Maiani food forest represents example for sustainable growth in semi-arid region

Published 3/17/2021
The Koppert Foundation is supporting the creation and development of a food forest in Kenya. Regional manager Charles Macharia calls it a unique approach and a sustainable solution for food production in the arid region of Maiani.

Charles is responsible for supervising Koppert East-Africa. ‘The Kenyan organization Ghetto Smart contacted the Koppert Foundation to discuss plans for a food forest. The Foundation is established in the Netherlands and would have found it difficult to assess the application on location. That is why I did it on their behalf. I have great trust in the team and their plans, and so gave my positive advice. In January, the first plants were planted. Recently, I conducted a follow-up study and was pleasantly surprised by the progress.’

Arid region
Maiani is located in a semi-arid steppe region, 100 kilometres away from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Temperatures here are quite high. ‘These are not good conditions for traditional agriculture. Here, a special approach is needed and a food forest serves to imitate natural vegetation. This is more resilient, more sustainable, and better equipped against the harsh conditions,’ he explains.

The difference with natural vegetation is that every layer produces fruit, vegetables, or bulbs. The uppermost layer is comprised of trees, followed by the bushes, with the lowest layer comprising plants such as vegetables crops. 

‘This absolutely is not a standard approach and really requires one to learn the cultivation method. Above all, you need to adapt the basic principles to local conditions and desires,’ he says.

Five-day course
In January 2020, Ghetto Smart– led by Bena Kyengo – trained 74 participants from Maiani. This is when the first plants were planted. September 2020, a five-day course was held on climate change, water and soil management, appropriate crops, and training sessions on plant reproduction and composting. 52 people attended. Koppert offered knowledge on soil biology and supplied microorganisms to improve the soil.

Naturally, it will take a while before the trees and bushes are in production. 'In the short term, the income must be generated from the cultivation of vegetables. In the mid-to-long term, the fruit will contribute to the income. We need to give nature the time to work its magic,' indicates Charles.

Charles is very satisfied with the project. 'This is a unique approach. We have much to learn, for example which crops fit in the system under the local conditions. If it succeeds, it may represent an example for other projects in the region. For this reason, we have to ensure that all experiences are well documented. This will make it a true pilot that may gain a lot of recognition'

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170322 maiani food forest