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Marlene van Es

To Kenya and Back Again

Last week I took a short break from South Africa to travel to Kenya for a 8 days. There I worked for my non-profit, PALS:Partnership of African and Lansing Schools at Mbaka Oromo Primary School near Kisumu. I fixed erosion control channels I built last year and helped the school start a micro enterprise. I had received funding from the Center for Entrepreneurship at Cornell before I left to help the school develop its business. Last year, we installed a solar stand that provided 3 of the building at the school with sustainable electricity. When I went this time I worked with the teacher in charge of the library at the school to create a business plan, a large sign to advertise the services, and taught them how to budget the program. The school will now begin charging cell phones of the local community for a small fee and teaching computer lessons on the few computers they have at the school. The money generated from this will go towards a lunch program for the orphans at the school. When I wasn’t busy with that, I helped install some new gutters at the school to control the roof run-off that was contributing to their erosion problem. So it was a lot of work there but so amazing to be back in Kenya. When I wasn’t at the school I was staying with my host mother and eating ugali (basically corn meal and water cooked and hardened….I don’t really recommend it but it is a cultural experience in itself) and fresh tilapia from lake victoria (definitely recommend). All in all it as a great trip and I was able to accomplish a lot at the school. The kids and teachers there are so inspiring and I was so happy to get back there.

I am now back in South Africa. It is good to be back and working on my project. Prof. Janice Theis is also here now along with Christian Pulver, a masters student in CSS. They are focusing on biochar production. When we first got back to SA we went to the Johannesburg fresh produce market bright and early at 5am. It was really cool to see the ZZ2 tomatoes being sold at a HUGE open market. The price is set by the demand and changes as the time passes. Almost all sales are completed by 8am. It is a very different system than the US and it was a fascinating experience. Yesterday I gave my first big presentation. I went to Polokwane to the regional Dept. of Agriculture to present to some higher up Dept. of Ag officials my outreach proposal for a partnership with the dept. It went extremely well and the Dept. said we will meet again next week to present to the real top dog of the region! They were very interested in the partnership and so the project is really moving ahead.
Currently, Prof. Theis is working on editing my proposal and finalizing it. I found out I will now be giving my final presentation to the ZZ2 managers on July 16th so I am going to work on making that powerpoint once we finalize the program. SOO….life is good! It is a bit colder in South Africa now (much colder than Kenya!) but it is pleasant at night and we have had some bonfires at the lodge.
So now I am off to do some more editing

Oh…and GO NETHERLANDS! (There is still world cup fever in South Africa!)

Workin’ During the World Cup

So it’s been a little while, but they have been keeping me busy! Last week I met with some local Dept. of Agriculture officials to suggest the extension program idea, the meeting went quite well and we are hoping to meet with higher officials either this week or in the coming week or two. I also met with local farmer Steven Mohale, which ZZ2 has been working with and he liked the idea of the program and the idea of possibly holding field days at his farm. He started out as a very small farmer and has been able to build up his production from about 3 hectares to 100. This is the kind of thing we hope to help other farmers do! Besides from a few other meetings I have been busy working hard on my strategic plan proposal, which I will be presenting on July 9th. I know I promised pictures, but my internet is too slow and won’t let me upload, so when I get back to the US I’ll make a post of pictures!

Culturally, it’s been crazy here! The World Cup is in full swing and I have never seen a country so excited. I went into town last Thursday and people were running around with South African flag capes and Vuvuzelas( Gosh those things are loud! (I’m definitely buying one) But, everyone here is in the spirit and although I cannot go to see a game, I am definitely getting into the spirit too and was excited to see the USA tie with England and am currently rooting for the Dutch team! It is great to see the country coming together like this. I also learned how to say how are you in the local south African language (not Afrikaans), it’s Le Kae (pronounced lay-chi) and “I’m good” is Ra gona pronounced (ray-ona: the g is pretty much silent). So it is cool to learn some of that aspects of South Africa too.

This week I am just working more on the proposal and possibly have a few more meetings with local farmers and stakeholders in the proposal. This Friday, though, I leave for a week long trip to Kenya. There, I will be visiting the school my family helped start a non-profit with and checking on the erosion control ditches I built there last year. I will also be installing new gutters and helping them start a cell phone charging business off of the solar energy that was installed last year. It should be a short exciting break and fun to see all my Kenyan friends from last year.

Well I better get back to work on my proposal, till next tim

Left Side Truck Drivin’

So the past few days have been amazing. Yesterday I learned all about ZZ2 from Burtie, the son of the CEO and he also studied at Cornell these past 2 years, and let me tell you this is nothing like farmin’ in the US. ZZ2 owns and does everything from planting to growing to packing to shipping! Total, all over South Africa they have about 4,500 hectares of avocados, tomatoes (mainly), onions, apples, pears etc. They also have 60,000 hectares of conservation land! And the conservation practices on the farm are amazing as well. They mix several different types of compost, which they apply to all their farms along with EM or Effective Microbes. They now have no need to apply any pre planting fertilizer! And they have reduced post planting chemical inputs by 30-70% depending on the crop. They also have come up with several plant based anti-pest concoctions that have no chemicals and is made up mainly of certain plants and EM. Some of the anti-pest concoctions come from the Neem tree originally from India of which they have planted a hectare here in order to make the mixes. It was really breath taking to learn everything. And, also how dedicated they are to what they do and protecting the environment. Total they have 8000 workers all over the country and they are mainly from the local areas and Zimbabwe. ZZ2 provides housing, primary schools and nurseries for all of them!
Today, I was taken to town for a bit then met Piet Prinsloo, a project manager, at the main ZZ2 center. He set me up with a USB internet connector which is nice so I have internet in my hut now and a truck….which was an experience. Here they drive on the left hand side with the steering wheel on the other side, stick shift and mainly on dirt roads between farms. So, when it was time to go to their mechanic shop to get my truck Piet handed me the keys and said “let’s see what you can do”..and that is how I learned to drive here. Luckily, I didn’t hit anything and I caught on quickly. By the end of the day I could drive the 20km from the center to my hut and also to the other natuurboerdery center! Tomorrow I am driving further to the soil testing lab at the University of Limpopo (the province I am in). And, next week I am meeting with officials from the Department of Agriculture and University of Limpopo and other people in ZZ2. Basically we have solidified my project to basically designing, with Bombiti and others, a strategic plan for an extension program at ZZ2. It is going to be a lot of work but it should be really cool. At the end I will be presenting it to management and some other representatives. But, there is a lot to be done between now and then!
Anyways, I’m off to make dinner but I promise I will work on uploading some pictures soon. The area here is in a beautiful valley surrounded by forested mountains, it is really spectacular. And, I am starting to feel part of the family here! More updates soon!

A first look at ZZ2 and South Africa!

So I arrived in South Africa thursday evening and stayed the night in johannesburg after meeting Bombiti at the airport. Bombiti is the head of research at ZZ2. ZZ2 works quite differently than farms in the US. The company owns about 5 farms in the limpopo region, where I am based and more farms all over south africa. Each farm has its own manager but everything is funded by ZZ2 and ZZ2 ships directly to market. Their main product is tomatos, but they also grow avocados, onions, and a few other crops. What I am going to be working on here is helping them to develop an extension program and office so that they can help stabilize local farmers and the region. This week I am going to be learning more just about ZZ2 and natuurboedery, which means “nature farming” and then next week I am going to meet with local farmers and figure out some of the issues they face and need help with. It should be pretty exciting ! The area I am in is beautiful as well. I am surrounded by mountains and a mix of farmlands and natural area. The place I am staying is a small lodge owned by ZZ2 and I have my own hut (but nice one with a kitchen/bath/bedroom). I haven’t gotten a chance to take many good pictures yet but later posts should include some! South Africa is a bit of a mix of african/european/american cultures and there are always quite a few languages going on. Usually, Afrikaans, the language of the dutch descendants here, english, which seems to be the language everyone uses to communicate between races and different native backgrounds, and then native african languages. Outside of the farm where people know me, I have people addressing me a lot in Afrikaans because I look a lot like an afrikaaner. But usually once they see the confused face on me they start speaking english haha. Anyways it is time to start planning so I have to go. Till next time!

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