For years, Daniel Kibet ’19 and his father planted trees in Kenya. Perhaps 10,000.
It was not a popular thing to do in his home country. Forested land is seen as land that can't be farmed. People questioned the Kibet family planting trees. Some laughed.
The Kibet conservation and planting efforts paid off, however. Firewood is the main source of energy for cooking and heat in the community, and the family is beginning to reap the benefits.
“Now we have wood to sell, and at times we allow some community members to fetch wood in the farm,” he says. “We have trees that are sold for making electric poles, and we have just recently planted tree tomatoes, tamarillos, that are in demand. A lot of farms lie idle, and instead of being idle, trees are a good idea. There’s not a lot of maintenance, they purify the air and they look nice.”
“And now I have a deep interest in preserving the ecosystem, mainly the trees and vegetation,” says Kibet, an Economics and Global Management double major at Earlham.
Foremost in his mind these days is an idea he calls the Mashinani (Swahili word for rural) Farming Initiative, a business that uses experiences and ideas from his life that shaped his interest in the environment.
“I want an app that is designed to connect farmers with potential buyers in undeveloped countries like Kenya,” he says. “We will have a specialist on site to visit the farm to test the characteristics of the land, the soil’s alkalinity, the altitude, the amount of rainfall. That will be taken into consideration with what other farmers are producing in that region, and the specialist will determine what type of crop is best suited to that land and region.”
The app will serve as a platform where farmers can interact with potential customers and enter into legally binding contracts for producing and supplying produce. Kibet hopes the app will help retain young people who often migrate to urban areas to look for job opportunities. He hopes it also will eliminate the current model where most farmers plant maize and potatoes, which creates a saturated market and idle farms.
“Rather than clearing the land to plant the same crops over and over, this program will emphasize non-invasive ways of farming,” he says. “It will encourage farmers to interact with natural systems.”
Trees need time to grow, and farmers need to make money while the trees grow.
“I remembered when I was 10 years old climbing trees and was stung by a bee from a colony in the trunk,” he says. Although the sting caused pain and swelling, Kibet says the experience allowed him to see the benefit of beehives.
“If you plant trees, part of the idea is to put beehives in and sell honey to sustain yourself until the trees mature,” he says. “This will allow you to be a part-time farmer as bee keeping is less labor intensive, allowing people to farm their idle lands, plant trees and find working jobs in urban areas.”
MFI is an outgrowth of OSBET Community Network idea, which won $1,250 before bowing out in the second round of the Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism competition in the spring of 2017. OSBET addressed educating and training locals on better farming techniques. With part of the funds, Kibet placed 20 beehives on his father’s farm to serve as a model and encourage other farmers.
During the summer of 2017, Kibet worked with local builders to construct a simple latrine system and hand-washing station in his primary school in western Kenya. The new building, which replaces broken and unsanitary facilities that were in use, has five stalls for girls and three stalls and urinals for boys. Kibet was awarded $10,000 by Earlham for his Project for Peace to fund the construction. Kibet also gave the school soccer balls and jump ropes, which were donations from Earlham’s athletics department and bookstore.
Kibet learned about Earlham while a student at Lester B. Pearson United World College of the Pacific in Canada, where he says he learned an even greater respect for the environment through sustainability. He was drawn to Pearson because of its greenhouse.
“I needed to know how that worked,” he says. “I learned how tiny strips of soil could be utilized in a way to produce vegetables more efficiently.”
He hopes MFI will expand to include mushroom growing, greenhouses and container gardening for urban areas.