Sustainable Organic Farming & Development Initiatives (SOFDI) is a charitable organization based in Western Kenya region by a Switzerland woman has largely been praised by the Kenyan government and area residents who are the beneficiaries of the undertaken development activities.
SOFDI which was started way back in 2002 as a Community Based Organization (CBO) is purely based on improving the lives of communities through various farming methods and trainings on how to improve their daily earning and food production.
Mrs Brigitte Frey, the Founder of SOFDI from Switzerland told African Press International (API) that she had a dream and passion to transform the livelihood of poor communities who have difficulties in accessing food, clean water, health facilities and schools among others.
According to Mrs Frey the organization does this through the development of essential facilities such as organic farming, water conservation and protection of streams, agro- forestry, goat rearing, promotion of additional traditional food, schools programs and student sponsorship & internship as well as environmental conservation.
The Founder attest that she also has a lot of passion in changing the lives of women, youths and vulnerable children who usually bears the greatest challenges in their daily lives especially some of the African countries.
To start with, SOFDI supports the training of farmers on various farming methods such as organic farming techniques to increase their food production. This has enabled farmers to produce various indigenous vegetables, soya beans, potatoes, cassava and millet among others.
This is said to have greatly reduced the cases of food insecurity in the regions especially where the programs are being undertaken. As you take a walk to testify the development activities supported by the organization, the evidence is clearly visible in various farms of Emuhaya, Vihiga and Khwishero district in Vihiga and Kakamega County respectively, Western Province.
A farmer, Florence Jandi testified saying that they no longer purchase vegetables after undergoing organic farming trainings which has also improved their earnings. She also said that SOFDI programs have enabled them to educate and provide efficiently for the families in terms food with some being sold.
Jandi who is practicing organic farming, soya production and goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety revealed that her monthly earning has drastically increased from 15% to 60%. She is one of the most successful farmers who underwent the organization trainings.
She is also one of the most recognized hardworking farmers in their group currently headed by Chariet Mugasia as the team leader. The farmers trained by SOFDI are constituted in various demo groups before they embark on farming activities on their own.
The other farmer who has also made the organization proud is Shaban Otweche who is undertaking organic farming, African leafy vegetables, soya production and tissue culture bananas. According to Otweche, he now has the capacity to pay school fees and provide enough food to the family, a thing he could not afford before the coming of the charitable organization.
The charitable organization are seriously undertaking farming of soya beans which is rich in protein just like eggs, beans, milk, meat and fish among others which doctors now recommend resident to consume in their daily diets.
Mrs Frey told the API that SOFDI supports largely, the growing of soya beans with 600 farmers trained on soya farming to increase its production in the Western Kenya. Farmers are also practicing Mandela gardening where varieties of crops are grown in a circle kind of a farm that reduces chances of soil erosion in sloppy areas.
This is because soya beans have high content of proteins which medics recommend that residents need to eat as it helps in building and repair of body muscle and tissues as well as the production of amino acids.
“We want to produce soya beans in large scale for domestic use and export as a long term project. SOFDI is currently planning to train another 600 farmers on various modern methods to oversee high productions of the beans,” Mrs Frey said.
Farmers are also being provided with farm inputs to facilitate early preparation of their farms mostly during the long rains. Over 970 kilograms of soya seeds were distributed to farmers in the month of January with a total of 9700 kgs bags of soya beans harvested.
The organization is also keen in value addition of the beans. It has put in place a soya processing machine plant in Emuhaya district enabling farmers to process their produce thereby increasing the rate of profit from the readily available market.
Some of the products that are produced out of soya include yoghurt, milk, chapati, mandazi, nuts and variety of floors which has high protein content. “Soya products are very nice that one needs to have a taste,” says one of the farmers adding that the floor is used in preparing porridge that is very healthy to babies.
“We have 34 people working in the processing plants. This has increased the income to farmers,” said Mrs Frey adding that farmers are provided with four types of soya varieties with huge tract of yields according to agricultural experts.
However, among the 600 farmers trained so far, 229 are planting soya beans with others involved in various farming activities in a bid to enhance food security and have money in their pockets.
But according to Ben Mwasamu an agricultural expert, farmers have to demonstrate the skills gained during the training in various groups of between 19 -25 people each headed by an expert after which they then embark on soya farming on their own.
Mwasamu and Mrs Frey also revealed that currently SOFDI is working on ways with the Ministry of Cooperatives and Marketing to have a Soya Beans Cooperatives that will enhance its production in the Western Kenya region. This will also ease the marketing of the products that is currently a challenge to the farmers.
Another area that SOFDI has put a lot of effort is to ensure farmers are well equipped with vast knowledge and skills. To achieve this, it collaborate with various ministries such Livestock, Agriculture and Forestry among other stakeholders. The organization is also partnering with Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and other stakeholders to advice on various farm inputs that increased the production.
Production of milk is not left to chance by SOFDI, the farmers have embraced goat keeping especially the Togenburg variety from Switzerland. The goats are currently purchased from Meru Breeding Center, Central region and given to farmers of Ebunagwe in Emuhaya district.
“The goats are rich in milk production which is good for children consumption due to nutrients. The goats also provide organic manure used in farming as most farmers barely afford fertilizer,” Mrs Frey revealed.
So far there are 5 groups of farmers rearing goats availed to them by SOFDI. The goat projects are meant to establish a breeding center for the Togenburg varieties that is highly demanded in Western Kenya. They were also awarded certificate by Mrs Frey during her tour of the farmers’ demo.
“The goats are very profitable in milk production. A goat goes for Shs. 25,000 to Shs.30, 000 depending with the market demand,” Mrs Frey revealed saying that in future farmers will no longer travel to Meru to purchase of goats.
Currently there are 16 goats in three groups-12 does and 4 bucks aiming to upgrade the local goats to increase milk production. There is further plan to establish 3 more breeding does in each breeding units in every districts.
Loans advanced to farmers
Farmers also have access to loans which is not in cash but farm inputs to enhance agricultural activities in the region. So far they have been loaned soya beans, millet, sorghum, tissue culture bananas, cassava and sweet potato’ vines all costing Shs. 118,280. The farmers are also given Shs 1,200 to pay monthly rent for their offices.
The organization also targets schools in partnership with the Ministry of Education in undertaking growing of soya beans, organic farming and agro-forestry to improve the environment conservation.
Under the school programs, the students are taken through organic farming courses among others to compliment school teachings through practical activities.
It is aimed at having young people’s audience to change their lives in and out of the schools. Mrs. Frey said currently the programs are carried in 7 schools. She said that 6 are in primary and secondary with one in Polytechnic College with hopes to expand the exercise.
SOFDI have also given cookies and solar drier to schools to train the students in various ways of preparing meals and plans to undertake lighting programs in various schools in Vihiga and Kakamega Counties will soon kick off. Another institution that has benefited from the program includes Tigoi Girls Secondary School with 750 students who have embraced organic farming, soya processing and farming of African vegetables.
“Kudos for the sacrifice of Mrs Frey in giving the disadvantaged children and community access to food, improved living condition and learning conditions,” said the farmers who have benefited from the SOFDI projects.
Water conservation and springs
However, construction of the springs, conservation of water and protection of the streams have also been the crucial flagship of SOFDI Founder in ensuring the availability of clean water, improved hygiene and reduction of water bone diseases which was rampant in the region.
A total of 147 water springs have been constructed in Emuhaya, Khwishero and Vihiga districts a move that has seen the availability of water to the community whose face are now bright because of the generosity from Mrs. Frey.
The springs are constructed along the water streams especially in the identified sites to conserve the water source. According to Simon Kikanga, who is in charge of the springs and Mrs. Frey the springs are only being constructed in areas identified by the local administrative such as Chiefs and Districts Commissioners who understands the areas well. They further stated that 360 sites were identified and SOFDI are yet to put in place more springs along the streams within the communities.
A spring is constructed at a cost of between Shs. 25,000 to 40,000 with community participation in mobilizing the available resources and offering of the unskilled labour which they duo said contributes to the success of the projects implementation.
Mrs Frey further revealed that the development activities is done in collaboration with area residents and other partners that oversaw implementation of the projects while local community mobilized resources such as ballast, sand and unskilled labour as part of sharing arrangement to enable them own the springs.
One of such springs is currently providing clean water for over 70 households and 600 pupils. This has reduced time that the community used to take before the construction of the springs.
“Over 200 people used to line up to fetch the untreated water for up to 2 hours. But this has since reduced drastically. With the springs in place, it take 20 litres of jerican 20 seconds to get filled up, meaning two people are able to fetch water in 2 minutes,” says the duo.
They said that the springs have also reduces chances of communities from contracting diseases such as bilharzia, typhoid and cholera as compared to those days that they were using untreated water. It has also given pupils enough time to study. This is because parents use to send them to fetch water from the streams, at times over a long walking distance making them skip classes.
The organization has managed to improve food security in western region by about 60 % with over 600 people trained on various farming activities. This is due to the introduction of soya beans, indigenous vegetables with the community no longer purchasing but simply get from their farms both for sale and consumption.
“My family no longer spend money to buy vegetables from the market,” says one of the farmers adding that they harvest their produce for consumption and sell some to customers from other regions with some dried using solar drier for future use especially during the drought.
SOFDI have too ensured the availability of food provision by providing farmers with seeds of various crops such as bananas, cassava, millet, sorghum, soya beans and variety of vegetables such sukuma-wiki, kales and spinach.
However, after the harvest the organization buys seeds from farmers to distribute to other newly trained farmers. According to SOFDI Team Leader, Rodgers Namasaka, 30 farmers are trained monthly on indigenous vegetables among other crops that have increased food production in the region.
There are also additional traditional foods which have been embraced seriously by the organization to curb the usual food insecurity especially in areas that bears high poverty index. A total of 200 bananas suckers were given out to the farmers some even used in making wine. SOFDI work in collaboration with KARI to ensure farmers get the right seeds depending with their soil texture and additional required expertise.
Some of the traditional crops being promoted by Mrs. Frey include tissue cultured bananas, finger millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes with100kgs of sorghum, 10 sacks of potatoes vine and 60 kgs of millet with cassava and sweet potatoes distributed to farmers and are being planted on demo plot for multiplication before members’ plant in their fields.
Argo-forestry and environmental conservation
The non governmental organization is also promoting tree planting within the communities by engaging them and schools in tree nursery projects. In facilitating this, SOFDI provides farmers with agro- forestry kits such as seeds, wheelbarrows, jembes (Hoes) and poly tubes that enhanced the community involvement.
“So far more than 20,000 seedlings have been distributed to revamp the encroached hill of Ekwe that is over 24 hectors in the region,” said Mrs Frey adding that another 20,000 seedlings have been produced between the months of January and November, 2012 which are yet to be distributed to schools.
Another reforestation of Misango hill is also in progress by establishing Grevilla nurseries at Emukunzi polytechnic with 1500 seedlings and other 10 nurseries of different agro-forestry tree species. The organization has further set up a commercial tree nursery at Eshikwata farmers demo site to be used for reforestation of various encroached hills in the regions. They have also introduced more tree medicinal plants in various nurseries in most of the homesteads.
A total of 9 nine trees and fruits species have been set up in nurseries. This include Kei apples 42,316, Avocado 5,932, pawpaw 128, Loguards 432, Mangoes 543,Grevillia 5,318, Calliandra 14,890,Eucalyptus 32,089,Passion fruits and Markhamia lutea 2,345.The species are grouped according to the type, number of fruits trees nurseries established in various districts in a bid to conserve the environment.
However, the Founder revealed that SOFDI is dedicated to the reduction of suffering and working towards the ultimate elimination of extreme poverty and improve the lives of the community in the world’s poorest countries through education.
“We want activities that impact positively on the community through education, hygiene, food security, clean provision of water and health facilities,” said Mrs. Frey.
She said that the organization also engages the communities to participate, dialogue and address poor education outcomes in their districts. The involvement of communities has enabled residents to appreciate developments and embrace child protection initiatives.
This has seen improvement of education among the community as they say “education is power”. SOFDI is currently promoting learning activities through student sponsorships programs especially to the needy children.
However, she revealed that 4 students are in college undertaking organic farming courses at Diploma level with another one doing masters with hopes that more will join various institution. SOFDI also give room for internship programs to college students to enhance their field experience for 3 months with a monthly incentive of Shs. 3,000 for sustainability.
The move has drastically reduced criminal activities. This is according to one of the area chiefs due to youths being engaged since the inception of SOFDI development activities. Talk of Moses Ochieng’ who is currently undertaking soya beans farming and processing. He said before the coming of the organization he was idle, a thing he said forced youths to engage in various criminal activities.
“I am now able to earn money out of the farming to sustain myself and provide for my family,” Ochieng’ said.
The development activities supported by the organization have greatly improved the living standard of the communities with basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter among others. This is because they are now able to provide for their families with ease.
“When you compare the community before the inception of SOFDI and now there is 90% improvement in living standard than it used to be. This can easily be told by the community themselves,” said Mrs. Frey during her to various farmers demo’s day.
She said that people’s earning have doubled making them have money in their pockets. Food insecurity is no more worrying the community which is also blessed with rains. Health facilities is not left behind amongst the improved sectors due to reduction of water bone diseases that was rampant following usage of direct water fro the streams. Even the lives of HIV and AIDS patients have changed since they are busy tilling their farm making the relieved of the stigmatization.
Mrs. Frey further recommended the youth for embarking on agricultural activities contrary to the believes that farming practices was only left to old people of about 65 years old, a move that have engaged and increased their earnings.
She further urged the government to focus on agricultural activities to reduce cases of food insecurity. Mrs Frey further promised the communities that more development will soon be witnessed in future to change more lives. - Maurice Alal, Africa News