On a warm December morning, crowds gathered in a community hall in Ikinu, Kenya to celebrate three years worth of hard work and commitment – to farmers, families, the community, and our environment. Over three hundred Forest Garden farmers were present to be honored and to receive their certificates for their completion of the Forest Garden Program through Trees for the Future (TREES). They were joined by their Lead Technician, Peter Kingori, TREES Kenyan Country Coordinator, Michael Muthui, TREES East Africa Regional Director, Corrie Mauldin, and various representatives from the county government, as well as stakeholders, and honorable guests from the community. Additionally, John Leary, the Executive Director of Trees for the Future, was there to honor Kenya’s first graduates of the Forest Garden Program.
In addition to receiving certificates, the graduates were celebrated by a performance of songs, prayers, skits and speeches from fellow farmers. Many of the farmers and Lead Farmers were awarded for their exceptional commitment to the program and to helping others succeed. Betty Mwaura, both a farmer with the Ikinu program (graduating next year), as well as vocalist who entertained throughout the program, said she was so thrilled to see such “a special celebration for farmers”. She noted that graduations occur for various universities and schools, she has never seen such an event to celebrate farmers: “we are usually working hard in our fields. It is so nice to come together to celebrate our achievements, too!” Although Betty still has a year of the program to complete before her own graduation, she has already transformed her life through Trees for the Future’s training and looks forward to what the coming year will bring.
Throughout the day, there were exhibition stands displaying some of the farmer’s produce, poultry, and feed derived from their fodder trees, as well as value-added items like fresh squeezed juices. The day was filled with a celebratory and prideful air, and great hope for the future. Farmers discussed their entrepreneurial plans such as selling their livestock feed made using their fodder trees in bulk on the local market.
The graduating farmers of Ikinu spoke of the transformation their farms and lives have undergone in the last few years. Many spoke of improved livestock and milk production, lower cost of living by producing on farm, increased income from selling vegetables at market, and improved diets. Farmer Caroline Gitao explained, “the program made me realize my potential. I now use my farm well – I produce everything I need on my own land. My family’s diet has improved tremendously. Trees for the Future not only gave me the seeds – they provided me with the trainings to make my life better.”
We want to thank our donors for making this all possible. This is a monumental accomplishment for our farming families as they now have the tools to no longer live impoverished lives in a sustainable way.
As the farmers look toward the future, they are optimistic, Caroline shares that her “fence is here to stay and protect my land.” She will continue growing vegetables for her family to eat and sell. She’s also learned to gather seeds from the fodder trees, to use and sell to others. Her new friend Lydia Wambui adds, “we’ve also learned to join together to sell and buy in bulk.” Caroline and Lydia also say the program is to thank for their new friendship. They learn from their lead farmers, fellow farmers, and have met people in other farmer groups. They now are part of a support community, and for that their appreciation is boundless. Betty of another Ikinu project is set to graduate next year. She looks forward to the trainings she will receive in the coming year, and looks forward to standing on stage to receive her certificate next year.