Nicholas Sysno, a permaculture trainer illustrates the agricultural design. [courtesy]

At a time many regions in Kenya are grappling with increased land sub-division, communities from Nyando, Kisumu County, have for decades preserved communal land. The 76-acres piece of land, is strategically located along the Katito-Kisii road, and touches a river twice, making it ideal for agricultural activities.

Never mind of its potential value in terms of money if the land had been sub-divided and sold out, or the fact that 'owners' are smallholder farmers themselves, this land has been passed from one generation to another.

The communities have agreed to set aside the land for a permaculture aggregated farm, in a bid to enhance nature-positive agriculture, increase production and improve livelihoods and income. Defined as a science and art of developing sustainable system for human settlement, permaculture's principles are derived from a holistic consideration and work in tandem with nature.

Dr. Carlo Fadda (right) joins farmers, shows locally milled flour at Kabundi Agro Community Seed Bank, Kisumu county [courtesy]

This comes at a time when many people are opting for healthy diets amid increasing cases of lifestyle diseases, whose roots are largely associated with poor production practices.

Climate change has also led to decreased production rendering many families food-insecure.

Growing up, Philip Atieno recalls the community land being used for grazing cattle and goats. Villagers would release their livestock to the land, freely all day, only to lead them back to homesteads in the evening.

It was especially both fun and contribution to family work for young boys who would often be entrusted with the animals. "Our fathers and grandfathers believed that livestock keeping was the best economic activity," said Atieno.

Things have since taken a new turn. The number of goats, sheep and cows has reduced and the land has over years been left unattended, save for some livestock that are still driven in there. Some portions have unfortunately been affected by erosion.

Evelyne Okoth, a farmer from Nyando attends to her crops

After recent training and public participation though, farmers have agreed to establish an aggregated permaculture farm.

Phoebe Adhiambo, another farmer from Agoro East sublocation believes women should be at the fore front in implementing the permaculture agriculture. As key decision makers on family diets, Adiambo noted, women have a big hand towards proper family nutrition.

She urged young women to embrace the idea of permaculture aggregated farms saying it will not only be a training ground for what they can do at family farms, but also opportunity for them to offer labor services at a fee. "Some tasks like weeding are best done by women, and this is an avenue for job creation," said Adhiambo.

Amid climate change and its effects, agriculture needs to not only be innovative but also viable and profitable. Dr. Carlo Fadda, the Research Director for Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture at the Alliance Bioversity and Center for Tropical Agriculture (The Alliance), called on farmers to diversify income sources, saying this way they not only spread risks but also open more avenues to earn and improve livelihoods. This also include waste management and circular economy, which not only increase income, but also reduces pollution and improve soil fertility and animal feeding.

Dr. Fadda, doubles up as the Team Lead for Nature + Initiative. Co-funded by Biovision, Nature+ is an initiative of The Alliance. In Kenya, the project will be implemented in Kajiado, Kisumu, Turkana and Vihiga counties. Globally, it is also being implemented in Burkina Faso, Colombia, India and Vietnam.

This initiative aims to re-imagine, co-create, and implement nature-positive agri-food systems that equitably support food and livelihoods while ensuring that agriculture is a net positive contributor to the environment.

"For agriculture to be sustainable, it needs to be done in ways that conform to the laws of nature. There is need to ensure regeneration of the soil, safeguard of the environment and increase biodiversity for ecosystem services, such as pollination, water and nutrient cycles," said Dr. Fadda.

In the wake of increasing cases of lifestyle diseases that are often linked to use of synthetic farm inputs, permaculture promotes use of Integrated Pests Management (IPM) and other non-synthetic pest management methods. This will make the food we eat safer and healthier.

Farmers, Dr. Fadda noted need to have access to resilient and adaptive seeds amid climate change. "The effects of climate change are becoming harsh, and rains turning to be more and more unpredictable, thus the need for seeds and technologies that enhance resilience and adaptively," noted Dr. Fadda.

Permaculture aids moisture and nutrient retention as well as soil fertility thus contributing to better production. To ensure market access though, there is need to create awareness of not only the benefits of permaculture, but also of its produce and products.

Dr. Gloria Otieno Genetic Resources and Food Security Policy Specialist at The Alliance, noted that permaculture is anticipated to have a net positive effect on the environment and will lead to a reduction in greenhouse gass emissions.

Farmers are will enjoy the economies of scale through joint farming and marketing. "The focus will be on forgotten crops like sorghum, millet, traditional leafy vegetables, pigeon peas, cow peas and others, which are now being referred to as 'the crops of the future'," noted Dr. Otieno

Traditional crops, she noted are not only rich in nutrients, but low in glycemic index especially sorghum and millet, making them suitable for people living with health conditions such as diabetes. Under the permaculture design, value addition will be included to ensure easy marketing, quality assurance and job creation. The value addition will include flour milling for example, and possibly fruit juice extraction. Farmers will also be linked to markets for their value added products.

Traditionally, some of the indigenous crops were handled by women, a culture that has been passed over from one generation to the other. The fact that such crops will be cultivated in the aggregated farms aspect, is a sure way of ensuring the gender aspect will be observed.

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