Notes to broadcasters
Content: Over the years, women have come to know a lot about the land, plants, and animals where they, their mothers, and their grandmothers live. Their knowledge is extremely important for small‑scale farmers, but sometimes it is overlooked. By recognizing and supporting women’s knowledge we may learn new ways to take care of the land.
Do you remember how your mother used to know just what kind of tea to make for you when you were sick? Or how she always knew where to find the best soil for planting vegetables? Chances are your mother knew a great deal more that could help your family stay healthy and well‑fed. In fact, many women around the world know more about their family farm and their local environment than anyone else! Let me introduce you to one of these women…..Mama Nekesa
Mama Nekesa is a farmer in western Kenya. Even when the rains fail, her family never goes hungry. Mama Nekesa knows many ways of providing her family with food all year round.
Mama Nekesa carefully watches for signs of rain. She digs her fields early so that they are ready to plant as soon as the rains begin. Rather than planting in rows, she broadcasts her seeds of sorghum, finger millet, maize and beans. This allows Mama Nekesa to work more quickly so she can plant all of her fields in the first two weeks of the rains. The crops grow well because they get enough rain.
Mama Nekesa interplants beans and maize. The beans Mama Nekesa selects can be harvested and eaten before the maize is ready to be harvested.
After Mama Nekesa harvests her beans she stores them in clean sacks. Into every ten kilograms of beans, she mixes one large handful of ash from her fire. Every day she shakes the sack of beans. The ash protects the beans from insects. By shaking the sack, Mama Nekesa prevents the beans from rotting, and protects them from weevils.
Mama Nekesa soaks the beans overnight and washes them before they are cooked. This reduces the time needed to cook the beans, so she does not need as much firewood. It also makes the beans easier to digest.
Mama Nekesa serves beans with cassava. Cassava is a deep rooted crop which grows well even in poor soil. If Mama Nekesa finds striga weed in her fields she knows that the soil fertility is low. She plants cassava in this field. When Mama Nekesa harvests cassava, she replaces each cassava tuber with a cutting from the cassava plant. Cassava tubers can be stored in the soil for up to two years. This means that there is at least one source of food for her family throughout the year.
Mama Nekesa also grows sweet potatoes and cowpeas. She explains that cowpeas are a good crop to grow: the leaves of cowpeas can be picked, boiled, and eaten as a vegetable; the peas can be harvested and stored like beans; and the soil where cowpeas grow can be improved by digging the plant into the soil instead of removing it after the harvest. This soil is good for growing sweet potatoes because it is loose and fertile.
Vegetables are an important part of the diet of Mama Nekesa’s family. With the help of her older children, Mama Nekesa keeps a vegetable garden next to her house. The rain or dew from the roof of her house runs off into the garden to help the plants grow. Mama Nekesa teaches her children how to plant tomatoes, chilis, onions, and kale. She protects the garden from her chickens by surrounding it with a thorn fence.
Last year Mama Nekesa showed her children how to plant banana and pawpaw trees in a ditch where water collects. Soon the family will have fresh fruit to eat too!
This script was written by Helen and Hannington Odame. It is based on Helen’s research in Siaya, Kenya and Hannington’s experience as an agricultural extension officer in Kenya.
You can find out more about bean tumbling and using ash to protect beans after harvest in the following Network scripts:
“Have You Heard? Bean Tumbling Controls Weevils,” ‑ Package 25, script 7
“Some Farmers Control Insects Without Cost,” Package 1, script 1