Women empowerment, sustainable agriculture and elephant conservation.
Report by our Community and Livelihoods Research Assistant, Victor Ndombi
During my time as a community livelihood and conflict reduction intern, I came to learn how agriculture, women empowerment and elephant conservation go hand in hand in a community. It is popular opinion that agriculture and elephant conservation are mutually exclusive but if done right, these different and seemingly opposing concepts can be integrated, to work together.
On the 8th of March 2019, we joined women around the world to celebrate the International Women’s Day and our theme was ‘Empowering women through entrepreneurship’. I took part in planning the logistics for the important day. The main goal of the workshop was to introduce the women of Mwakoma village to an array of successful sustainable enterprises that they can engage in. Additionally, the women learned different business skills that would help them operate their groups as successful enterprises. One of the crucial topics discussed was developing sustainable income generating projects that are environmentally friendly such as organic soap making and using recyclable sanitary towels.
Women play a crucial role in food security through land preparation and cultivation, an unpaid and underappreciated work that is very vital in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as achieving Zero hunger. They also participate in managing natural resources at family and community levels but are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation. The women were taught how they can play a role in reducing human-elephant conflict while still engaging in agriculture. They can do this by opting to grow non-palatable crops (those not preferred by elephants) in the place of palatable crops (crops prefered by elephants) like maize. Non- palatable crops can be used in different enterprises such as soap making using aloe vera and sunflower seeds to increase their income and prevent over-reliance on agriculture. In addition to reducing human-elephant conflict, non-palatable crops such as sunflowers provide forage for bees which are used to deter elephants using the innovative beehive fences.
Agriculture in areas prone to elephant raids seldom ends in jubilation. Elephants carry out crop raids on certain crops when they are almost ready for harvest. This not only results in massive losses for the farmers but also poses a threat to the elephants from angry farmers. One of the ways Elephants and Bees Project is working to reduce these incidences conflict is by introducing organic farming to the community. The demonstration garden of organic farming also serves as a kitchen garden for Kileva Primary School.
The kitchen garden is situated in the school and its main objective is to grow a variety of crops to enhance the nutritional content of the school lunches to stop over-reliance on the same meal, at the same time demonstrating alternative crops that can be grown in place of maize. Because of low resilient index, crops like maize are less suitable in areas experiencing low rainfall.
Organic farming is an integrated method of farming that utilizes natural components of the ecosystem. It applies techniques such as crop rotation, use of compost and biological pest control and discourages the application of synthetic farm inputs such as feed additives, pesticides, fertilizers and hormones because of their harsh effects on the human health and environment.
I established a vegetable nursery for spinach, kale, onions and amaranthus with plans to grow coriander, okra, cowpeas, sunflower and parsley in the near future. Out of these, okra and sunflowers are non-palatable and their flowers preferred by bees which aids in pollination. To supplement soil fertility, I added livestock and compost manure which also reduces soil acidity. I also developed a crop rotation plan for the organic garden to reduce incidences of pests and to balance and enhance soil nutrients. Crop rotation involves growing crops from different families in the same land in a regular recurring sequence.
In order to practice crop rotation, you need to understand key aspects likes the crop groups, nutrient requirement and benefits of the crop to the soil. Four group crops to be grown are: Leafy crops– (kale, cabbage, spinach), Root crops – (onions, carrots), Legumes – (cowpeas, pigeon peas) and Fruit crops – tomatoes, potatoes.
Leafy crops are heavy feeders of nitrogen; they need more nitrogen in the soil than any other crops. Legumes provide nitrogen in the soil through nitrogen fixation. Therefore, leafy crops should be planted after the legumes to utilize the nitrogen provided through nitrogen fixation. Fruit crops require a considerable amount of nutrients and should be planted after the leafy crops since they would otherwise utilize all the nutrients provided by the legumes. Root crops tend to fight nematodes that are very common in fruit crops, therefore, they should be introduced immediately after the fruit crops.
The future of conservation
The Elephants and Bees Project also acknowledges the role the new generation plays in environmental conservation. During my internship, I also conducted environmental education classes to students of Kileva Primary School on the importance of conserving natural resources and the environment through ways such as sustainable waste management and conservation of wildlife species such as elephants. By educating these students on conservation, chances of survival of wildlife will be higher. For example, the Sagalla caecilian (Boulengerula niedeni), which is an endemic amphibian species only found in Sagalla hills, Kenya is under a threat and highly endangered and by creating awareness about its plight to the students, the species can be conserved.
Photos by Victor Ndombi