Issues in Economic, Community and Agricultural Development in Kenya - Kristelle Esterhuizen


Posted: November 3, 2011

From May 17th until June 7th I was blessed to be able to spend time in Kenya.

During the Spring semester of 2011 I took a course on Issues in Economic, Community and Agricultural Development in Kenya (AGECO/CED 499A).  Being a horticulture student I was more involved with the agricultural development aspect of the course.  During the semester we did a lot of research on the agro-ecological zones of Kenya as well as research on the various crops that are grown or can be grown there.  

While in Kenya we spent three days in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya.  The first place we visited in Nairobi was the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI).  They are a government organization that is does research and then uses extension agents to get the information out to farmers.  One of their main targets is the small farmers who are often uninformed about new technologies and agricultural methods that are being used.  We also visited The Hellen Keller Institute which does plant breeding research and development on orange flesh sweet potatoes.  These potatoes are more nutritious and have a high vitamin A content.  A third institute we visited was the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI).  They develop new products from local trees and shrubs such as baobab jam and shampoo and conditioner from Aloe vera plants.  Lastly we went to Amiran Kenya Ltd., which produces drip irrigation kits.  These are very important in Kenya since water scarcity is a major problem in agricultural production.  Besides traveling around Nairobi and learning about the agricultural development that is taking place, we also visited a giraffe sanctuary and got to feed and kiss the giraffes. 
EsterhuizenKenya1.pngAfter our time in Nairobi it felt very nice to go up to Nyeri where there is fresh air to breath and much less traffic.  The Children and Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC) is located in Thumguma, Nyeri and is a place that takes in street children, feeds them, gives them an education, and also teaches them a trade of various kinds.  The CYEC used to be an old boarding school, but is now a place where the street children can be encouraged, built up, and given a second chance to become a beneficial part of the community.  At the center we spent a lot of time playing with the children, whether it was soccer or some random game.  They are all so sweet and just wanted to be loved.  As part of our work, we developed budget sheets for the center to keep track of all their food that they produce.  They have a “shamba” or farm, where they produce a lot of their own vegetables and some fruits.  I was also helping to identify the pests and diseases that cause problems in the shamba.  Their inputs are fairly low, but they do use some pesticides and fungicides to try and keep the pests under control.  The CYEC also owns land in Othaya and Lamuria.  We took soil samples at all three places and sent them in to be analyzed.  The information will give the farmers a better idea of what fertilizers to apply and whether nematodes are a problem.

Apart from the work that we did, we went on a safari one weekend.  We went to a game reserve in Solio as well as the Aberdare Range.  It was interesting to see how the landscape changes so drastically when traveling only a short distance.  The Solio Reserve was flat and dry with some trees and small shrubs, while the Aberdare Range was mountainous and much of it was covered in indigenous bamboo.  We were fortunate to see a lion among many other animals. 

EsterhuizenKenya2.pngOver all what I enjoyed the most was experiencing a different culture.  We ate lots of bananas, avocadoes, pineapple and mangoes since they grow so well there.  And it’s amazing how cheap they are.  One extra large avocado (much bigger than the ones you get in the US) costs 5Ksh which is equivalent to about 6 US cents.  For lunch the children at the CYEC eat “githeri” which is boiled beans and maize.  It’s pretty bland but it fills you up.  Learning Kiswahili was another part that I really enjoyed.  The children are very willing to teach you new words and they enjoyed singing us songs in Kiswahili.  Learning about their way of life was fascinating and seeing with how much less stuff they get by was eye opening.  Many people only have three outfits; one to go to school in, one to work in, and one to go to church in.  If they don’t have a tooth brush they just use a little twig that they scrape their teeth with.  They know how to live a simple life and aren’t distracted by all the things that people in the US think that they cannot live without. 

Going to Kenya was an amazing experience.  At the end of each day I was dead tired, but each night before I went to bed I couldn’t help but smile and think to myself that it had been a good day.