Last November, MESA received an invitation from our Global Partners in Thailand, Earth Net Foundation, to attend the Agricultural Biodiversity Community (ABC) conference in Thika, Kenya. ABC began in 2011, as part of a joint Hivos and Oxfam Novib Knowledge Programme. The knowledge program “aims to break through the barriers that limit the scaling up, institutional embedding and horizontal extension of practices that build on agricultural biodiversity for improved livelihoods and resilient food systems.” A few short weeks later, MESA Directors Leah Atwood and Michelle Roses Wight, along with MESA Steward Mayra Martinez found themselves on an incredible journey to Eastern Africa. MESA also nominated and was joined by two Bay Area food justice collaborators, Ana Galvis of Food First and Maya Blow from Soulflower Farm. The five women represented the Americas at the conference, and were thrilled to share strategies, stories, and seeds with fellow attendees from five continents on behalf of reviving global biodiversity and resilient food systems. MESA would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to our partners at EarthNet and the ABC conference organizers for the opportunity to connect with this dedicated community and further our shared missions!
After 3 days of inspiration and collaboration at the ABC conference, the group visited MESA’s Global Partner, Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya (G-BIACK), founded in 2009 by two MESA Alumni, Samuel and Peris Nderitu. Both Samuel and Peris trained in Grow Biointensive agriculture with Ecology Action in Willits, CA. At G-BIACK, they toured their new seed saving library, learned about the women’s health and employment opportunities program, stayed in their newly constructed hostel, ate delicious veggies from their demonstration garden, and got to meet a few of the 12,000+ farmers they have trained in biointensive
Here’s the story, as told by Mayra:
One day, just as any other, I was working on the farm, it was the end of autumn and we were planting cover crops, suddenly my host Ellen, received a call. In the distance after hanging up, she yells: “Mayra! There a conference in Kenya on agriculture and biodiversity, chances are a foundation is looking to fund your attendance as a representative of Latin America!” What? A world of emotions invaded me, I have never won the lottery or something received as big as this so far, I thought.
That call confirmed my dream of connecting with people and farmers in the great Africa. Some time ago, I used to volunteer at an orphanage, I remember back then I dreamed about going to Africa and working with kids there. My heart was full of great illusions, I started to prepare for the trip when they confirmed that I was chosen to attend.
I had many doubts and fears about the long flight, I had little money, little information and little mental preparation for what was coming. The Golden Rule community where I live encouraged me not to miss this great opportunity, and just a few days after (to be specific, a Friday afternoon) I was on plane to Nairobi, Kenya. I arrived at the airport on a Sunday morning overwhelmed by nervousness, fear and the very long journey.
Towards my first destination in Kenya I was talking to the driver and I noticed his accent was a very different accent than I what hear in California. I have to say English is not my native language, so it was complicated for me to understand the whole conversation. The road seemed very long, I saw women carrying their crops on their heads or
strapped to their bodies, children walking without shoes, men who washed their vegetables with water from the side of the road. It was not very different from my beloved Mexico, but I felt there was something different, perhaps
because it seemed a distant culture or simply I did not understand that this is happening all around the world.
Finally, I arrived to the conference facilities and I saw dozens of monkeys jumping happily everywhere. The place was very beautiful yet simple, with vegetable crops and small ponds around.
The Agricultural Biodiversity Community conference began on Monday, and as if I was in another world, I was trying to understand the different accents, although everyone spoke English! It took a couple of hours to adapt to the
new sounds, but after the first day I realized I was at a conference among scientists and organizations who,
like me, we were looking for alternative solutions to the challenges around agriculture worldwide. We attended
the conference for 4 days in which I shared what I’m currently doing in my educational program with MESA. It
was very comforting to learn about different projects with youth and adults who are doing amazing things
around agriculture and biodiversity.
We visited a seed savers indigenous community in Kiva, Kenya. They showed us that they are not only preserving seeds, but perhaps all that is involved in their traditions, knowledge and the respect for the Earth.
After the conference finished and with new friends, we went to G-BIACK— The Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya. I met the wonderful and inspirational couple who started the organization, Samuel and Peris. They are amazing people that are helping to change practices like conventional farming, empower women and many different
projects that I really admire. In them I saw myself in the future, they are the change I want for my country, for my people.
We also went to visit a Rastafarian community that once again show us the power to build community, resilience and take care the mother earth.
I do not think words can explain what this experience meant to me, how it touched my heart. It changed my mind and gave me more strength to continue this journey that is just beginning.
I just want to express deep gratitude to the Agricultural Biodiversity Community and G-BIACK organizers,
the people who hosted us, fellow farmers, my family, the Golden Rule community. But I’d like to especially
thank MESA and all those who support our network, making it possible for people like me who dream about
and work towards building a new and better world for all.
– Mayra Martinez Mota