teachers have been very supportive and accommodating of the trip,” said Victoria Mellish.
“Although I couldn’t go in grade 9, the chance to go before university is perfect.”
Victoria will spend much of her time volunteering at schools that are partnered with Farmers Helping Farmers, including distributing the letters written by Canadian students for their friends in Kenya. Letters have been going back and forth between the two countries since school twinning started almost 20 years ago.
“There is so much to look forward to,” Victoria Mellish said.
“I’m keen to see the schools, and meet the women’s groups, not to mention the opportunity to travel and experience a new culture and climate with my family.”
Farmers Helping Farmers has won awards for its work in Kenya. The group’s goal is to assist Kenyan farmers in becoming more self-reliant in agricultural food production, and work with dairies, women’s groups, schools and farmers.
Victoria’s grandparents are delighted that she will be able to see the work of Farmers Helping Farmers in person.
“We’ve taken our children to Kenya previously, and it’s wonderful to take our oldest grandchild
to Kenya,” said Teresa Mellish.
“Our grandchildren have heard so much about Kenya, and I think it’s important for her to see it through her own eyes.”
Ken and Teresa Mellish were in Kenya in November, the organization’s first trip to Kenya since March 2020. They visited partners and projects, along with the group’s staff who have been supporting the work of FHF on the ground in Kenya through the pandemic.
They also witnessed firsthand the impact of the worst drought in decades on the area, Meru County, where much of the work of Farmers Helping Farmers takes place.
“It was tough to see hungry children,” said Teresa Mellish.
“However, it was great that we could help them over Christmas by keeping the school feeding program open during the holiday period.”
Farmers Helping Farmers just wrapped up its 2022 Holiday Campaign, which raised almost $90,000 in support for FHF projects in Kenya.
Growing up in New Perth, Victoria Mellish helped at Farmers Helping Farmers fundraisers on P.E.I., including the annual Beef Barbecue in Harrington.
She says she’s looking forward to seeing the money raised put into action.
“I’ve seen lots of amazing pictures from the work of Farmers Helping Farmers, but to see it and the work of my grandparents in person and to be a part of it will be incredible,” said Victoria Mellish.
“I’d love to see the water tank I donated, and the family it was given to.”
The P.E.I. delegation includes Dr. John Van Leeuwen and three students from the Atlantic Veterinary College.
The group from P.E.I. will spend three weeks in Kenya working with FHF staff and partners with women’s groups, schools and dairies.
Farmers Helping Farmers returns to Kenya for the first time since 2020
President’s Message – Fall 2022
By FHF President Judy Loo
The big news this fall is the weather. Extreme conditions both in Kenya and on P.E.I. are challenging everyday life, and changing the way that we think about the future. On P.E.I., two weeks after the strongest hurricane ever recorded here, many people are still without electricity, as we survey the mess of trees and branches obstructing driveways and resting on homes.
In Kenya, people are hungry amidst the worst drought in decades. Children are too hungry to learn, and in many cases, mothers are limiting themselves to one meal a day. It is painfully apparent in both locations that climate change is not just a concern for the future; it has arrived, bringing with it uncertainty, and fear for food security, livelihoods, and homes.
Farmers Helping Farmers cannot change the weather, or address the most serious impacts of the changing climate. But all the supports that we have been providing over the years continue to help women and families cope with the extreme drought in Kenya. For example, the water tanks can be filled, allowing irrigation of gardens. Grow bags can provide greens for a family when water is available, feeding programs in schools are preventing serious malnutrition.
With the help of our staff on the ground in Meru County, we continue to monitor the situation and provide direct assistance to those who are hardest hit, where possible. Our work with women’s groups, dairies and schools has perhaps never been more important than it is now. It is heartbreaking though, to see the drought undermining the progress that people have made, and we know that much more needs to be done.
Our current project, supported by Global Affairs, helps families become more resilient in the face of climate change impacts, and ideas for future projects include even more of a focus on adapting to climate change, within the overarching themes of food security and women’s empowerment.
At the global level, attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been made more difficult by the East African drought. Many of the SDGs require a simultaneous focus on climate impacts, as indicators of well-being are increasingly affected by climate extremes.
Our work in Meru County has incorporated a climate focus, and contributes to several of the SDGs. These include reducing poverty and hunger, improving health and well-being, promoting quality education, empowering women and ensuring availability of water. As we develop new project ideas, we will ensure that our work continues to contribute to the SDGs.
We are pleased that travel to Kenya is resuming with two visits planned; a small delegation in November with a reconnaissance role, and a larger working group of volunteers in January. Watch for updates on Facebook and on our FHF website.