, 02 July, 2020 / 9:00 PM
Some 4,000 farmers practicing agroecology in Kenya have not had the negative impacts of COVID-19 crisis having been equipped with skills that foster self-sustenance, ACI Africa has been told.
“COVID-19 has not had a huge impact on our farmers because they are equipped to be self-sustaining; they have a food forest and a bio-intensive kitchen garden where they are able to get nutritious vegetables and fruits, and also share,” the Kenya Coordinator of the Swiss Catholic Lenten Fund, Fastenopfer, Stellamaris Muelar told ACI Africa Thursday, July 2.
The Catholic organization is supporting farmers across eight Counties in Kenya to attain food security through practicing agroecology, an alternative form of farming that has environmental, socio-cultural, economic, and political dimensions.
The practice of farming in gardens helps enforce COVID-19 social distancing directives since farmers can access nutritious vegetables they need without having to go to the market, proof that “with agroecology, communities can have resilience even in times like this (COVID-19 period),” Ms. Muelar said.
When COVID-19 struck Kenya in March, a time Fastenopfer and its partners usually prepare farmers to take advantage of the March-May rains, beneficiaries of the Fund’s agroecology program had about 15,000 tree seedlings and 50,000 fruit seedlings in each of the 21 nurseries, she recalled.
“We had to act quickly because the seedlings would not wait; they were supposed to be distributed,” the Coordinator of Fastenopfer in Kenya told ACI Africa during the July 2 interview and added, “We had to sit down and work out a strategy with the village elders and the chiefs on how we would still distribute these seedlings.”
With the support of the local administration, the officials of the relief organization designed ways to keep physical distancing in the nurseries, set up handwashing facilities, and prepared a duty roster allowing the officials of the 241 agroecology groups to record the number of seedlings each of the farmers needed, Ms. Muelar recounted.
She added in reference to the initiatives to ensure physical distancing measure, “We devised a way in which the project teams would drop the seedlings in one place where the people would then pick them, three farmers at a time.”
The Nairobi-based official, however, revealed that COVID-19 crisis has “hugely affected” her organization’s peacebuilding programs that see members of communities come together “to dialogue about their own resources.”
The programs involve about 200 people who meet at least once in every three months to discuss issues that could bring conflict such as water and pasture, Ms. Muelar, an agroecology expert told ACI Africa.
The pandemic has also had a negative impact on the activities of the 69 savings groups that Fastenopfer facilitates in Kenya considering that their mode of operations requires the 15 members of each group to meet physically for purposes of counting of money and issuing of loans.
To keep the savings groups operational, the leadership of Fastenopfer in Kenya had to make readjustments, adopting the use of mobile phones to enable officials process loans, Ms. Muelar said adding that training on saving methods has remained suspended.
“We also work in schools teaching students to do food forests and bio-intensive kitchen gardens,” she told ACI Africa and added, “This year we were targeting 18 schools but we had to stop the initiative due to COVID-19.”
In its COVID-19 response in the country, the Coordinator revealed that the organization is planning to offer a US$20,000.00 subsidy to the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) as a response to the Bishops’ appeal for support to reach millions affected by COVID-19 crisis and flooding.
Ms. Muelar represented her organization in the first-ever agroecology conference in Kenya, which resolved to draw inspiration from the social teaching of the Catholic Church and to engage various actors especially young people among other commitments that can enhance food security and environmental protection in the East African country.
Headquartered in Lucerne in Central Switzerland, Fastenopfer, which exists under the slogan “we share” engages in initiatives that strengthen “people and communiteis of diffeferent ideological, denominational and religious orientation who are committed to the eradication of poverty, work for global justice and are concerned with creating secure livelihoods.”
The 68-year-old Catholic agency has realized partnerships with local organizations through 14 country programs across Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as Switzerland-based entities.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa