05-01-2022 by Freddie del Curatolo
There is an Italian hand in the sustainable growth of agriculture in the pastoral areas of Kenya.
The Laikipia plateau is a semi-arid savannah where, for centuries, the Maasai people have lived mainly from pastoralism, but in recent years, due to problems linked to the climate and deforestation, this has not been enough for the survival of entire communities.
One of the solutions that have been implemented at the local level is permaculture, that is recreating the original natural habitat of these lands with crops that support each other, creating environments and microclimates that can produce food for sustenance and trade.
With these goals in 2014 was born the "Laikipia Permaculture Center" which five years later was joined by the Italian non-governmental organization IPSIA (Istituto Pace Sviluppo Innovazione Acli) that has expanded the scope and organization of projects, bringing from 4 to 11 local community groups that from pastoralism as the only resource of life, are expanding with knowledge to agriculture.
The Italian NGO, thanks to the support of the Italian Cooperation that financed a 3-year project, in addition to assisting the groups (770 people, mostly women), has built water wells and strengthened a truly innovative initiative to transform a weed, the cactus of the "opuntia stricta" family, into an added value for the local communities.
How, IPSIA's Kenya project coordinator, Giulia Dal Bello, who Malindikenya.net met at the permaculture center in Nanyuki, tells us.
Opuntia is an invasive plant," explains Giulia, "in the sense that where it grows, no grass grows. Its elimination often produces the opposite effect, because seeds and leaves make it reproduce even more. So we decided to turn opuntia into a source of income, starting with the fruits but also involving seeds and leaves". Earnings that are in addition to the most profitable activity for the Maasai women, which is growing aloe.
The leading products that IPSIA is helping to commercialize are jam and juice, which have a good taste that is not overly sweet. But in the vision of the Italian NGO, supported by the University of Nairobi through collaboration with the University of Milan, there is also more, such as studies for the production of wine.
"By pressing the seeds - explains the Italian coordinator - we are obtaining oil that can be used for cosmetic use and marketed, especially together with aloe secundiflora that we already grow in permaculture. But that's not all, with the leaves, which cannot be eliminated either by burying or burning them because they would create new invasive plants, we have started a pilot project to create biogas. In this way in one stroke we would reduce the use of wood, therefore the deforestation of areas already marked by the lack of vegetation, pollution and also health, reducing respiratory problems and eye diseases within the communities. In addition, it saves the women a great deal of time and effort because, instead of cutting and transporting wood, they can dedicate themselves to other profitable activities, such as the production of honey or cosmetics, which we also support".
One of the great lessons of Africa is that every resource of the earth has its own original use and can contribute to improving the life of every animal and plant species. This is precisely the principle of permaculture: very different plants that, growing in the same environment, help each other. This is how IPSIA, with its expertise and the passion of its experts, researchers and volunteers and its ability to attract sponsors and collaborators, is helping the Kenyan communities of Laikipia.
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