The TEDGlobal Fellows program recently announced their fellows for 2010 – 23 individuals from 20 countries and sectors as diverse as dance, agriculture, technology and biochemistry. They came together at the 2010 TED Global Conference this week in Oxford, to share “the good news just below the surface of today’s troubling headlines,” and their big ideas for the future. Beyond Profit brings you exclusive interviews with select TEDGlobal fellows, for insight on how they are using innovative ways to create sustainable change. Stay tuned over the next five weeks for our Ted Talks to Beyond Profit series.
TEDGlobal Fellows profile: Su Kahumbu-Stephanou
In most markets, organic is a special term. The bright yellow sticker means fewer chemicals for a higher price. But in Kenya, organic is not an exception – it’s a default. Some statistics show that only 6% of Kenyan farmers use synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. “Organic is the most cost effective way of producing food on our continent,” says Kenyan entrepreneur and agriculture activist Su Kahumbu-Stephanou.
Kahumbu-Stephanou founded Green Dreams Ltd. in 2000, an organic farm in Tigoni, Kenya, dedicated to serving local consumers. Green Dreams now works with Kenyan farmers to achieve organic certification and connect them with local markets. They opened their first organic store in 2006, and are working to create Kenya’s first organic coffee shop.
“Kenya’s farmers are generally small scale farmers who cannot afford to follow industrialized conventional production. What they have is access to land, farmyard manure, [and] manpower,” Kahumbu-Stephanou says. What they’re missing, she says, is the know-how to create a productive farm. “The biggest aspect that is missing in this sector is information,” she says. “We need to empower farmers with the knowledge of how to improve their soils.”
Most Kenyan farmers are older women who live in isolated rural areas, and sell their produce to a nearby broker. Many never have the opportunity to learn about drip irrigation and other sustainable practices. Green Dreams hopes to reach these farmers, and help them develop more profitable and environmentally-friendly farms. Kahumbu-Stephanou writes a column for The Organic Farmer magazine (a Kenyan sustainable agriculture publication), and is working on a widespread radio program to reach rural listeners.
Interestingly, one of Kahumbu-Stephanou’s most successful projects took place not in rural Kenyan fields, but in the slums of Nairobi. In 2008, she paired with the Kibera Youth Reform Group, an organization built to keep slum youth out of crime, to transform a 3-meter deep garbage dump into a productive organic farm. In less than four months, they created a fertile plot of land and installed a drip-irrigation system. The farm provides them with fresh food and income, after selling some of their produce in local markets. It has also created a green space within an urban slum—a rare sight!—and empowered disadvantaged youth.
Green Dreams Ltd. hopes to use organic farming to lift the small-scale farmer, and Kenya as a whole, out of poverty. The global food market—now dominated by international agri-corporations—have pushed resource-rich Kenya to become a net importer of food. Kahumbu-Stephanou sees a return to organic farming as the first step in overhauling a now dysfunctional system. “If conventional production was the way to go, we would not be in the mess we are in today.”
reporting contributing by Lauren Zanolli