Goodbye Poverty: regenerative agriculture and livelihoods

Caleb Omolo
Tuesday, 16th March 2021

Caleb Omolo, founder of Sustainable Village Resources of East Africa, shares the story behind the the Goodbye Poverty project, transforming land and livelihoods in rural areas of Kenya for climate resilience and regenerative futures.

Goodbye Poverty is a community project in Kenya, set up by Sustainable Village Resources East Africa (SVR), with the mission to train marginalized communities on regenerative agriculture using permaculture ethics and principles, to ensure evolution from poverty and increased food production, social-economic stability and environmental conservation.

It is focused to restore biodiversity through soil improvement, multi-layer cropping and reduced tillage, to increase household productivity by guiding joint enterprising for the women and to use indigenous knowledge to strengthen community resilience and improve agro-ecological systems.

Sustainable Village Resources East Africa (SVR), a community based organization founded by Caleb Odondi Omolo, works with women, youth and the most vulnerable communities within Homabay, Migori and Kisii counties. SVR has deployed a range of diversified and cost-effective permaculture designs to support the local communities and increase household food production and ensure resilient designs to mitigate climate change.

SVR has three complementary approaches to ensure sustainability: Firstly, it is restoring biodiversity: to do this, farmers have greatly invested in using a range of techniques to improve the soil including organic compost, earth works to prevent potential soil losses, multi-layer cropping and minimum tillage.

Secondly, increasing household productivity using kitchen garden designs, artistry farming such as clay pot making for women and girls, and joint enterprises such as village saving and credit by small farmer groups to upscale financial returns and increase adoption of regenerative agriculture. 

Thirdly, using indigenous knowledge to strengthen community resilience and agro-ecological systems. Indigenous knowledge has been key to coordinating cross-cutting issues like youth resolutions for unemployment, equity for women and girls within social economic systems and integration of people living with disabilities to ensure confidence and most importantly, better community relationships.

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SVR Caleb Omolo training a group of farmers at Mbeka, Homabay

The need for change

Land degradation caused by intensified tilling monoculture farming practice has directly affected the livelihoods of the most vulnerable smallholder farmers and livestock keepers, women and children being centrally placed in this crisis. Sustainable Village Resources (SVR) has presented sustainable and context based regenerative agriculture applying permaculture ethics and principles to increase household income and diverse nutritious food for widows in the local communities. This project began with a group of 25 widows who previously worked as day laborers for long hours with little pay.  

Unemployment and reduced livelihood opportunities for women and youth are prime drivers to economic instability and social insecurity. Youth engagement in farm-forestry through training, capacity development and support marketing of basic farm products will boost income and livelihood options leading to reduced social insecurity and environmental degradation. 

Regenerative farming and biodiversity conservation has been successful in reversing land degradation, food insecurity and vulnerability to climate change. Farm labor in the local communities in Kenya is comprised averagely 43% of women and youth. They play a significant role in adopting sustainable farming techniques and preserving traditional crop species as well as farming methods hence reinstating social-economic and ecological balance.

The implementation approach by SVR is to create permaculture demonstration farm, established as a community resource center and business enterprise for the widows. 

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Peer Group Mentorship; Mbeka women training young girls how to make organic nursery facilitated by Caleb Omolo and Isaiah Otieno

Empowering local capacity

Many locals in the rural African societies consider matters of environmental protection and conservation to be a distant reality to poverty, a problem that seems to be recurring across generations. In Kenya, most people live in the cities where there are multiple means of livelihood. Young people are always waiting in cities to pursue their livelihoods because they are limited by the poor productivity of land. This is the main reason why many rural areas have become vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. Changing people’s mindset from capitalize to regenerative agriculture and agro-ecology, to reverse land degradation and increase food production, is perhaps the only way to ultimate positive ecological transformation.

SVR aims to create a platform for empowering local capacity to increase information sharing, resource mobilization through volunteerism and commitment to conserve the indigenous resources and restore degraded lands hence creating community resilience against the impacts of climate change.

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Caleb training on biochar as a growth media for vegetable nursery establishment at Mbeka

Assessing dynamics of community needs

In order to conclusively understand the unpredictable changes in community demands for basic goods and services, concrete evidence is required from the experiences of the community members themselves. Being a member of the community that entirely depends on agriculture, I have experienced great environmental degradation and the impacts of biodiversity losses, quality and quantity of crop output and livelihood cost over time.

An analysis for SVR by Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) and Re Alliance, included a review of successful agro-ecological projects, further established factors for cost benefit analysis as illustrated in the following chart. 

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The resulting data was prepared in way that is accessible and understandable to the local people. Individual commitment to adopt sustainable farming systems and environmental conservation measures required active and demonstrative knowledge and information sharing.

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Project action plan

Phase One

Time Frame 2020

Actions

Outcomes

January 5,2020

to 

February 10,2020

Community needs assessment

Four weekly meetings

Appointed steering committee

By laws were approved and ratified

Developed a strategic approach for change based on volunteerism and commitment to restoring degraded farm-lands 

Analyzed sustainable livelihood alternatives based on the context of the lake belt region

Introduced permaculture principles and designs to restore degraded land and conserve indigenous species

February 10, 2020

to 

June 20, 2020

Introduction to permaculture ethics and principles

Garden designing and nursery bed establishment

Layering the farm into blocks 

Knowledge of permaculture principles and design

Soil building to increase productivity

Vegetable nursery establishment

Compost making

Established ridge and pan system for rainwater harvesting

Importance of mulching

June 20, 2020

to 

August 15,2020

Planting vegetables from nursery to raised beds

Fencing the farm site

Village savings and credit

Diverse food crop production for market and household consumption

Secured the farm site from external threats

Community garden becomes a share for loaning by members

August 15 to Present

Peer groups by trained trainers

Each trained woman with their own gardens training three girls each

Success projections

Area of focus

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Membership/ registration

25%

75%

150%

Number of people

25

75

150

Forest cover/trees

5

10

20

Vegetable nurseries 

25

75

150

Kitchen garden

25

70

120

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Caleb Omolo, Founder of SVR

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Celestine Otieno, SVR project Coordinator

Sustainable Village Resources of East Africa is one of the 20 finalists in the 2020 Permaculture Magazine Prize.

Useful links

Finalists for the 2020 Permaculture Magazine Prize announced

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