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Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) seeks to improve agricultural production and market systems for smallholder farmers in Laikipia county in Kenya. The projects' main goals are farmers' resilience improvement against climate change, household income generation and rural communities' livelihoods improvement. The project integrates farmers income generation and self-employment through the introduction of tea tree (a more climate resilient oil-based tree) cultivation and the adoption of organic agricultural technologies. The project proactively works with farmers to improve their production systems and link them to markets.
Empower smallholder farmers; connect them to markets
Build resilience of vulnerable to climate disasters
Decent Work and Economic Growth
Promote job-creation, entrepreneurial policies
Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, representing 26 percent of its GDP and 60 percent of its exports earnings. Moreover, approximately 80 percent of the Kenyan population lives in rural areas, with three-quarters of them being poor. Among smallholder’s farmers, 70 percent are women. In recent years, the rainfall patterns have been most unreliable and unpredictable. Traditional farming practices and over-reliance on the same food crops that are not climate resilient is resulting in declining soil fertility and low levels of household income.
To address this challenge, in 2005 KOAN in partnership with Earth Oil introduced the Tea tree cultivation to farmers in Laikipia, Nyeri, and Meru County which has had a positive impact on the livelihoods of most farmers located in arid areas. Tea tree, also called Melaleuca alternifolia, is native from the northeast coast of Australia and it is known for its antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties. Tea tree has a good resilience towards climate change variations and dry weather conditions. Around 3000 Tea trees can be planted in a quarter acre of land and one can seasonally harvest up to four kilos per tree and sell it at Ksh10.50 per Kilogram. In these conditions, a farmer can make over Ksh.250,000 per acre a year, which is far beyond what most farmers are currently making with other agro-enterprises. The tree can also be intercropped with Desmodium for fodder and mulching purposes.
KOAN has helped farmers to expand the tea tree value chain while improving their production systems and market linkages. Specifically, KOAN trained groups of farmers on organic production, organic standards certification, and group governance. KOAN also facilitated linkages between farmers and the Earth Oil Ltd, who buy raw tree leaves and branches for Tea tree oil extraction and exportation to Bio Shop in the United Kingdom. Currently, KOAN is working with 521 farmers spread across those three counties.
The adoption of organic technologies resulted in many benefits, such as the reduction on the use of synthetic pesticides and, consequently, soil and water pollution, increased soil's water retention and improved soil fertility and compaction.
A training on biochar making and utilization has been organized for the farmers. Biochar has been found to increase soil’s fertility and water retention capacity of the soil, especially in dry areas. From the preliminary findings on the demo Garden, 98 percent of Tea Tree seedlings planted with biochar did better than those planted without.
These new farming practices have created jobs for unskilled laborers, as they do not require farming experience. It also created jobs at Earth Oil, ranging from office administrators, accountants, community mobilizers, and trainers.
Beyond growing tea tree, farmers were also encouraged to diversify their crops and animal husbandry to promote food security. Given that the lands are located in areas prone to dry weather conditions, the farmers were encouraged to grow indigenous crops that can grow with little need of water, and that can produce within a short period of time. The increased land's productivity and utilization resulted in general livelihood improvement.
Farmers fairtrade certification resulted in many prize winnings. To administer the money earned in these competitions a social welfare group was created to build a social hall for the community. Part of the money is also been used to educate children of the less fortunate members of the community.