Jul 24, 2020

SSNK: Seed Is the Origin of Life

SSNK farmers at harvest.
SSNK farmers at harvest.

Hi folks,

Today’s update comes from Daniel Wanjama, Seed Savers Network Kenya (SSNK) Founder and Director. SSNK is a grassroots NGO headquartered southeast of Nakuru in Gilgil who works with resource-poor farmers to promote sustainable rural livelihoods. SSNK has strong support for local community groups, providing access to agricultural training, good vegetable seed, tools, and other resources. We recently connected with Daniel who told us about some of the work he’s been doing with the village of Emkwen. 

Emkwen Village

Emkwen Village is a farming community located in the Loboi area of Baringo District in west central Kenya. Arid rocky terrain, acacia trees, and shrubs cover the majority of the District. The natural landscape makes this area prone to drought and food shortages.

Farmers in this region predominantly grow maize because they can easily access maize seed from a local seed company. After harvest, farmers sell back every seed they produce to the same company. This creates a monoculture farming structure, limiting the development and transmission of farming knowledge for non-maize crops. Since farmers are not growing nutritionally-diverse crops, they need to fill this gap by purchasing nutritious food at the market. Maize farming leaves farmers with some money, but not enough to purchase the nutritionally-diverse food needed throughout the year.

“We only do farming because we are at the farms, not because of the profit we get.” - SSNK Farmer

Last year, more than 200 farmers from over 50 farming groups from the Loboi and Sandai areas of Baringo District received seeds from SSNK for farming and to start seed saving. With your support, our partnership with SSNK was able to provide farmers with kale, spinach, tomato, cucumber, cassava, cowpea, sweet potato, pumpkin, sorghum, amaranth, and vegetable other seeds. In addition to providing seed, SSNK trained farmers on seed production and pest control to enhance future seed multiplication.

The Emkwen Farmers’ Group meets every Thursday to coordinate their collective finances and share farming ideas. As part of a strategy to diversify their crops and improve nutrition and income, they have taken to saving seeds. Tthe group participated in an SSNK seed saving training in April 2019 after meeting with an SSNK extension officer during a project launch in Kiborgoch. (Kiborgoch is a conservancy in their area where seed savers are invited to share knowledge and learn new skills.) By putting this training into practice, farmers are growing and consuming locally-produced vegetables, saving seed, and gaining extra income from selling their harvests and seeds.

Miriam

Miriam is one of the officers for the Emkwen Farmers’ Group. She is 76, and her homestead sits on one acre of land where she lives with her husband, six children, and three grandchildren. Miriam depends on this farm to feed her family. Through SSNK, she has learned how to raise vegetable seedlings and keep her garden healthy by managing pests and diseases and maintaining soil fertility.

Early on, Miriam volunteered a portion of her farm as a demonstration garden for tomato production. This investment yielded both tomatoes for her family and seeds that she can plant in future seasons or sell to nearby farmers. Miriam testifies that seed access and training have greatly impacted their family’s health and income. The sale of her tomatoes and seeds allows her to pay the school fees for her grandchildren, and she can purchase the food she needs that she does not grow herself. 

I hope to plant more and more vegetables that I have gotten through Seed Savers. I can now plant tomatoes anytime, because I have saved enough of my own seeds. Seeds are expensive, but now farming has been made easy through Seed Savers. Come next time, you will see the diversity in my farm. We are happy now, because we will be seed secure.  - Miriam 

Seed Is the Origin of Life

When families have better access to resources like training, food security, and nutrition, they tend to invest more in education, and the health of their family. This causes a ripple effect of benefits that strengthens the entire community.

As another farmer, Grace, shares:

“The program has really changed the lives of many farmers. If they were all allowed to share their stories, there would be too many to tell. Surely seed is the origin of life, and the program has allowed farmers to gain food security and improve their health through nutrition.”

We will continue to report on this community and others, partnering with SSNK as their farming projects continue to evolve. 

For now, thank you from our partners, who have improved access to water, seed, and tools as a result of this project. And always, our thanks to everyone who has supported this project — we truly cannot do what we do without your support.

The SPI Team

SSNK farmers groups.
SSNK farmers groups.
Tomato harvesting.
Tomato harvesting.
Saved tomato seeds.
Saved tomato seeds.
Relaxing in the shade, holding the harvest.
Relaxing in the shade, holding the harvest.
Jul 10, 2020

Traditional Nutrition: Families Grow Gardens in Tecpan

Thinning the Radishes - Tecpan Women's Group
Thinning the Radishes - Tecpan Women's Group

Hi folks, 

This month’s update comes from Tecpán Women’s Group in Tecpán, Guatemala, where a group of Mayan women are continuing to grow their farming program. You may remember our previous report, where we first introduced this partner through GlobalGiving. They have been working continuously to expand their program, which preserves and passes on traditional farming knowledge to families in local communities.

At the beginning of 2020, this group implemented their Family Gardens Project, which is dedicated to growing vegetables for family consumption throughout the year. In addition to teaching gardeners advanced cultivation methods, the curriculum introduces new ways of preparing vegetables grown in family gardens. Modeling new preparation methods and providing simple recipes helps ensure that families take full advantage of the nutrition available in their garden. Paula López, the group’s leader, asserts that families  are more likely to grow diverse vegetable types if they can integrate them into traditional, delicious meals. 

“You can’t just set a bowl of spinach down in front of children and expect them to be excited. You have to cut it up, cook it with other vegetables, add it to beans, and put it all in a warm tortilla. Then they will love it, because the unfamiliar becomes familiar.” — Paula López, Women's Group Project Leader

These trainings are hosted at the most fundamental level — at each gardener’s home. This isn’t a small job. There is sometimes miles of roads between each home. This is where your donation made a difference: Paula was able to purchase a bicycle with SPI support so field technicians could more easily travel between remote areas of the village. Gardening tools were also purchased to establish a communal tool bank that community gardeners can access.

Their efforts are not without difficulties. COVID-19 curfews have caused significant delays in garden preparation and training. Fewer hours means shorter work days, and group gatherings are discouraged.

“Malnutrition has increased considerably due to a lack of food throughout the country because of the current situation of COVID 19. The Family Gardens Project is more important now than in the past.”  — Paula López, Women's Group & Gardening Project Leader

Despite these setbacks, the Women’s Group has found a way to work with the curfews and continue teaching while maintaining social distance. So far, twenty-five families have been able to prepare their garden beds by incorporating compost and organic matter, and some have already planted seeds. Like many partners, they are doing the best they can to adapt their programs in a rapidly-changing environment.

We are proud to partner with Paula and the Tecpán Women’s Group and look forward to providing you with further updates as these family gardens begin to flourish.

Thank you, sincerely, for your support. Your gift provides important resources for partners like the Tecpán Women’s Group. We hope you’re encouraged to know that families have access to more nutrition because of you.

— The SPI Team

Planting in the garden.
Planting in the garden.
A gardening consultation.
A gardening consultation.
A community visit.
A community visit.
Planting red onion.
Planting red onion.
Paula, picking up supplies.
Paula, picking up supplies.
May 20, 2020

Building a Foundation in Uganda: Quaker Service Australia & St. Jude

Students creating a tiered garden.
Students creating a tiered garden.

Hi folks,

I truly hope this reaches you safe and well. With so many changes to our daily lives, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed just by paying attention to what’s happening closest to us. During these times, it can help to remember that we’re part of a larger, collective effort to support and bring out the best in each other. Today, we’re sharing a project story from Uganda — a project that your support has made possible. We hope it will encourage and inspire you, as it did us.

This past September, the MDRT Foundation hosted a seed packing event at their annual meeting in Australia. Their members filled over 20,000 seed packets with SPI seeds and shared those packets with new partner organizations who carried the seed throughout the world. Quaker Service Australia is one of those new partners.

About Quaker Service Australia

Quaker Service Australia (QSA) is an aid organization of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). They work in countries throughout the world, including: Cambodia, India, Indigenous Australia, Malaysia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and refugee and asylum seeking groups in Australia. QSA projects focus on health, education, and human rights with a primary focus on food security. The training and education offered through QSA partner projects help ensure that people can grow food now and for generations to come.

Like many organizations, QSA has had to adapt to workplace changes because of COVID-19:

“At QSA we are all working from home as much as possible and staying in touch remotely – we are some of the lucky ones I think, that it is possible with our work. We are keeping up with communications and support to our partners as they are working to devise ways to continue support or work with their communities through their own countries’ lockdowns as well as helping to disseminate health and safety info in the course of their work. While we have some alternative plans with partners in response to COVID-19 these have not quite been able to go ahead as of yet. In most of our project locations it is currently unsafe for them to leave the house not just because of COVID-19, but also because of authorities using means of coercion to enforce the lockdowns.”

Building a Foundation: QSA & St. Jude Family Projects

This past February and March, QSA distributed about 1,500 packets of SPI seed with their partner St. Jude Family Projects in Uganda. St. Jude offers education for the whole community, working with farmers, students, and families. Prior to Uganda’s mandated COVID distancing measures, St. Jude offered training in agroforestry, vegetable growing, preparation, value addition and marketing, seasonal crop spacing, and manure application. Droughts and floods over the past year had wiped out several prior crops, so this recent seed distribution was especially important.

Seed was also shared with three schools that maintain gardens as a classroom for students and teachers. These gardens are important training grounds (no pun intended) that also provide nutritious vegetables for school lunches. St. Jude carefully cultivates these programs, building their curriculum from the ground up:

“We select the most disadvantaged schools from many applications, do a needs assessment, pick up the numbers that we can afford each year to work with, and start working towards a collective vision with those involved.

Meetings begin with school management committees, teachers, parents, and the students themselves to introduce the program. We visit these schools every few weeks to train and monitor their developments and provide advice with proper guidance. For sustainability reasons, it is important to educate the children on nutrition and harvesting. It is amazing to see how the children take these lessons to their respective homes as ‘mini-ambassadors.’ This creates a culture of ownership, and ensures these great lessons of caring for the earth live on. Agriculture is a fruitful venture, not a living to shy away from.”

What a fantastic model for ensuring that everyone involved has the opportunity to shape the program! Ai Leen at QSA adds, “...St Jude Family Projects’ excellent and dedicated community-based trainers [planted] a trial run of SPI seeds during my visit, so they could test and observe germination prior to distributing to farmers, which also allowed them to know how to advise them.” This is clearly an experienced team who cares about their students, community, and craft.

This report includes photos from St. Jude of the most recently completed primary school project (students planting) and the currently ongoing project (tiered garden). Ai Leen and St. Jude are waiting to see what this season will bring. Nothing is certain, but we believe that the quality of care and resources that QSA and St. Jude are providing has established a critical foundation of support for local farmers and students.

Your support of this project supports local collaborations like Quaker Service Australia and St. Jude Family Projects. The work they’re doing with local schools is growing local leaders who will support their communities for generations to come. Thank you!

— The SPI Team

Students planting seedlings.
Students planting seedlings.
Young students in the garden.
Young students in the garden.
QSA & St. Jude testing seeds before distribution.
QSA & St. Jude testing seeds before distribution.
 
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