The Kamburu Story in Pictures
Photographs by Will Baxter
After the training I felt so much confidence in myself, I wanted to use my knowledge for my farm. I felt strong. I still feel strong.Kago, local Kamburu farmer
The Kamburu community in central Kenya is home to around 80 families. Like many in Kenya, they make a living from tea, a cash crop introduced to the area some 50 years ago. In recent years, the price of tea has dropped dramatically and the market flooded, resulting in tea companies no longer purchasing tea from the communities. As income became less relaible, families struggled to pay for education and health whilst retaining enough income to buy food.
Two years ago, when the people of Kamburu were suffering from hunger due to drought, Gathuru Mburu decided to change the fortunes of his community. With the help of the African Biodiversity Network and The Gaia Foundation, Mburu formed the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE), which now works with communities across central Kenya. By putting his ecological knowledge into practice, together with his experience in working with Gaia partner Wangari Maathai, Mburu was able to pioneer a simple innovative process with his community. Together they revived indigenous, ecological farming methods, and saw a transformation in the soil, the livelihoods and the confidence of the Kamburu community. Mburu began working with local elders who are the knowledge holders of the community. Through ongoing dialogues with both men and women, the community began to recover and cultivate the lost indigenous seeds of the region.
A lot of what we have been doing is discussing these issues and getting the solutions. And they are local solutions. The knowledge is within the community. The farmlands are within the community. The seeds are within the community. Even the labour, is within the community. So they only needed to change their attitudes to understand that they can do it themselves.Gathuru Mburu
ICE supported an intense programme with the communities to revive their traditional seed diversity and associated knowledge, and to enhance regenerative agricultural practices, such as rain harvesting and organic compost production. The organic farming methods re-learnt by the community allowed them to move away from expensive and polluting chemical fertilisers. The benefits witnessed by the community have been huge. Indigenous crops are diverse and rich in nutrients and natural sources of vitamins, so health has improved. Thanks to the reintroduction of the sweet potato into the community's diets, one local woman diagnosed with diabetes has been able to leave expensive sugary substitutes behind as her blood sugar was naturally restored.
Farmers have revived diverse varieties of plants and seed which are more naturally suited to the local weather conditions and landscape. Their local adaptation enables them to better withstand the droughts common to many parts of the continent, and likely to become more widespread with climate change. Today the community are not only food secure, but also have sufficient surplus to take to market and share with surrounding communities. They are so impassioned by their journey that they are actively sharing their learning with neighbours, making the programme self-perpetuating and empowering communities to build their food sovereignty as well as their resilience to climate change. The ecological knowledge required was already inherent in the community, they simply needed the encouragement and support to remember it, revive it, and value it once again. As Gathuru explains:
The process was actually very simple. It was the basic agricultural strategies that have been in this community for many years. Simple strategies. We realised that indigenous seeds actually are good because they are drought resistant. Now after a very short period of time, all these strategies were taken up by the farmers and they were being used effectively.Gathuru Mburu, Director of the Institute for Culture
Watch the film The Kamburu Story to see this journey up close.