Genesis Farms, A Labor of Love
Last Saturday I jumped on the motorcycle (I believe I will have to soon christen her – thoughts?) and headed south, to visit Genesis Farms in Debre Zeit. My main purpose for the visit was to learn more about egg laying chickens. I hope to purchase some for Kechene School. Ideally, the chickens will lay enough eggs to subsidize the children’s diet with some protein, and possibly lay enough to sell for income generation. Moreover, once the chickens have finished laying eggs for eighteen months, the school can sell or eat them (evidently, the return on their egg laying abilities greatly diminishes after this ‘ripe’ eighteen month period).
Thankfully, the hour and fifteen minute drive was uneventful. I arrived to find the farm teeming with activity. Locals were shopping at the farm’s market store where they sell fresh produce, poultry and dairy products right off the farm, others were eating at the on-farm restaurant, and the farms many workers were taking care of responsibilities on the last work day of the week. The farm was begun thanks to an investment by two Dutch gentlemen, an American and an Ethiopian. As stated in a brief profile of the farm, provided by the farm manager, ‘Genesis farms in Debre Zeit is part of a project designed to pass on not only skills and knowledge about agriculture and farming, but also to spread the Gospel to others in developing countries like Ethiopia.’ Employing roughly 600 workers, the farm does an exceptional job at providing employment and also food security for the local community.
Just after arriving, I noticed some women planting lettuce in an adjacent field. I went out to say hello and inquire as to the whereabouts of the chicken coup. The women were excited to see that I was interested in their work and eager to show it off to me. They had an impressive operation underway, and I’ve posted some pictures to the ‘Lamp Post Photos’ link at the right. The drip irrigation was nicely laid out and they had a lush stand of lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, and other vegetables. Proper irrigation, tending, and a well composted soil greatly increase the yield and capacity of the land at Genesis Farms. I complemented them, and then begged their pardon, but it was time for me to learn about chickens.
The farm manager graciously provided me a tour guide who answered my questions concerning chickens and other aspects of the farm. At the chicken coup I met two other young guys, both Ethiopians, who were interested in chicken farming as well. I thought it fascinating to find these two young guys so interested in farming and chickens in particular – so many of the well-educated young people I meet want to be doctors, engineers or IT professionals. I later found out they were also the local tae-kwon-do instructors, ‘Even better!’ I thought to myself.
After I finished pestering my guide with numerous questions concerning chickens, we moved on to take a look at the dairy farm. I do not know how many dairy farms are in Ethiopia, but I would guess not many. Genesis is the only one I’ve seen; maybe there are a handful of others. The farm produces its own cheese, milk and yogurt on-site. As well, the manure generated by the cows is a wonderful source of fertilizer and is composted with other waste generated by the farm. This compost is one of the reasons the farm generates such healthy vegetables – it enhances and enriches the soil.
After my tour, I had lunch at the farm’s restaurant and was about to turn back into the wind, bound for Addis. Just then, however, an older, enthusiastic farmer, Daniel was his name, struck up a conversation. His passion and excitement for farming was so evident that I could not resist when he asked if I would, ‘come and take a look at my patch of land.’
I told him to jump on and we ploughed down the dirt road, deeper into the valley. The landscape all around was beautiful – a well kept farm in a nice valley surrounded by guardian mountains. All the way we were generally on Genesis Farm land but just before reaching a shrinking lake (it is the dry season) we stopped at a small patch of land the farmer claimed for himself. I quickly gathered that he was just getting into farming – not only from his words but his rows were a bit crooked and he had yet to master the drip irrigation layout. Nevertheless, the passion in his voice for the work and the art of farming was clear – he’ll get there, I have no doubt.
After talking with the farmer a bit (whose English was superb – thanks to Peace Corps Volunteers who taught him English as a child), and taking in the beauty of the valley it was time for me to get back to Addis. All-in-all, it was an informative and pleasurable trip. I learned a bit about chickens and Genesis Farms as a whole and believe there is certainly an opportunity, and need, for more projects of this sort. Projects that incorporate best practices in a certain field (farming, in this case), are sustainable, and benefit the environment (this projects does so by encouraging intensive, rather than extensive farming, which leads to deforestation) and local community (in this case the farm provides food security and employment for the local community).
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
As cows are actually a significant contributor to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, via belching, I wonder if there is also an opportunity to capture the CO2 emissions they generate. They are essential to the fertility of the land on the farm, and if there is a way to capture the methane gases they release, the net impact on the environment, farm and people would be all the better. Please write if you have ideas or information on this note.