Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kenya Trip # 65 (May 24 - June 5, 2009)

Departed Oklahoma City on Sunday on a flight to Minneapolis where Mark and Barbara Waterston picked me up at the airport. They took me to see their beautiful new condominium, after which we went to the home of their son, Michael, where their daughter Jennifer and her family were visiting. I had not seen Jennifer in years and had never met her husband and children. They are now living in Boston and doing well. By noon we were back at the airport for a quick meal and at 3:10 p.m. Barbara and I were on the plane headed to Amsterdam. The flight was fine, but I got little sleep, arriving in Amsterdam at 5:30 in the morning. The flight for Nairobi took off at 10:15 a.m. and both of us were soundly off to sleep for the next 5 hours. Our entire luggage made it and by 9:00 p.m. we were having dinner at the hotel.

On Tuesday morning Steve Cowell, our managing director, and I began meetings in Nairobi, first with the pest control board and then with a foundation. We have had consistently bad experiences with accessing the herbicides needed to control weeds in our rice fields. We have tried every supplier in the country, but they either have the wrong products or no product at all, as the approval process for importing chemicals is bureaucratic and tedious. As a result, we have applied to become an importer/distributor of agricultural chemicals and this meeting was the first step in getting the necessary approvals. It will take 1 ½ years of research and testing to prove up the safety of what we need, but after that we will be able to control weeds and pests effectively as well as provide these products to local farmers so they may greatly enhance their yields.

Our second meeting was at noon with representatives of an international foundation offering a nearly US$1 million repayable grant to fund the initial phase of our commercial aquaculture operation. Not only will raising tilapia fish on such a massive scale add a significant line to our product mix, it will create tremendous income possibilities for thousands of our neighbors. We will need approximately 2,500 out-growers to supply us with raw products for making fish food and will also contract with hundreds of small growers for high quality tilapia fish from their own ponds. We will start full-scale construction on this project by July 1st and plan to harvest our first marketable tilapia crop by the middle of next year. We will first supply the Kenyan market and as the quantity increases will move on to the Middle East and Europe with fresh fish flown out of Kisumu daily. Our ultimate goal is to provide 20,000 tons annually – obviously a few years away.

We departed Nairobi for the flight to Kisumu and arrived at the farm after dark. Dinner was ready for us and then it was time to visit with some of the college students staying with us. Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has sent five business majors and International Community Development students to work with us for a month this summer. Five additional ORU students are working with the Disciples of Mercy orphanage in Kisumu. They are doing research projects on food production quantities and qualities, water quality testing and business planning. It is a great experience for them and we really enjoy them being here. They are seeing the real world of business in Africa and having a good time as well. One of the girls was just getting over a bout with malaria, but was doing fine. We are in the middle of the rainy season and the mosquitoes are definitely a problem along with other tropical diseases, especially typhoid. I have already been bit a few times and that is always a worry.

Wednesday there was much to get caught up on. Our crop duster pilot was about to leave for his vacation and was going to the Ukraine for a week. His family has roots there and he has been corresponding with a young Ukrainian lady, so perhaps there is some romance in the air as well. Barbara went off to see the rest of our management guys and learn their concerns while Steve and I spent the day on detailed planning for the start of the fish farm construction. Considerable planning is required, as it is a major project utilizing high tech methods. Our aquaculture operation has been preparing for this event for years as we have painstakingly bred a super fish. Fresh water flowing from the river is the catalyst that renders all of this possible, but the remaining conditions are now in place, including sources of fish feed and rampant market demand. Lake Victoria in Kenya is virtually fished-out, such that now all of the processors in Kisumu have closed their operations. The cull fish from our breeding are highly sought after when they are available. By summer 2010, Dominion’s whole and filleted tilapia should be in supermarkets in Kisumu and in the coolers of selected small vendors in Siaya and Bondo Districts.

Our heavy equipment is getting into shape waiting for the long rains to be over in a few weeks, and the workers are waiting to begin development of more land. Doug Conner, our director of engineering and maintenance, is to be commended for getting everything ready to roll. Our swamp buggy is now running from daylight to dark digging drainage canals across the property to allow things to drain more quickly. Rice harvesting is ongoing with around 1,500 acres of planted fields – most of which are producing exceptionally good yields. Ronald Boone (our rice farmer/land developer) has done a great job of simultaneously bringing in good crops and preparing new land for initial planting.

Each night was spent with ORU students and they are a great bunch of young people – full of desire to understand more of Africa and our operations there. They all have serious assignments to help us refine our work from the tracking of crop yields, to the productivity of our chickens to testing for dissolved oxygen levels in various bodies of water around the farm. I expect their reports will be very useful going forward. Some of the student would like to make their lifes’ work in Kenya. The five students who were assigned to Disciples of Mercy in Kisumu also came to the farm for the weekend, arriving on Friday afternoon. Ronald joined all of us for dinner and told the kids of the wild times at the beginning of farm construction back in 2004. Lots of laughs now but very serious back then. We have come a long way in just a few years.

Saturday morning I awoke early but did not feel well. But I had much to do. Soon we were on the road to meet with groups of people in Siaya. Ronald and Barbara came along and we ate breakfast at a new place just beyond the town. The owner is a Boeing 777 Captain for Kenya Airlines, so we got to talking about airplanes and the pending freight operations for the fish farm. He will be a good resource for us. After that we met up with our Siaya rice distributors and then a meeting with the president of the new bank in town. The two principals of the Siaya rice distribution company are very energetic and last month sold 45 tons of our rice. I gave them shirts that Sue had embroidered with the Prime Harvest logo and they were ecstatic.

By noon we were back at the farm when suddenly I broke out in a sweat and realized I likely had malaria. So we were off to the local clinic. Their lab tech was gone so it was back to a clinic in Siaya to confirm what I already suspected. I had malaria again. The rest of the day was at a slower pace. The ORU team from Disciples of Mercy had arrived from Kisumu to spend the weekend with us and I felt bad about not being accessible, but by evening the medicine was starting to work and we had a good dinner together.

I slept well and Sunday morning I was back out in the fields with Ronald and wrapping up things with Doug, as he was ready to depart for 2 weeks vacation in the US. Barbara was getting with all of the ORU students to go to a small church in the area, where some of them spoke and led in the service. Barbara represented Dominion Farms and spoke on my behalf, since I had to leave on a trip to Uganda with Steve. It is a six hour drive to Kampala and we picked up Dereck in Jinga along the way. Dereck is our new sales representative in Uganda where we are planning export operations. The market there appears to be good with a high potential for growth. We have contracted with a company there to distribute the product. They supply approximately 1,000 retail outlets with a variety of products, which now includes rice. There is an excitement in the air with this deal and a couple of their other clients are coming on board to do cross promotions with us.

By the time I got back to the farm only five of the ORU students remained and they were getting ready to go on assignment to south Nyanza to do a market study for us. Josh and Delana would stay behind to complete their studies on projects assigned to them. Josh is an interesting young man – born in the US but had lived most of his life in Zambia with his missionary parents. His heart is truly in Africa where he wants to give the rest of his life. Although he is young (22) he is African smart, and wants to make his mark there. We would like for him to join us as a management trainee and offered him that position. He is enthused and we will just have to wait to see what his decision will be. Zoe, another ORU student, was born in Liberia and grew up in the US. I believe she had her eyes opened by the poverty of Africa, as she had not been back to the continent since she was a very small child. Anastasia was born in Russia and had never been to Africa before. She fell in love with the place, being especially taken with our fish operations. Delana is a young lady that went to South Africa a couple of years ago but never understood the depth of the problems in Africa until this trip. Sergio was born in Moldavia and could relate to the poverty which surrounds us, as his home town was almost as poor as our neighboring villages. This past month on our farm has changed these young people forever and all want to return – some promising to be back next year. These kids are at the top of their class and are now responding to the pull that Africa has on people who come and experience it, not as tourists, but as people committed to actually making a difference.

Most of Wednesday was spent on fish farm details and design solutions for this program. So many things must be accomplished in the next few months. Construction will begin in early July for 20 concrete ponds approximately 6 feet deep by 120 feet in diameter, along with drainage canals, water piping, feces collection systems and the food processing plant. Much equipment will need to be purchased and sent to Kenya over the next few weeks to allow the process to be fully operational when the fish are transferred from their existing earthen ponds. This facility will earn profits for the farm, but will also allow local smallholders a ready market for their agricultural products used in the milling of fish feed. This will incentivize them to learn how to grow crops efficiently for sale to a guaranteed buyer.

We have now employed Chris Abir. He and his wife will begin the training of the local youth for these purposes. This program will begin in earnest within a few weeks and the first class is already formed. There will be equal emphasis on body, mind and spirit. Vocational emphasis will initially be on farm practices, with practical emphasis on irrigation, fertilization, and planting practices. Crops grown in dedicated training fields will include fruit trees, maize, tomatoes, vegetables, grains, and bananas. The courses will include fish farming, dairy operations, and poultry – the facilities for which are now under construction. The curriculum will include emphasis on health, HIV/AIDS prevention, family life responsibilities and relationships. A strong emphasis will be placed on the spiritual so as these young people begin to prosper, their grounding will be strong and their roots will be deep. As the farm prospers, more facilities will be constructed and more programs developed to broaden the scope of available courses.

On Thursday morning it was time to wrap things up and begin the long trip home. One more meeting was scheduled for that afternoon in Kisumu with the electrical power company. Our power supply is terrible. The lines leading to our farm were paid for by Dominion and they serve the local community as well. However, from the point where our new lines hook to the existing grid back to the substation, they are awful, resulting in an average of 6 power outages per day. Kenya’s electrical production system is grossly deficient relative to demand and its delivery is unreliable, leaving us in a real mess. The solution is multifold but is possible if everyone cooperates. We appear to be on the right track. Dominion has figured out how to produce approximately 2 megawatts of electrical power from our dam on the river. This new plant, along with a secondary power feed scheduled to come from another direction to connect to our existing lines, will provide adequate and reliable power for our operations. This system will be cost effective for us and our neighbors. We have reached an agreement to proceed forward and within a couple of years it should all be done.

By 6 p.m. Barbara and I were on the plane for Nairobi and then on the flight to Amsterdam at 10:00 p.m. We were exhausted, as usual, and slept until an hour out of Amsterdam where we had only a 2 hour wait for the flight to Detroit. I got a quick shower and a change of clothes before boarding and it felt good. We are now 3 hours out of Detroit and anxious to be home again. Barbara has a new home to go to and Mark has done nearly all of the moving, so she is excited to get home and enjoy their new place. I’m equally eager to be back with Sue and the family.

These trips are hard on the body – going from early in the morning to nearly midnight every day, and always there is the risk of coming down with Malaria, typhoid or some other strange disease. But they are also rewarding, as we see the land and so many lives being changed. Each day we are able to see progress and the hand of God at work. It’s not easy, but nothing good ever is.

Calvin Burgess

Dominion Farms Limited


Els said...

Dear Mr. Burgess,

My name is Els Wijt-Mulder, I am Dutch and I live almost 4 years in Kisumu, Kenya.

I came to Kenya, after my husband died, to help handicapped and malnourished children.

In this 4 years I helped hundreds of children with wheelchairs, education, medical care, prosthesis etc. etc.

To become self sustainable and to create jobs for our children, I started the cultivation of Spirulina. Spirulina is an algae with extremely high nutritional value and is world wide used as an important food supplement.

Spirulina can save the lives of millions of children and adults. It is also a immunity booster, so people living with HIV/AIDS are feeling much better after taking a daily dose of Spirulina.

Spirulina is also used, worldwide, for feeding cattle, poultry, pets and last but not least Tilapia (growing 20 % faster) and Koi.

You can find many articles on internet.
see for example:

United Nation FAO recommended Spirulina as "the most ideal nutrient resource of the 21st century". and the World Health Organization declared Spirulina as: "One of the best protein sources".

A few weeks ago the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kenya did sign the UN treaty about Spirulina and with that Kenyan Government did recognise the high value of this miraculous algae.

It would be wonderful if we could involve Spirulina in your big project and possibly also for the health status of the population of Siaya.

Can you please inform me what can be the way forward?

Thank you in anticipation.

Kind regards,

Els Wijt-Mulder
founder/director of

P.S. Just a funny coincidence:
My eldest daughter, who is a Major in the Dutch Air Force, is living for 3 years in Edmond. If you want to meet her, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lady Els and Mr. Burgess,

I always wanted to work at Dominion, made an application, but I believe then you were not recruiting. What thrilled me with that place, was the modern trend of farming, and the Christian approach given to it. I believe Dominion is an enterprise of its own kind out there on a social justice course that has an everlasting/eternal impact beyond its profit making goals. Today, as a Kenyan am thrilled with its model and urge all Kenyans to build businesses that give back to the community and serves them holistically.

Good Lady Els Wijt-Mulder, that is a great thing on spirulina you have shot up, am also interested in this. However, I beg to know if it can be done in a small scale, also how can I access the market?

Feel free to mail me back on or 0710932441. Thanks and God bless.

Enock Omamo