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A Grassroots Boost for African Farmers

Daniel Kibet (Kenya, Pearson UWC, Earlham ’19) figures he has planted more than 10,000 trees. He’s been doing it with his father, a specialist in farm irrigation, since he was a small boy. Their hometown in western Kenya is within the Mau Forest Complex, east Africa’s largest indigenous mountain forest system, which has seen widespread deforestation. As trees mature, the family farm now has wood to sell — and their plantings demonstrate, he says, “the importance of growing trees in this part of the country, where people were cutting down trees to get more land to cultivate.”

Daniel has also seen how farmers at home often struggle to earn a livelihood, planting one or two traditional crops, and how young people often leave rural towns for urban areas. All this has led to a business plan. At Earlham he’s been developing the Mashinani Farmers Initiative, whose goal is to connect farmers back home with institutions — schools, hospitals, businesses — that need farm products. “The aim is to have a guaranteed market for a product before a farmer develops that commodity,” Daniel explains. Mashinani is Swahili for “grassroots,” and he envisions sharing the revenues from commodity sales between local farmers and his firm. He hopes to encourage agriculture that sustains, rather than depletes, the local environment, and he’d like to help young people earn a living in rural towns like his.

Daniel won a modest cash award from an Earlham “creative capitalism” prize competition last spring, and he has invested funds from the award in 20 beehives, set up on his dad’s farm. “I want to produce high-quality natural honey that we can sell in the market,” he says. By the time he graduates, Daniel hopes Mashinani will be funded and set to go. “I have people on the ground,” he reports, “waiting to partner with us.”