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Sharing belief in LEAF

Apollo Owour - respect your soil (WRENmedia/FRICH)
Apollo Owour - respect your soil

Stooping down, Apollo Owour scoops up a handful of rich red soil. To the group of farmers clustered round him he asks, "When you handle your soil, what can you feel?" Owour and his agronomy team are driving the Kenyan part of an initiative to help smaller scale farmers of export crops to adopt high environmental standards of production, thus securing good contracts with a European retailer. "Your soil is life, your livelihood," he adds. "Care for it well and it will work for you and the generations who come after you."

The Integrated Farm Management (IFM) approach being shared was developed by LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming). Already used by farmers in 17 countries in Europe, Middle East, South America and North Africa, now it is being rolled out in sub-Saharan Africa with three pilot groups in Kenya. A total of 150 farmer members, with as little as one-eighth of an acre each, are being trained so that they can be certified as farming to LEAF Marque standard.

The drive for more African produce

Trade policy is the driving force. Recognising the economic and social significance of export horticulture in Africa, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) challenged major UK retailers to take steps to increase the flow of African produce to Europe, especially from smaller scale producers. It offered to match funds pledged by retailers to invest in efforts to get more African produce on shop shelves through grants from the Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH).

Farmers are guided to blend the best of traditional agriculture with modern IFM (WRENmedia/FRICH)
Farmers are guided to blend the best of traditional agriculture with modern IFM

The UK food retailer, Waitrose, rose to the challenge with three clear aims: to achieve an increase in sales of African fresh produce in its 241 stores of, for example, green beans and peas from Kenya and prepared fruit from Ghana; to involve more smaller scale farms in the supply chain; and to promote sustainable farming practice. "Whatever the size of farm, and wherever in the world, we expect all our farmer suppliers to use the same approach and farm sustainably," says Mary Boseley, agriculture manager for Waitrose. Teamed up with LEAF UK, communications specialists WRENmedia and exporters in West and East Africa, the result is a project that is 'africanising' the LEAF good agricultural practices in a pilot that will be rolled out in 2012 to all sub-Saharan African suppliers of fresh produce to Waitrose.

Setting a different standard

The reaction in the fields to the standards of production is positive. "Our future as Africans is pegged to the soil," says Owour, production manager for Kenyan Horticultural Exporters (KHE), who is leading the training with 150 farmers who grow the crops he buys. The LEAF Marque standard is concerned with the long term viability of the whole farm." His co-trainer, Peter Keniarati, of Nairobi-based Quality Approach Consultants agrees. "We need to live on, to farm after the produce has left for the airport, for the European market. The LEAF Marque standard covers what to us here in Africa we find important - sustainability."

There has been a positive reaction in the field to the new IFM guidelines (WRENmedia/FRICH)
There has been a positive reaction in the field to the new IFM guidelines

Long term sustainability is attractive but reducing costs of production is another incentive. Blueskies Ghana Limited gained LEAF Marque certification for 40 farmer suppliers in early 2009. Exporting packs of prepared tropical fruits to five European countries, it sources as much as 15 tonnes of pineapple a day for its processing factory just north of Accra. "The main benefits are it really helps you produce at lower cost," explains Ernest Abloh, Head Agronomist, who works closely with the farmers. "LEAF Marque is exceptional. You have good records-keeping and attention to detail, and that helps farmers to use integrated pest and crop management practices that help reduce the use of agrochemicals and fertilisers."

Making the leap to LEAF farming

The three pilot groups of smaller scale farmers in Kenya are being introduced to the IFM approach so the first group can attain the LEAF Marque standard for its crop in July 2010. The first training phase was held in the Mwea region of Kenya, where groups of green bean growers have leased land abandoned by the government. "Beans are a beautiful crop to a small scale farmer like me," explained Anthony Mucheke who is growing two acres of beans. "It can be a reliable source of cash." Also on the course was a group of snowpea farmers from the cool slopes of the Aberdare ranges, including young farmer James Jiguna. He was glad to hear for himself what the Ghanaians have achieved and what the 50 members of his group can work towards. "I think LEAF combines the best farming practice - some of what we have always known - with new approaches that young people like me can put in practice. I think all farmers can excel." In their tutor and supporter Owour, the enthusiasm for the task ahead is evident. "It's good to be a pioneer. Breaking new ground and taking smaller scale farming in Africa to a completely new level." And with that he sprinkles the rich red soil back where it belongs.

Date published: July 2010


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