It is the sight of a beautiful keyhole-like garden that welcomes you into the home of Esther Sang in Sumoiyot Village, Kaplelartet sub location in Kericho County. This keyhole garden is called a Mandala Garden. The primary reason Esther and others in the village were convinced to build a Mandala Garden is because it is a time and resource saving design for making kitchen gardens.
By having the bulk of your vegetable beds in one large circle, one only needs to put water in the centre of the circle and the vegetables are well watered with no wastage around the edges. The keyhole design makes it easy to access the plants while the "no dig” principal prevents disruption to soil ecology. Mulching leads to moisture retention and soil conditioning and (it becomes one big worm farm!).
Esther is a beneficiary of a project titled "improving food security and health status of the communities in Sigowet Division in Kericho County” implemented by Caritas Kericho in two sub locations (Kaplelartet and Kebeneti), with funding from Caritas Switzerland and Slovak Aid benefitting 12 villages with an estimated population of about 4,000 people.
Through this project, Esther and other community members received a series of trainings at the project's demonstration plot in Chemiromben village which exposed her and other farmers on farming of drought tolerant crops and different sustainable farming techniques such as the mandala garden, raised beds and multi-storeyed gardens.
A few farmers in the area like Esther grow vegetables but the common challenge was breaking the habit of growing exotic vegetables such as kales and cabbages which are less resistant to drought and crop diseases. The project aimed at promoting a return to cultivation of traditional vegetables, commonly referred to as orphaned/indigenous crops.
Today, Esther is able to produce vegetables almost throughout the year. She aims to grow vegetables all year round now that she has adopted this new technique. The project successfully promoted the growing of indigenous highly nutritious vegetables like Amaranths (Mchicha), Spider Plant (Saga) and Black Night Shade (Managu). Esther's kitchen garden measures 7x7m and she is now able to grow a variety of vegetables in one season. Not only is Esther spoilt for choice of vegetables to cook for her family, she has surplus, is selling some to friends and neighbours and is happy with her new source of income.
The basic requirements of making a mandala garden are; a piece of land (at least 4x4m in size), variety of vegetable seeds, compost manure and the knowhow of making the keyhole design (see the pictures from her farm).
"I believe that farming will empower me economically”, says Esther, "and I want to help more women gain the skills I have gained from the project”. Esther's parting shot to other farmers is, "People should think beyond what is traditionally done and give farming a chance; this kind of farming might hold the key to us being able to feed our families throughout the year if we all embrace it”. Her eyes beam with hope. Food Security will have been achieved if Esther can feed her family throughout the year – this is the aim of the project.
Source: Caritas Switzerland