© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Roger Henry, left, a compost specialist with Agriculture Agri-Food Canada, and Eddy Dykerman, owner of Brookfield Gardens, are pleased that pitchforks purchased through donations to Farmers Helping Farmers have been delivered to more than 160 female farmers in Kenya.
Sometimes the simplest of solutions can solve big problems.
In the case of more than 160 female farmers in Kenya, all it took to dramatically increase their ability to create compost as a no-cost plant fertilizer for their crops was a simple pitchfork.
“They all got a fork for Christmas,” says Roger Henry, a compost specialist with Agriculture Agri-Food Canada.
He was in Kenya in 2013 with a Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) team to teach farmers in two women’s groups to create some on-farm fertility with available manure and plant waste to improve food production.
“It seemed to catch on, but they just really didn’t have anything to do it with. They were trying to do it with machetes basically . . . . The odd person would have a shovel but not very many,” Henry says.
“I was there for about a week or so and I realized that there’s not much sense of teaching them how to compost if we don’t give them a fork. And so I bought a fork over there and gave it to one person. I went back the next day and they had this lovely compost pile. I immediately realized that that was the limiting factor in the whole process.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t know how. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to do it. It was just that they didn’t have the tools.”
When the FHF team returned to P.E.I. its members set a goal to buy a fork for each of the 163 women in the two groups, the total cost of which came to about $2,500.
Local media coverage of the Pitching In campaign, including a story in The Guardian, helped spread the word.
Henry also did presentations in schools and at the Malpeque Bay Credit Union, the latter of which set up a fund so donations could be accepted there. The Hillsborough Rotary Club gave a substantial donation, as did private individuals.
“The idea of the pitchfork seemed to resonate well with the people who were donating as well as the Kenyan people,” Henry says.
Instead of purchasing product in Canada and shipping it overseas, the four-prong pitchforks with durable steel handles were crafted there to reduce costs and create some local employment.
Another low-cost but simple solution to a large ongoing problem identified by FHF members is a solar light, which can make a big change in the lives of some Kenyan families.
Because it is dark by 7 p.m. year-round in Kenya, on farms where there is no electricity it is very difficult for children to do their homework at night.
A lantern-style solar light that costs $40 also has the ability to charge a cellphone, which most Kenyans have, but if they have no electricity, typically they have to travel to the nearest village and pay to have it charged.
“(The cellphone powering capability) is also very useful because in Kenya they can do commerce on their cellphones, not like here,” Henry says.
“(In Kenya) you might line up at a bank for four hours just to get a cheque deposited or to get cash, whereas with a cellphone I can instantly transfer money to you or get money from you if you owe me money (through M-Pesa, a mobile-phone based money transfer service. It just makes everything they do much more efficient.”
Previously, another NGO had purchased solar lights for all members in one of the women’s groups. So this project would ensure that the rest of the women and their families would have one as well.
“The schools found a big difference in the children who had the lights at home.
“Their marks went up substantially,” says P.E.I. vegetable grower Eddy Dykerman, owner of Brookfield Gardens, who was part of the 2014 FHF team.
In surveying participants of previous FHF projects, Dykerman saw that members of one women’s group who had received pitchforks were all now composting.
“So that was a really big hit,” he adds.
“People are just thirsty for knowledge; any information they just absorb it and put it into practice as quick as they can.”
AT A GLANCE
People interested in donating to Farmers Helping Farmers solar light campaign can do so by visiting www.farmershelpingfarmers.ca and clicking on the green donate icon in the top right corner of the page.
Choose solar lights when choosing which fund to support.
People can also donate by contacting in Roger Henry at 886-3077, or Roger.Henry@AGR.GC.CA; or Eddy Dykerman at
393-4804 or info@Brookfieldgardens.ca.