Gilgil is a town resting on the floor of the Great Rift Valley, about half an hours drive up towards Nakuru from famous Lake Naivasha. The land rises around the town in spectacular volcanic ridges upon which most of our small scale farmers in the area live.
Great volcanic soil enable farmers to produce without much need for artificial inputs, however, water is a problem. Whilst there are a few scenic dams and lush river valleys, due to the deforrestation in the Aberdares area, the rivers now run dry for most of the year.
Transporting products down these perilous ridges is also a huge challenge and is mainly done by bicycle, donkey and of late motorcycle. For large harvests like potatoes, lorries are used, and are more often seen stuck in the muddy gullies which become treacherous during the rain season.
Given the above senario, it’s not suprising that farmers struggling with all of these external factors and infrastructures remain poor most of the year.
In 2006 we took an Organic training program sponsored by BioVision to the farmers in Kigogo. We trained over 60 men and women on organic production emphasising the need to retain and build on soil fertility. Most of the farmers have a mixed cropping system which means there is availability of animal manures, however not all knew how to compost effectively, and some found it less laboursome to simply use artificial fertilizers. Given that an acre of land requires 4 tonnes of compost compared to 50kg of artificial fertilizer, what would you choose to apply under the blazing African sun?
Artificial fertilizers are lighter, can be applied quicker, and produce instant results. How do we then convince farmers that they should look at a more labour intensive and slower form of farming?
In Gilgil many cannot afford artificial fertilizers, so not alot of convincing was needed, just capacity building on effective composting.
No one will work excessively hard unless they get a good enough reward and thus, we set out to find markets for the products coming from the hills. Over the course of the past two years, we have had an intersting stream of organic products coming into our store The Organic Shop, the most famous of which is the Gilgil asparagus. This crop was originally identified due to it’s close resemblance to an indigenous weed in the area. It was soon seen as a cash crop and many farmers were taught how to produce it even though it takes 2 years from seed to viable production!!
When the international buyers eventually stopped purchasing and abandoned the crops, some farmers continued to grow it and began looking for local markets. So what has all of this got to do with rabitts???
Asparagus is harvested every day yet brought down to market every three days. It has a fairly good shelf life and is hardy when being transported (unlike pawpaws :)It has it’s own niche in the market place as no one else really grows the crop.Gilgil just has the perfect conditions.
It makes logical sense then to figure that if other products could find a niche, be exclusive and of high value, then perhaps all was not lost but rather about to begin for the farmers in the area.
During our training we talked about value addittion and gave examples of organic products including meats , most of our farmers have never been to Nairobi let alone into a supermarket and were very suprised to learn of the possibilities……………….but……………where would they get the knowledge?
About 6 months ago, an elderly man called me and said he wanted to talk to me about rabitts. I immediatly thought ‘Salamonella’!! I’d seen farmers with skinned rabbits in plastic bags festering in the sun at farmers markets .!! None-the-less and not to be put off, the old man and his daughter travelled to Nairobi to discuss the possibilities. I gave them as much information as I could about the cold chain, statutory labelling requirements, slaughter house hygiene etc. The old man asked me to put my requirements in writing, which I did and off they went. I felt mean as the obstacles were simply too high for these guys to meet up in the hills.
So I was pleasantly suprised when last week we recieved our first batch of rabitt meat samples!!! Frozen in half kg packets, labelled and looking very professional!!!
The couple had taken our recommendations to the Government and managed to get an entire project funded that now has 4 farmer groups growing 2000 rabitts!!! ……and not just any rabitts, serious hybrid types too from Denmark and California.
Yesterday we sent out our quality assurance expert Davis Nalika to do an assessment as well as to help the farmers improve on packaing details and as soon as this is done, Nairobi will have a supply of rabitt!!!
Asides from a serious feel good factor, I have learn’t never to underestimate an old farmer.
And I have just learnt that I have met my limit and cannot upload the photos. So have to figure this out but will definitely send some soon!!
On another topic got a mail this morning that said we were listed on Africas top 100 Best Blogs for learning about Africa. What an honour!!!