Experience is the Best Teacher: My Week in Solio Village 3
This blog was written by guest blogger Mark Wilson, a student at Copenhagen University (MSc Agricultural Development). He travelled to Kenya earlier this year as part of the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies’ (WMI) Interdisciplinary Land Use and Natural Resource Management (SLUSE) course. This field-based learning and research course focussed on land use and natural resource management issues by conducting practical research alongside the Green Belt Movement (GBM) and local communities.
We have an expression in England that says “experience is the best teacher” and I believe these are wise words. Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to take part in a course organised by the Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies and Copenhagen University. The course is called Interdisciplinary Land Use and Natural Resource Management (SLUSE) and it brings together students from Denmark and Kenya to learn how to conduct field research. We spent 11 days living in a rural community in Solio, near Naro Muro where we conducted a project that focused on the importance of agriculture for local communities’ livelihoods.
On a typical day in the village, we woke up at 7am with the cockerels crowing and the sunlight rising from behind Mount Kenya – a beautiful sight! After breakfast our group of 10 students broke into small teams and visited the villagers in their homesteads. We asked the farmers about their crops and what challenges they face. We also took some soil samples. In the evening everyone gathered back at the camp for a tasty dinner of ugali and beans. Thereafter, we would discuss the results from the day and plan the following day’s activities.
Through our interviews, we learnt that the people in Solio were resettled in the area three years ago. They were previously living by roadsides or in slums of nearby towns. When they moved, each family was given a smallholding, but, even though many of the villagers have good farming knowledge, the crop yields have been low. Maize, for instance, has failed every year due to frost or a lack of rainfall. The farmers have not had the money to invest in water harvesting structures. However on a positive note, since being relocated to Solio, the villagers have started growing trees, which offer both wind protection and soil moisture retention. They have also diversified their livelihood activities to provide more income so that they may continue to improve their land and lives.
This experience provided the kind of learning you cannot get from reading books. Being able to meet people face to face and develop an understanding of their aspirations, their hardships, and their perspectives on life was invaluable. Learning through experience is not always easy, but it is most definitely rewarding.
The Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies, which is currently offering select courses and programs while the campus is being constructed, will bring together academic research—e.g. in land use, forestry, agriculture, resource-based conflicts, and peace studies—with the Green Belt Movement approach and members of the community.