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Better Globe

Travel Narrative from Kenya and Uganda, 2015

Authored by Jan-Tore Øvrevik (Director of Development), on behalf of the Better Globe customers who joined this journey, September 2015

Marked for Life

A trip to Kenya and Uganda is not just a trip. It changes you. It creates some kind of footprint in your life that remains. Even a month after being back, both my wife and I are still dreaming about Africa every night. It is as if all of our senses got a boost. It is one thing to experience different nature and environment, but what makes the biggest impression are the local people. They live under such difficult conditions that make you wonder how they manage to stay alive.

Living in harsh environment

In the drylands of Kenya, we saw and visited smaller families who lived in small huts scattered throughout the area. Many of the children only had one set of dirty, worn out clothes without any food to eat for days. Women walk many hours in extreme heat to get water from a waterhole or a water tank, carrying water containers on their head or on donkeys. There was nothing but red sand blowing everywhere, bathing green bushes with a thick red layer.

On the way to get water from waterhole Catching water from waterhole
Donkey carrying water

The main source of energy in Africa is not electricity or fossil fuels, but trees. People cut trees for charcoal and the demand for charcoal increases in line with the population growth. The harsh conditions people are living under — without any access to education — cause them to destroy their own environment to survive without even knowing it. The result is an increase of erosion with no trees or water to capture, where the survival of the people is at stake.

Devastating living conditions

Cutting trees to make charcoal

The people in this area are struggling and the severe attack on the nature shows tracks everywhere. Having these devastating conditions to sustain and even worsen can easily turn the already idle land into a desert and, ultimately, a complete disaster. We realize how extremely important it is to make huge changes in Africa before this exploitation of resources spreads any further.

Idle and arid land

From Dryland to Green Land

The most spectacular ideas arose with Better Globe about 10 years ago on how to reduce poverty in Africa by educating people, making water available and converting the land from dryland to green land. We could not be more proud than seeing how Better Globe’s ideas have developed throughout these years. Better Globe has not only demonstrated and proved that their system works in smaller areas, but that the solution is ready to be copied and spread like a bullet train throughout Kenya and into neighboring countries.

Better Globe offers a total package that works hand in hand to provide solutions to the biggest problems Africa is struggling with: lack of education, lack of available water, desertification and poverty. Our first stop on our trip was our plantation at Kiambere Lake, called Kiambere Site.

Stopping Erosion

The Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) owns the land around Kiambere Lake. The lake is nourished by Kenya's biggest river, the Tana, which originates from the slopes of Mount Kenya. Its tributaries find their way to the lowlands through densely populated areas, carrying plenty of soil from erosion. The human activity and farmers’ poor practices around the lake make it erode a lot faster. Thousands of tons of soil are washed into the lake after every major downpour and make the water brown and murky. This fills up the dam and decreases its lifespan.

Brown and murky water at Kiambere Lake caused by erosion
Kiambere Lake — thousand of tons of soil from erosion makes it all brown in color.

Running our plantations around their lake gives occupancy, reduces idleness, keeps people busy and provides work in a stable environment. Better Globe has demonstrated that it can stop erosion on the lakesides completely by planting trees and blocking erosion gullies with thousands of check dams.

Better Globe Forestry's plantation, Kiambere Site Mukau trees at Better Globe Forestry's plantation, Kiambere Site
Workers in action at Better Globe Forestry's plantation around Kiambere Lake
Pictures are taken from Kiambere Site, Better Globe Forestry's plantation at Kiambere Lake. 28 workers were in action at our plantation during our visit.

Innovations that Already are changing the Future

We specialize in dry land afforestation and much of our research and acquired knowledge has come from our Executive Director’s (Jan Vandenabeele) test farm in Kibwezi, 200 km south of Nairobi. Jan demonstrated special features and techniques like low-pressure irrigation system with inexpensive water storage tanks, mulching to limit evaporation, stressing of mango trees for out-of-season production, use of bees, impenetrable hedges with indigenous acacia trees etc.

Mukuyu Farm aims at zero tolerance for erosion. We could say it is a model farm regarding technical answers in an ecologically daunting environment. Instead of keeping this knowledge to ourselves, we invite farmers in the buffer zones around the plantation so they can learn the techniques from our experiences and copy the innovations they find useful. Along with local leaders and farm leaders, we also have students from schools and universities who visit the farm on regular basis to learn how to manage dry land afforestation with few tools.

50,000 liter water basin for irrigation system
This water basin stores up to 50,000 liters of water and is used in a drip irrigation system at our test farm in Kibwezi.

Water Capturing

It is common that people walk 10-15 kilometers to get to a waterhole to collect water in containers and cans. Some are “wealthy” enough to own a donkey and let the donkey carry the water back home, or to pay someone with a donkey to do it. If not, they carry water containers on their head and walk for hours.

With the help of Better Globe, several schools are now self-reliant with water. We have donated several water tanks and are teaching locals different simple techniques on of how they can capture water during the rainy season by creating ditches, use roof or rock catchment, etc. The water tanks are intended to provide sufficient water for the school children at all times and in some cases for families around as well.

Water tank donated by Better Globe to Mboti School, Kenya Water tank donated by Better Globe to Equator School, Uganda
Water tank donated by Better Globe to Mboti School, Kenya. Water tank donated by Better Globe to Equator School, Uganda.

The Future is in the Hands of the Children

The development in a country reflects peoples’ education. Throughout the western world, children have the right to education. This is unfortunately not the case in Africa. Parents have to pay for their children to attend primary school, which is nearly impossible for those who are impoverished. In several areas, the community does not even have money to put together any school buildings.

Better Globe donates money for building and renovating schools, which we visited on our trip. Even though it was summer vacation, eager students and parents had gathered to show us their spirit and happiness by dancing, singing, performing and giving speeches. Some of us were also to see our sponsor children we support through Better Globe’s partner Child Africa.

Tina Bjerke with her sponsor child Kelly at Equator School Jan-Tore Øvrevik with his sponsor child Promise Jan-Tore with his sponsor triplets Sandra, Morine and Cissy
Tina Bjerke with her sponsor child Kelly at Equator School. Jan-Tore Øvrevik with his sponsor child Promise. Jan-Tore with his triplets Sandra, Morine and Cissy.
Children receiving gifts, Mboti School, Kenya Elisabeth giving gifts to children at Mboti School, Kenya
Children in line at Mboti School to receive gifts brought by some of our Swedish visitors. Elizabeth Mutheu handing out some of the gifts brought all the way from Sweden.
Happy children at Mboti School, Kenya
Priceless to see the happiness in their faces (picture taken at Mboti School, Kenya).
Classroom at Equator School, Uganda Equator School, Uganda, financed by Better Globe
Inside one of the classrooms at Equator School. Equator School, Uganda, financed by Better Globe.
Isaac performing with happy children at Kabale School, Uganda
Isaac Twesiime in action together with many happy children at Kabale School, Uganda.
New Child Africa School, Kabale, Uganda New Child Africa School, Kabale, Uganda
A brand new Child Africa school we visited in Kabale, Uganda. The entire project consists of 28 school buildings and 2,500 students. So far, two buildings are under construction and will soon be ready for use (Aug. 2015). The donations from Better Globe have not been sufficient to cover the new buildings – but with your support and continued monthly purchases of donation packages we hope to increase the contributions in the near future.

From One Goat to Ten Goats

On our visits with farmers and villagers, we experienced how great our microfinance project has turned out to be. Better Globe funded the Nguni Microfinance Bank in May 2013. After only a couple of years in operation, it already has about 2,300 shareholders. Each shareholder can qualify to get a loan up to four times his/her share.

Nguni Microfinance bank in Kenya, funded by Better Globe

The shareholders use the loans to get necessities such as goats, chickens, beds, mattresses, chairs, tables, charcoal cook stoves and solar lights/panels. They can increase their income in different ways with the help of microfinance loans. The loan officers of the bank train borrowers on how to increase the value of their loan before getting it. Usually they spend loan money on something that can both increase their life quality, like a mattress, and something that increases in value so they can pay back the loans and interest. One way to increase their income is to buy goats or chickens, multiply them and sell them when they have grown bigger. Another way is to buy a donkey to get fresh water or firewood far away and sell it to others. If they buy goats or cows, they can even both drink and also sell milk from them.

Using microfinance loan to buy chickens and multiply them Using microfinance loan to buy goats and multiply them
Using microfinance loans to buy and grow chickens to increase their income. Hopefully a lot of eggs will also be laid. Using microfinance loans to buy donkeys to carry water. Here the goats try to ease the burden of the donkeys by drinking the water.

Better Globe has a special agreement with the microfinance bank that farmers in our outgrower project can borrow money to buy necessary tools and products to create an agroforestry system. Better Globe trains these farmers to integrate tree planting with growing crops.

Big Scale Farming Made Possible

For many years, we have gone through a lot of time consuming hassle to find land and help the landowners get the land legally certified in order to sign leasing contracts. All this needs to be in place before planting trees. Until recently, it has seemed impossible to achieve enough land contracts to keep up with the phase of our future expected tree planting. Our existing plantations cannot cover for tens of millions of trees and will be the bottleneck for upcoming big business.

Better Globe found the best solution to this problem. Not only will it solve this issue, but it will also have a huge impact on the agroecology system. We have started a project with few outgrowers (contract farmers). The farmers plant our trees on their land, where we have an agreement of buying back the trees after a certain time. The farmers already own the land and we do not need to go through the intricate, costly and long lasting process of leasing land.

It does not matter if the farmer’s land is idle, if they grow crops there or keep livestock (they may need to fence the tree planting area to protect the tree seedlings from being stepped on or eaten by goats). In agroforestry, crops and trees work in symbioses where they both benefit from each other. We specialize in trees while farmers specialize in growing crops. Using a combination of trees and crops makes everything more interesting for the farmer and the environment. A farmer can thin the trees after 8-10 years and receive money. A lot more money can be earned by waiting for the full maturity of a tree. In between, the farmer has to live and we encourage the farmer to plant green grams (beans), corn, etc. between the trees, which the farmer can harvest every year. With all of our experience and expertise from our test farm, we have the solutions ready for the farmers. We teach and follow them up to make sure they manage their farms the proper ways.

We visited few of our outgrowers and it was a pleasure to see how well kept their farms were. Their whole way of thinking has changed and they now see possibilities and solutions for improving not only their own life, but also others.

Planting crops between the trees Different tree species planted in symbiosis with crops
Workers making the ground ready for growing crops between the trees. Different tree species planted at the same area as the crops.

When it All comes Together

Till now, we have briefly shown and explained what Better Globe is working with to help toward making the environment greener, to help children get an education by donating money to schools, to make water available to people and to help people in rural areas getting an income by working at our plantations. With Better Globe’s involvement in the microfinance and outgrower project, the package is now complete to abate poverty and change Africa into a continent of unlimited possibilities.

There is a complete interaction between our tree donations, water donations and microfinance. They do not stand alone. A system is in place, where each component plays its part. With Kenya’s new constitution (from 2012) with a rule of obligation, at least 10% of the territory must be occupied by forest. Our pioneering in planting trees in semi-arid areas and the complete system we now have in place, will make this possible not only in Kenya, but in several African countries.

The largest population of poor people is concentrated in the drylands. We can now give those who are in need the necessary tools and knowledge to create prosperity in their communities and turn dryland into a fertile land of opportunities.

Thank you

It has been an honor and pleasure to get to know everyone who attended this journey to Kenya and Uganda. The trip was far from pleasurable all the time, hence coming from western standards into African standards, bumping up and down for hours on unpaved roads. Thank you to everyone for enduring some tough moments! I hope it was all worth it after seeing and experiencing the results of many years of work in harsh environment and with few resources. Better Globe has evolved into new dimensions we did not know about few years ago. Thank you for all your patience and for faithfully having followed and supported us for years!

Thanks to:

And thanks to these wonderful people who went above and beyond to make our journey a remarkable one: