By Cynthia Gichiri
When Florence Kalikwon sat through a workshop on how to start a kitchen garden at the ACK Chemolingot Church in East-Pokot sub-county, Baringo County five years ago, she could not fathom the thought of becoming a farmer.
Born and raised in the pastoralist Pokot community, the idea of growing, consuming and selling fruits and vegetables sounded foreign to her, partly because of her culture and the perennial droughts experienced in Baringo county.
The workshop was organized by the Anglican Development Services, an organization formed by the Anglican Church of Kenya to drive its agenda on social transformation across the country.
For Florence, this was a strange church meeting; not only because she was a member of a different church, but also the speakers had steered away from the usual preaching of the gospel. “All I knew from my childhood was maize farming; because at the end we just want flour for our usual meal of ugali. We did not know that vegetables are also important for our diets,” she explains.
It took a trip to a farm in Yatta, Machakos County owned by Bishop Dr. Titus Masika of ACK Yatta and constant reference to verses from the book of Genesis in the Bible to convince the mother of two to try her hand in agriculture.
At that time, Bishop Masika was running a successful intervention campaign dubbed Operation Mwolyo Out (OMO) under the Christian Impact Mission, rallying the community to abolish dependance on food aid and instead focus on using the available resources and simple water harvesting methods to engage in cultivation of high value crops such as tomatoes, onions and chilies for sale.
“I was surprised to see crops doing very well in Yatta, which is as dry as my home county. When I came back home, I planted some tomato seedlings on an improvised kitchen garden much to my husband’s disapproval. He changed his mind when he came back home from college and found me harvesting and selling the tomatoes,” she adds, with a smile on her face.
Five years on, Florence and her husband, Onesmus Lotiletum, have earned admiration among residents of Chemolingot due to their successful venture into agribusiness and have become the area’s primary suppliers of fruits and vegetables. Although crop farming is still new to members of their community, they have opened their home to train those who show interest in joining the business.
“I walk with my head held high. I tried something that has never been done before in Chemolingot and it worked! People flock my farm every evening to all types of green leafy vegetables. We also supply pawpaw to the center on a weekly basis,” beams Onesmus, adding that with the profits from their venture, they have built a decent house and enrolled their first child in a private school. “At the church, our trainers read a verse from the Bible that says if a man will not work, he shall not eat. I will never forget those words,” he adds. The scripture Onesmus is refers to comes from 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
The couple’s changing fortunes are a result of Eco-theology; a concept adopted by the Anglican Church of Kenya to champion conservation of the environment and climate change mitigation in arid and semi-arid regions in the country. This form of theology is pegged on the church’s fifth mark of mission, which is “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”.
For Chemolingot, this renewal of life was birthed during a food donation exercise in 2017, when visitors led by a team from ADS hatched an idea to improvise kitchen gardens to the community. This involved the use of polypropylene, a soft, flexible type of plastic which is generally considered safe for the environment. The plastic is molded into stair-like conical structures which are filled with soil for cultivation of different crops.
“These conical gardens do not need a lot of space. One can have two or three on a small piece of land where they can plant an array of vegetables like kales, tomatoes and onions. We encourage planting of onions between layers to help in pest control,” says Kevin Koech, the ADS director in charge of Central Rift region. Koech adds that the project initially targeted women and youth from 600 households in Chemolingot.
“Men mostly burden themselves with livestock while the women have no source of income, yet they carry the biggest responsibility of feeding their families,” he notes, adding that the organization has started a project called Commercial Villages, where farmers can sell their produce outside Chemolingot to generate more income. One of the produces earmarked for this project is the pawpaw fruit, which is doing well in the area. Other community groups are involved in buying and packaging honey for retail.
Eco-Theology and climate change
As the ADS focuses on agribusiness as a sustainability measure for marginalized and vulnerable communities, another arm of the church – Green Anglicans Movement of Kenya, has been actively involved with environment conservation.
“Eco-theology is trying to understand God through ecology. It appreciates the fact that God is the creator and was very strategic and intentional with his work of creation. Man is a glorified care-taker of the environment and to enhance this, God made man in His own image.” Reverend Dennis Nthenge, the coordinator at Green Anglicans Movement Kenya, points out that for a long time the church has shied away from talking about the relationship between man and creation, something that should change at a time when the world is facing a climate crisis.
“Eco theology is trying to make people understand that God never revoked His first command to man, to take care of his environment. Christians should appreciate the place of God in creation and the place of creation in God’s heart,” he adds.The Green Anglicans Movement also works with the women’s league of the church, Mother’s Union, where women are encouraged to switch to clean energy by using energy-efficient cookstoves instead of relying on wood fuel such as firewood and charcoal.
“Women are the biggest users of wood fuel; therefore, they suffer health problems due to the over-exposure to smoke and other forms of pollution. We have also trained them on waste management,” mentions Reverend Anne Kyeni, a vicar in one of the churches at the ACK Machakos Diocese.
The movement began in Southern Africa before spreading to Central Africa and finally Kenya. It was launched in Machakos in October 2018 to encourage members to take up the responsibility of taking care of the environment. Its formation resonates with a pillar in the church’s 10-year strategy from 2018 to 2027, which focuses on environmental conservation, waste management, use of clean energy and advocacy.
Initially, this concept required bishops and other church leaders to plant a number of trees equivalent to their age, and during different occasions but the focus has changed to involving a wider section of the church community, including women and youth.
To drive this message the Anglican Church of Kenya seeks funds from foreign organizations to run their projects; and has teamed up with other internal and external like-minded partners who are passionate about advocacy on issues surrounding climate change. One such partnership is with the Malizingira Movement, that brings together youth groups from other denominations and institutions to champion environment conservation.
“The attitude is positive and other churches are coming on board. Eco theology should be at the heart of every sermon as it will save lives,” adds Reverend Kyeni.
This story was supported by Women In News Social Impact Reporting Initiative (WIN-SIRI)