On a cold morning in Kangari, Murang’a County, a couple is busy harvesting vegetables.
It is a Friday, one of the days when John Karanja and his wife Esther Nyambura harvest their vegetables to market them.
In the middle of their work, Esther’s phone keeps ringing. Her customers call her to ask what time she will arrive at the nearby Kangari market for deliveries. She did not bring vegetables to the market on Tuesday as they had planned, prompting some of them to continue asking for a double supply.
Every week, Esther sells vegetables worth around Sh6,000 from her half-acre farm. However, incomes are currently slightly lower, as heavy rains that hit the area recently caused an increase in production.
This couple went against all odds to grow their vegetables organically.
They do not hesitate to inform their customers that they are opting for organic farming. It is also a way to market their products, especially at a time when many people avoid foods containing chemicals, mainly fresh produce.
Esther does not remember exactly when she decided to practice organic farming.
“It was when my daughter was about five years old, and she’s working now,” she recalls.
The couple grow various vegetables, including kale (sukumawiki), spinach, amaranth and black carrots.
To support the market, the couple plant a new crop every two weeks. This, she says, ensures a year-round supply.
In addition, she also grows corn and beans organically.
Making compost manure for crops is a journey they consider interesting, sometimes a bit demanding but rewarding.
Karanja explains that they dry vegetation like Napier grass, corn stalks, weeds and tree branches and then make a pile.
The pile is then covered with wood ash and then covered with earth.
Some of the manure from their dairy cows is then added to this pile before covering it again with more soil, wood ash and manure.
This content is then covered with a few fresh banana leaves and left for 21 days before returning.
However, within 21 days the farmer uses a gauge to poke deep into the pile to check if the treatment is going well.
“The stick should be warm to the touch. If the stick is cold, either the manure is ready or something is wrong,” Karanja explains.
The mixture should be turned once every 21 days and is ready to use after 63 days.
It’s a technique the couple learned through the Organic Agriculture Center of Kenya (OACK), a non-governmental organization that promotes sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmer livelihoods.
The organization’s extension officer, Duncan Ndirangu, says he works with over 1,000 smallholder farmers each year, with a total reach of over 10,000 farmers.
OACK, he adds, trains farmers on the need to use locally available materials to make compost manure and organic pesticides.
Plants like tithonia, Mexican marigold and pepper are used to make organic pesticides. This saves the farmer the cost of agrochemicals and the consumer the risk of consuming harmful chemicals.
“We are also working to improve diversity in agriculture so that farmers are not just dependent on traditional tea and coffee crops, but can have other agricultural ventures to increase their income,” says Ndirangu.
According to experts, organic farming has many advantages as it is not only beneficial for the environment and the farmers, but also for the consumer.
Rosinah Mbenya, program manager at Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) in Kenya, explains that organic farming prevents rivers, for example, from being polluted by a flow of agrochemicals.
Pelum is an umbrella organization for grassroots organizations that promote ecological agriculture and sustainable land use that preserves the environment. Currently, the organization has 52 members spread across 42 counties.
In 2011, Rosina notes, the African Union (AU) adopted policies that support ecological organic agriculture. She urges Kenya to embrace organic farming for a healthier and wealthier population.
Mary Irungu, Advocacy and Communications Officer at Pelum Kenya, urges the government to adopt policies that support organic farming.
“The government should also allocate budget to promote organic farming so that more farmers get the message to adopt it,” she says.
Farmers, she adds, should not just focus on earning money from farming, but they should be aware of the consumer, which includes their own families, and grow healthy crops.