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An Environment Full of Diversity and Beauty by Jared Adam, Agroecology Major, Entomology and International Agriculture Minors

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Posted: December 8, 2018

"When people think of Africa, I feel as though many negatives come to mind; such as political unrest, war, poverty, unfavorable or unlivable conditions, and the list goes on. I would like to say that these stereotypes do not hold true for Kenya and many other African countries."
Drying our Napier grass on the roof to make silage.

Drying our Napier grass on the roof to make silage.

When people think of Africa, I feel as though many negatives come to mind; such as political unrest, war, poverty, unfavorable or unlivable conditions, and the list goes on. I would like to say that these stereotypes do not hold true for Kenya and many other African countries. For the entire extent of our three-week stay in Nyeri and Nairobi, Kenya, our days began and ended with great food, wonderful people, and an environment full of diversity and beauty.

Our CED 499 class consisted of six students of CED, Plant Science, International Agriculture, and AGBM majors. During the semester we were in contact with the individuals who ran the youth center where we would be staying and working. Three projects were proposed and agreed upon. These projects included; silage production, post-harvest/ crop rotation, and an education workshop. Our six student class was split into pairs and each pair was assigned to one of the three projects.

 Our trip began with a several hour delay in Philadelphia which led to missing our connecting flight in London. Upon arrival in London, we spent roughly five hours waiting for the next flight to capital city of Kenya, Nairobi. We spent half of the day in Nairobi before we left for the youth center where we would be staying, the Children Youth Empowerment Center (CYEC) was just outside the city of Nyeri. Upon arrival, we were greeted with open arms and smiling faces of individuals of all ages. After a brief tour of the grounds, we ate dinner and went to bed.  

The first full day at the CYEC was filled with a full tour of the grounds, a meeting with the individuals whom would be working with us on the proposed projects, and brief walk through the city of Nyeri. On the second day our projects began.  

Our silage team was composed of myself, a fellow student (Hannah), and three of the youth we were working directly with from the Center. There were several other individuals from the center that would lend a helping hand, but for the most part our team was made up of five people. Silage is grass or other forage compacted and stored in an airtight condition. The goal of this project was to provide the dairy cattle with a sustainable food source during the dry season when forage was low. Our project took a slow start because we had to go into the city of Nyeri and obtain all of our needed supplies, but once this was done, we really started to make progress. By the end of the first week we had cut down and chopped roughly a quarter acre of Napier grass and had one bag of silage made and another on the way. During the following weeks we ran into a few bumps in the road with some heavy day time rains and some “misplacement” of the grass we had cut. Although some inconveniences were sent our way, we were able to have three bags made and a fourth underway by the end of our stay at the CYEC.

The next project I helped work on while in Kenya was constructing a moveable chicken coop for the center. The coop was made of bamboo we harvested and some wire fencing we obtained from Nyeri. The bamboo and fencing were then fastened together using metal wire. The center had some issues with their free range chickens due to predators taking advantage of these unwatched birds, hence the need for a coop.

A third project I aided with was with the crop rotation/ post-harvest. This team’s goal was to provide some crop rotation advice as best they could with climate change in mind. While the farmers at the center have had a pretty good understanding of the weather patterns for their entire lives, as of the last ten or so years these seasons have begun to change. While we may not see a change in the States, every farmer we spoke to on the topic said they no longer know what to expect throughout the year. The advice we provided was geared to be adjusted via the seasonal inconsistency. Our goal was to provide several options to relate to the current environmental conditions. Options were proposed for both the rainy season and the dry season.

Although not related to our class, I was given the opportunity to be a part of another project. While in Kenya, I was also able to work on the PlantVillage team. Professor of Entomology, David Hughes (and others), have been working to develop a free extension app targeting pests and diseases of staple crops around the world. I worked on the Fall Army Worm (FAW) pest affecting corn throughout the continent of Africa. While in Kenya, I collected data of the pest damage for the “fine tuning” of the application. I was to take pictures of the damaged corn plants to “teach” the artificial intelligence how to identify said damage. Since FAW is treated for in the U.S., sufficient pictures of high quality are hard to obtain. Along with taking images of the crop damage, I also tested several versions of the application for quality assurance. I am very grateful to be a part of this team knowing all of the good this application may be able to do for years to come for all farmers alike.

While our study abroad to Kenya was filled with long days of work; our class was still able to explore the country, the culture, and the food. Every meal at the CYEC was prepared by a graduate of the youth center who now owns his own restaurant, David. David prepared every meal from produce bought in town every morning. If we arrived to the kitchen early, we were able to help in preparing the food.

On our off days we traveled throughout the region visiting several farms, rivers, and a brief stop at the equator. We saw wonderful views of Mount Kenya and mountainside tea and coffee plantations. While navigating through the city of Nyeri we visited several local restaurants and coffee shops. Along with navigating through cities and wonderful views, we spent a weekend on a photo safari. On this safari, we saw elephants, giraffes, rhinos, buffalo, and many other animals that call the country of Kenya home.

When speaking to a future employer, I have a few talking points of which relate to this trip. First, completing the tasks and projects we did with very little resources and a limited budget trained me to work with what we had. Repurposing both old and new items allowed our silage and chicken coop projects to continue. Both projects needed quite a bit of supplies, most of which we were able to get without spending any money. The second talking point is teamwork. Being able to come into the CYEC and motivate individuals to not only work with Hannah and me but also together on our silage project gave me true team building experience. Without the help of everyone, our project would have made little headway. Another component of the group process is living in close quarters with a group of individuals. The students were my friends, but we still had to acclimate and accommodate to the group needs to continue being effective. The final point is integrating into a culture. One has to be aware of language, cultural practices, and cultural taboos when participating in a study abroad. Being open and flexible to everything that comes your way is key to being successful in unfamiliar experiences and places. I think all of these points have helped me to grow and will further aid me in my years to come.