The project aims to utilise organic farming techniques as exemplified by the Show Farm at Haller Park in Mombasa. There, Dr Rene Haller has perfected techniques that improve soil quality and crop yield using organic methods. The Farm also has a fish farm rearing Tilapia from the organic waste generated by the rest of the farm. It is hoped that the organic farm via the Baobab Trust can train students in organic farming techniques.
Using mulching methods to introduce more organic matter to the soil, reduce ploughing and complimentary crops to enhance/sustain the quality of the soil and maintain water retention and hence productivity. Utilise organic farming ideas from the Haller foundation to include crop rotation and diversification of crops to minimise crop damage by insect infestation. Utilise crops developed using the latest scientific plant breeding techniques by growing unique crops such as insect resistant maize.
Crop damage by animals is the principle cause of human-wildlife conflict across the African continent. This is particularly the case here given the proximity of Arabuko-Sokoke forest with its resident wildlife populations. Although incursions by elephants are no longer a problem due to the construction of electric fencing surrounding the forest, Baboons, Vervets, Sykes and other monkey species are frequent and difficult to deter crop raiders. Some species such as Baboons show little fear of humans, and simple vigilance therefore gives less effective results. Determined troops of Baboons can intimidate guardians. Also Baboons will adapt rapidly to measures taken against them and are remarkably quick to find weaknesses in the guarding of crops. Invertebrates also do significant damage to crops both whilst growing and when in storage.
Mwera Farm will research and implement methods of reducing and preventing damage to crops by wild animals and train the students in these methods.
Many of the students and their families are already Butterfly farmers, producing pupae for the Kipepeo Project which exports them to free-flying tropical displays throughout the world. The farm intends to maintain a barrier section of indigenous trees between the cultivated areas and Arabuko-Sokoke forest and to utilise these as food plants for the caterpillars. As some of the butterflies will be released back into the forest, this will represent an active contribution to the conservation of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest. Local families will gain an income from sales of pupae and honey.
The location and projects at Mwera Farm lend themselves well to the development of an ecotourism scheme where tourists staying in local hotels pay a small sum to visit the farm and find out about the activities taking place there.
Sand Dams and Irrigation
Sand dams are cheap to construct and are very effective at trapping and conserving water that flows in seasonal rivers during the rains or that runs continuously but underground. Much of the water is trapped below the surface in and amongst sand grains, hence reducing loss by evaporation. Investigation could be made into the construction of a sand dam on one or both seasonal rivers to help better manage the water system through the valleys. There would be many advantages to securing the run-off water including, providing water for crop irrigation in the dry season, the provision of ponds for fish farming and, perhaps, providing a waterhole facility for wildlife, particularly elephants, in the forest.
Care would need to be taken to be sure that any scheme was sustainable and did not adversely affect either the settlement area, the forest or the mangrove area ecosystems into which the water drains.
Bio fuels, Solar Cooking and more efficient Kitchens
Sections of the farm will be planted with Casuarina trees to be used as a source of fuel wood for school kitchens. Students at Nidderdale High School have been designing more efficient cooking systems that include solar ovens. School latrines could be linked to biogas generators hence producing gas to cook on and manure for soil improvement. Taken together these systems will help to reduce demand for forest timber for cooking.
Reciprocating Agricultural Project at all UK cluster schools
All Nidderdale cluster schools have already or are developing a small garden areas where some food crops will be grown. Support for this project has been offered by Harlow Carr Gardens Education Centre at Harrogate. Nidderdale students will communicate with their Kenyan counterparts with regard to the development of both agricultural projects focussing on the Global Citizenship aspects of food production.
Joint Student Book Project
All UK and Kenyan cluster schools intend to produce a book documenting the development of Mwera Farm and the school gardens. Students will also record stories that reveal their relationship with the land and their families and communities in Nidderdale and Mida.