Many economic development initiatives in Kenya revolve around the “group.” Women’s groups, youth groups, farmers’ groups. It is an example of how Kenyan culture is collectivist, as opposed to individualist American culture. Many Kenyans (individuals and development organizations alike) have realized that they are reliant on each other by nature and are more likely to succeed if they pool together their resources. Some government organizations and NGOs now only work with groups.
Here is one such group.
Meet Laban, founder of the new West Karatang Green Network. He was trained in various income-generating activities and passes his skills onto his 60 members, up 100% from last year. He pools together all of the members’ various outputs and is able to sell everything! They can’t produce enough to meet demand. The members get back the value of what they put in, save for some percentage that goes to the organization. The group already has 160k KSH/2k USD in its bank account, from which it draws two revolving funds. Laban is the type of entrepreneur ACESS wants to run one of its “village enterprise hubs.”
Laban showed us some of the activities he has engaged in around his property. Two sample jikos (ovens) sit in front of his house.
His jiko design is energy-saving because it directs the heat straight to the sink. Because it needs less heat, it needs less firewood and gives off less pollution. These ovens can be produced by women using locally sourced clay.
A pile of jikos waiting to be sold. Some are made purely by hand, but these look molded.
A mixture of ant hill dirt and scrap wood shavings from local factories that the group uses to make the jikos.
Most of the group’s enterprises, however, are agricultural. Laban is showing off mango trees from his tree nursery. One might try to sell seeds, but these tiny trees fetch 10 KSH/0.13 USD each. Laban has added further value to the local mango trees by grafting branches from improved imported mango trees to the young stem. This ingenious method garners 150 KSH/1.92 USD per seedling! The mangos taste as delicious as the local ones, but without the pits and with fewer fibers that get stuck in your teeth.
Laban’s tree nursery is quite impressive. The group has already planted 30,000 trees and has set a new target of 100,000 as part of the UNEP’s Billion Trees Campaign started by Kenyan Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai. They are going to plant some trees in Obama’s grandma’s nearby village of Kogelo.
Tithonia grows in Kenya. You see it everywhere. It makes great fertilizer, and Laban uses it, along with cow dung, to fertilize his trees and other crops.
As I have discussed, ACESS’s first program is centered around amaranth, but it has already begun researching the moringa tree. Moringa is an amazing tree whose pods grow even in the dry season. Within three months, a newborn moringa tree produces viable vegetable leaves, which have insane amounts of vitamins and calcium. Within eight months, you can start using the pods. Its flowers can be used for tea.
The pods of the moringa tree are also very nutritious, but can also be ground and used to purify water!
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Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African