At Yatta today, Absa Kenya donated Kshs 4 million at the launch of a partnership between the Kitui County Government and World Vision.
Chronic food insecurity is a challenge for households and families in many parts of Kitui County and this has increased during COVID-19 which has impacted the economy as people in the area lost their jobs. Caroline Ndungu, Absa’s Marketing Director said being a force for good in society was one of the strategic pillars for the Bank which celebrated its one-year anniversary in the country last week, after completing a four-year brand transition.
Jame Agin, Absa’s Corporate Director said the Bank will seek to collaborate with the County Government of Kitui, which is a largely agricultural and pastoral region, but with perennial hunger and water problems, to finance commercially-scalable agriculture projects, as a solution to the community’s problems while deriving value for Absa’s shareholders.
The funding from Absa will be used to procure drought-resistant seedlings of green grams, sorghum and cowpeas which will be distributed by World Vision to 2,000 households in the Yatta area. This is part of a county food security enhancement program called the “Ndengu Revolution” led by Governor, Charity Ngilu, that aims to address the perennial food shortages in Kitui.
Absa Bank will plant ten million trees over the next five years with partners and stakeholders as part of a broad plan to promote sustainability and the wellbeing of Kenyans. This is the latest initiative by the bank that has identified three areas of climate action, recycling and sustainable resourcing to champion.
Jeremy Awori, the Absa Kenya Managing Director, said that while companies have historically engaged in corporate social responsibility (CSR) as philanthropic ventures, these initiatives are now going through a transformation to make them more sustainable and impactful by making them a part of the core business.
Absa has tied its initiatives with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on quality education (SDG 4), economic growth (SDG 8) and responsible consumption (SDG 12). The bank has also signed on to the Sustainable Finance initiative, championed by the Kenya Bankers Association, UNEP’s Principles for Responsible Banking initiative, and has also joined the Kenya Green Building Society with a plan to be carbon neutral by 2040.
Its suppliers, 90% of who are local, are undergoing training on sustainable business and the bank plans to have them all sign up with the UN Global Compact in 2021. The bank’s enterprise supply chain development program has provided unsecured loans to small and medium enterprises and a ready to work program has trained 415,000 people.
Caroline Ndungu, the Marketing Director, said old computers and furniture at the bank are being repurposed by Computers for Schools Kenya and Fun Kidz to equip labs at 66 educational institutions with 1,000 computers. Absa is also replacing water dispensers with water purification systems and will recycle billboard branding materials from the Barclays transition into school bags. The bank will also do tree planting exercises as they hand over the labs.
Moses Muthui, the Absa Country Strategy Director, said banks should exist not to profiteer from people but to profit with people. As such, along with other covid-mitigation measures, the bank has now restructured Kshs 60 billion of loans. Absa has also enabled over half their staff to work from home while still keeping all their banking channels open to provide essential financial services to customers.
Kenya had 6% forest cover in 2009 and is estimated to lose 50,000 hectares of forest each year through deforestation. Speaking at the launch, Dr Chris Kiptoo, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Environment called on banks to provide innovative financial solutions to promote commercial forestry by the private sector.
The Absa Sustainability Commitment report is available on the bank website.
This week there was a Webicafe session arranged by the Route to Food Initiative on Agro-ecology. Route to Food has championed a petition in Kenya’s Parliament calling for the removal of harmful chemical pesticides that are sold in the country.
The session featured two experts; Dr David Amudavi of the Biovision Africa Trust and Nicholas Syano of the Drylands Natural Resources Centre (DNRC). Biovision Africa works with smallholder farmers in 13 counties to disseminate useful and practical scientific information through various channels, and they also have a program with the African Union working with 35 partners in 9 countries. The DNRC works with 800 farmers in Makueni county, training them on and sustainable agricultural practices such as indigenous plants and rainwater harvesting.
The organizations are all trying to ensure farmers can work with nature to achieve food security. This is at a time small scale farmers, who produce most food for the country, are most affected by climate change and get the least support from the Government.
Agro-ecology is not a new concept. Agro-ecology is as old as agriculture. It borrows a lot from indigenous knowledge of agricultural practices, and it is only the term that is new.
Agro-ecology is not organic farming. Indeed, organic is just one of the ways in which farmers can apply agro-ecology practices, which all seek to promote the use of alternatives such as minimum tillage, conservation agriculture, crop-rotation, manure, inter-cropping, mulching, permaculture, agroforestry, and organic – that can all improve soil health and fertility through less, or no, use of chemical inputs in food production.
Agro-ecology as a science looks at how plants and animals get manipulated by man to stimulate production and consumption. There is a balance in the interaction of plants, animals and humans – and anything harmful to any of the three, or the environment, is not acceptable in agro-ecology.
Agro-ecology means food security: If you compare communities that rely on agro-ecology and those on monoculture, the ones that engage in diversified farming are more resilient to economic shocks – and governments should direct more research there to ensure food security and sustainable agriculture.
Challenges include low awareness and funding. Agro-economy can feed the nation., but agriculture gets a tiny share of the national budget devoted to research funding and even smaller for agro-ecology (estimated 2% of agricultural funding). Currently, most-research funding goes to mono-culture, industrial-based, crop farming that is also supported by political voices. This is compounded further by a lack of data on the uptake of agro-ecology. as well as people who can write well about agro-ecology.
In agro-ecology, if you plant trees, grow as many varieties of trees. In Makueni, DNRC has re-planted trees that had vanished – lost varieties of fruit, dry land species and nitrogen-fixing trees. They also plant acacia that grows very fast and is useful for honey farming and charcoal. Individual farmers bring in their small honey harvests and the organization sells them as a collective and share the money out. They also make green charcoal in a special kiln using pruned acacia wood. Over the last decade, DNRC has planted Moringa trees – and with the outbreak of COVID this year, they have seen great demand for Moringa seedlings, oil and powder.
One good agro-ecology practice is to have African farmers use seeds adapted to local conditions. These can be sold, re-used, and exchanged while avoiding some monopoly seed laws that restrict what farmers can do with their seeds and multinational intellectual property disputes.
Kenya has a forest cover estimated at 1.7% and shrinking. Yet, tree planting is actually a great investment opportunity that has remained under-appreciated in many parts of the country.
Market Depending on how you space the tree seedlings at planting and when you harvest the trees, there is a market for them. After 3 -4 years, you can harvest and sell the trees at 1 – – 4,000 shillings each for firewood or from 5 – 8 years, you can sell them off at 6,000 shillings per tree for poles. This can translate to profits of between 1 million and 6 million shillings per acre ($13,000 – $80,000 per acre) all from an initial crop of tree seedlings that can be bought for about 10 shillings each. One also has to factor in the opportunity cost of not growing maize or other cash/food crops over the years on the land, but these tend to have high annual production costs. Also, one advantage of trees is that they can be planted on undesirable or uncultivated land.
Major buyers of trees include tea factories (who use firewood to process tea leaves), Kenya Power & Lighting Company, East African Cables, Telkom (for poles), and numerous saw millers and local wood vendors.
Dangers: Two main ones are fire and pests/disease which can wipe out a mature crop of trees. Also one must also protect land from squatters, who may destroy trees for firewood, or to build homes in what they consider to be “unoccupied forest” land, or whose grazing animals may eat young tree seedlings.
Science Numerous advances have been made in research to speed up tree growth, and new fast-growing hybrids of trees from South Africa and Australia can be easily obtained. Some of the trees being planted around the country by enterprising land owners include Pinus, cypress eucalyptus grandis, and blue gum.
the Future One farmer told me that he has no worries about funding his kids university education in ten years time and even recommended that parents should plant one acre of trees per child to cater for the cost of their upbringing and education.