Caleb Omolo tends to plants in his farm. The permaculture farmer is projecting a harvest worth more than Sh4 million in the next one year. Photo: Stanley Ongwae

As he maneuvers his way through a canopy of pigeon peas and passion fruits, he stumbles upon four ripe fruits. He picks them and welcomes his guests to taste the sweetness of his farm.

Next to the patch of pigeon peas and passion fruits are three banana trees just about to flower. An averagely raised contour surrounds the banana trees. He calls this a “banana circle”.

“The banana circles are sure ways of trapping rain water and ensuring there is no water runoff from the area enclosed by the ridge,” he says.

This is Caleb Omolo’s five-acre farm at Koderobara in Rongo, Migori County. Mr Omolo has inter-cropped 100 different food crops with promising yields showing all over his farm.

He has planted sweet potatoes on the ridges and their vines have already started spreading across the ground, forming a smart cover on the contours. Besides the sweet potatoes is another ridge with groundnuts, next of which lies a line of pineapples which alternates with that of kales.

The next contour is that of a species of grass known as Vetiver, which he terms a magic solution to soil erosion. The grass is highly valued for its importance in making fragrance.

The farmer also has 10 bee-hives hanging from mature grafted mangoe trees which are just about to start flowering.

The farm is expertly organised anyone visiting will fall in love with its layout almost instantly.

Omolo says his farm is a typical demonstration of permaculture, an intensive inter-cropping system that ensures maximum returns out of a variety of crops that can grow without harming each other.

In permaculture, all plants are sorted and inter-cropped according to their nutritional needs and superiority over each other with regard to their biological attributes with symbiosis among them being the guiding rule.

Different fruits, vegetables, tubers, grass, animal fodder crops, berries and other food crops are just a few of what Omolo has planted in his farm.

This type of farming is also called ‘forest farming’ – a term drawn from the unlimited number of inter-cropped plants within one piece of land.

On his farm, Omolo grows onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, passion fruits, grapes, mulberry, avocado trees, pawpaw, desmodium, grass, various species of trees, oranges, cassava, bananas, coffee, mangoes, pigeon peas, cowpeas, castor oil; just but to mention a few of the more than 50 different species of food plants.

He hopes to realise huge returns when production reaches the apex after a year.

Omolo, a trained ecologist, says in permaculture, once a farmer has established his shamba with the different crops, the only serious labour required thereafter is harvesting as much food as possible.

“For example, vining crops like sweet potatoes, pumpkins and some families of leguminous crops are planted as soil covers, minimising weeding to near zero,” he says.

The vines also ensure no loss of moisture from the soil through transpiration.

Omolo uses animal and composite manures from the farm in all his farming activities.

His farm is a pilot project funded by Permaculture Research Institute of Kenya, an institution masterminding the idea of ‘forest farming’ across the country.

Permaculture follows effectively the basic human philosophy of conservation: “Care for earth, care for people and share the surplus.”

The practice is a rare concept in agriculture, especially in Kenya. It is being widely acclaimed by ecologists and environmental conservators as a major way of preserving nature and also ensuring sustainable food production.

Already, Omolo’s annual income is projected at around Sh1 million. And this is just the harvest from a few crops like pawpaw, bananas, desmodium and the vetiver grass.

More than 500 other farmers from the county have been trained and are following in his footsteps.

He has also widely travelled across East African to teach farmers on permaculture.