Great Rift Zoom-In ~ Thursday’s Special

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This week Paula’s set us a very  different kind of challenge. She asks us to show her a zoomed in – zoomed out image. I’ve  applied so much zoom to this photograph that the detail is abstracted. I rather like it – the patchwork quilt effect. It is a view of smallholder farms at Escarpment, just north of Kenya’s capital Nairobi. I was out with Graham (in his capacity as Smut Survey Team Leader) looking for outbreaks of a fungal infection on fodder grass. You can read the full story at an earlier post Looking for Smut on Kenya’s Highland Farms. Escarpment was one of the locations we surveyed, and living up to its name, it lies on the easterly elevation of the Great Rift Valley.

Scan-130429-0154 (2) zoom out

(Click on the image for a larger view). The old volcano in the Rift is Longonot, and the zigzag of road seen faintly to the right of the valley bottom takes you to Lake Naivasha. Even now, after so many years away from Africa, this view stops my breath. And then I find myself breathing in – thinner air at 8,000 feet – whiffs of dust, thorn trees, diesel, roasting maize at a roadside trader’s hearth…

Thursday’s Special: zoom in/zoom out

So Easy To Be Green After The Rains In Kenya’s Great Rift

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It is hard for many of us to imagine living in lands that have rain only in given seasons with little or none in between. In Kenya, in theory at least, the long rains come during March and April, and the short rains between October and December. All depends on the movement of the Indian Ocean monsoon winds, and long before awareness of serious climate change,  Africa’s rainy seasons were known to be fickle.

So: the arrival of timely rains to plant or ripen crops is matter of survival  for most rural households. Only 15% of the country’s land is fertile enough and receives sufficient rain to support agriculture, and most of this is cultivated by smallholder farmers, women for the most part, while their husbands go to the towns to earn cash to buy stuff – medicine, fertilisers, stone to build a house etc.

The second photo was taken just north of Nairobi, from one of the Great Rift view-points looking over the smallholder farming community of Escarpment. The farms here were originally a series of single 12 acre lots, distributed by the British administration around 1951. I’m not sure what prompted this land hand-out to Africans, or how  the beneficiaries were chosen, or if they had to buy the land, although that seems unlikely as Africans were not allowed to own land as individuals. By then the native reserves, the only places where indigenous people could farm, were more than overcrowded. Land shortage, especially within the Kikuyu reserves, meant that the marriageable generation could not marry for lack of farm plots, and this was one of the main drivers of the Land Freedom Uprising of 1952 – aka Mau Mau.

When we visited Escarpment during  Graham’s Napier Grass smut survey, Njonjo, our driver-guide played host, since this was where he had his own farmstead. He told us that his family’s 12 acre plot had been so subdivided (from father to sons according to custom) that he only had a quarter of an acre. He proudly showed it to us anyway, with his good crop of maize, and said it adjoined his brother’s plot.

Of course there comes a point when further subdivision is pointless, and there is not enough ground to support even the smallest family. Nearer the city such communities have turned ancestral farm land into room rental land, and erstwhile family gardens are now part of the city perimeter slum sprawl. It’s how it goes. As I’ve said in an earlier post, the British left their constructs of Crown land, landed gentry land ownership and native reserves well embedded when they so ‘graciously’ handed Kenya back to Kenyans, and made them pay for it too, thus creating a great big debt that was only paid off in recent times.

British feudal notions about land ownership never did fit with the more communally minded African ideas about land usage and proprietorship, although they certainly came to suit the current ruling elite, a family that has hung on to power (one way another) since the British bestowed it upon them in 1963.  Let us hope we manage the exit from Europe with more wisdom. Much as we Brits like to think we went around civilising the world, we also left a lot of skeletons in cupboards when we beat our retreat.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: It is easy being green

 

Kenya’s Prolific Green Highlands ~ Thursday’s Special

napier grass on the Rift

Prolific

Nothing could have prepared me for my first glimpse of Kenya’s fertile uplands all  those years ago when I ran away to Africa. I’d flown out from Paris on the overnight Air France flight to Nairobi. It was my first long-haul flight, a good eight hours, and I did not sleep a wink despite being served a very delicious small-hours’ supper, and having a whole row of seats to myself.

I was pent up with the prospect of meeting up with Graham, whom I had not seen for some weeks, rather than wondering about my destination. Quite ridiculous I know. I was flying blind, having done not a scrap of  research on Kenya. In fact I had set out armed with only my brother-in-law’s comment: you’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in between.

And so early one February morning as the great jumbo jet slid down the valleys of Central Province towards Nairobi, I could scarcely believe my eyes. Volcanic hillsides unfolded beneath us – every scrap of earth burgeoning green to their summits, the patchwork plots of Kenya’s smallholder farmers. Before we set down at Jomo Kenyatta International I was already in love. I did not know then that this was the start of an eight year affair with a land that could not be more different from my Shropshire homeland. I am still infected.

Some years after this arrival, when Graham was combining his project work at Kenya Agriculture Research Institute with some field work for his doctorate, I had the chance to visit many of those highland farms and meet the farmers and see at first hand the kind of crops that they were growing so prolifically – maize, tea, bananas, fodder grass, squash, beans, potatoes, plums, apples, cabbages and kale. This photo was taken on one of these expeditions, and like me it has aged somewhat. But it was the first image I thought of when I read through Paula’s list of word prompts as this week’s Thursday’s Special. Do drop in there to join in the ‘pick a word’ challenge.

For more of my Kenya story see also:

Valentine Day’s Runaway

Looking for smut on Kenya’s Highland Farms

Feeling shy, but darned if I’ll show it

Kikuyu child

I took this photo while we were out on  Kenya’s highland farms looking for smut infested napier grass. You can read the full story HERE. This little boy was torn between wanting to know what we were doing on his farm, and not wanting to talk to us. I love the nonchalant drape of his arm on the fence post.

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Go here for more bloggers’ compositions in response to the Daily Post photo advice: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/rule-of-thirds/