Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Trip Number 68 ( November 29th thru December 12th, 2009)

Sunday was a good day starting with church, then finishing packing and leaving for the airport around 4:00 PM for a 6:30 flight to Minneapolis, where I met up with Barbara for the flight to London. It was a bumpy ride and hard to sleep, but we arrived at around 1:30 in the afternoon, rode the tube downtown, and by 3:00 we met up with Vitalis and he drove us to our first meeting. A large group of people were there from the Diaspora of Kenya who now resides in Great Britain, along with a University professor and government contacts. This group was working on obtaining a grant to help develop outgrower fish programs in conjunction with Dominion Farms. Their interest in helping their homeland is admirable and their dedication will get this project realized.

We had dinner with a very well informed gentleman from British Seafood, and we were able to begin to understand the markets of Great Britain for Tilapia. He was fascinated by Dominion’s approach to breeding, growing, processing and sales of our fish. The markets are very price conscious with lower prices being imperative, but they are still within our reach. A few hours sleep and we were off to the fish markets at 5:00 AM. The market was an interesting place; cold, and wet, but very informative. By late morning we were chilled to the bone, but more knowledgeable about fish markets in Great Britain. Vitalis and I were invited by HSBC to meet with a couple of international investment bankers interested in African investments who have requested several proposals from Dominion Farms. After the meeting, we had a great meal cooked by Vitalis’ wife Tonya, then were back on the tube for the 1 ½ hour trip to Heathrow airport. What a hassle it was at the airport with overweight charges for 250 pounds of tractor parts in our suitcases, but they are desperately needed at the farm. The plane left at 7:00 pm and I slept most of the way to Nairobi, arriving by 7:00 AM Wednesday morning.

It is always interesting arriving in Kenya with people waiting for us at the airport and catching up on the past few weeks, but this time the small talk was quick as we were whisked off to the domestic terminal for the flight to Kisumu. Kisumu was hot and sunny without a cloud in the sky. Two hours later we drove over the last hill to see our absolutely beautiful farm in the distance; 2000 acres of developed and planted land before our eyes. Fresh brilliant fields of recently planted rice glistened among the yellow fields of those nearing harvest. Hundreds of ladies were working pulling weeds and scaring birds from the fields, but still glancing up as we sped by to give a quick wave and welcome us home. The combines were both going full speed bringing in the crops to replenish our starving granaries. We are totally out of rice and have been for a month, not one bag to send to the supermarkets and hungry people of the country. Just one more week and we will be there with a bountiful harvest in tow. Thank God there has been no hail storm, as in the spring which destroyed much of our crop. We pray for protection of our fields.

The day was spent as usual catching up on the details of the last six weeks since being here. The farm is still struggling financially but there is a light at the end of the tunnel which is getting brighter by the day. The fish program is progressing well. The green water ponds are stocked with over 300,000 fish and the main ponds are under construction. We are certainly pleased to finally see this underway. The youth have a huge batch of tomatoes in the ground, the cows for the dairy are arriving and the sheep are grazing the land in the banana plantation. Bananas will be maturing very soon with the first harvest coming in May of this year.

Thursday was spent planning with Steve while Barbara worked with Chris on matters for the Youth. Our first group of trainees has graduated and we have now hired several to gain work experience and be prepared to teach others soon to come. For me, the day was dominated by a visit from the Minister of Fisheries and his staff. They came to learn about fish farming and reinforce a relationship with Dominion for the National aquaculture policy and support basis. They are committed to purchasing 500,000 fish fry each month from us to support the program and for the training of so many uneducated but anxious fish farmers to be. They learned a lot and now understand the program does not work without our supply of fish fry and technology on a large scale project. We are eager to be part of the program, and all are pressing for an early start on the project.

Friday we were honored to have 15 of the orphans which Dominion Children’s Foundation supports come to the farm for the day. Not one of these kids has a parent living; most have been wiped out by the HIV/AIDS scourge on this land. The youngest is 12 and he has very poor language skills, but they are being worked on. The oldest is 17, and like the rest, very small for their ages. Poor nutrition and disease have played havoc in the lives of these and so many others in the area. They had a great meal and toured the farm for hours with their eyes wide enough to pop out of their heads. They left with a greater understanding that they were part of the Dominion family of support.

Saturday was an early day for Barbara as she went to work in the Fish breeding program, while Steve and I worked on details of the out-grower programs. This looks as if it is going to be a real success, including many people in the community. We have around 250 small scale farmers signed up for the crop program and 50 signed up for the aquaculture outgrower program as well. Dominion will provide the technology, and be the market for the products. We have arranged for a few bank loans for some participants for working capital for their portion of the work, but more funding is required from outside sources to fully utilize the resources of these people. In the afternoon I went to Siaya for a break and bought an ice cream cone before going to the fish farm construction project. The main big ponds are now under construction and scheduled for receiving fish in January. Combining of the fields is continuing and initial yields are good.

Sunday morning Dirk and Johann from Spiegel News Network in Germany arrived for the beginning of three days of filming of the farm and surrounding community. They will produce a documentary film to air early in January 2010 in Europe and then syndicated for the international markets a couple of months later. They were given free rein to film as they wanted and to speak to whoever they liked. The three days were packed with interviews, operational descriptions, and travel around the area. They chartered a plane for aerial photos and spoke to many people in the community and our employees on the farm. There were many tearful moments as people came forward to tell their stories of the impact Dominion has had on the lives of the people of the area. One early morning they went to see the women who keep our rice fields groomed. These women meet every day on their own to pray before work. Barbara and I stayed on the side, trying not to interfere while they sang and prayed, but when they finished they requested that I come and address them. I thanked them for all their hard work and being so grateful for their jobs. When I finished they motioned for Barbara to come forward and then the tears started to roll. There stood 300 women in a field of rice hugging and holding on to her, expressing their love and appreciation for their changed lives. The news crew was touched so much that composure was all but lost. Story after story came forward of goat herders turned into tractor drivers. Schools and clinics Dominion has contributed to constructing were visited in communities around the area.

Since we are all out of living space, the news crew had to stay at a small hotel about 25 KM away. One evening while taking them there I met up with Barry, a young man from Alabama who had been trying to make contact with me for the past few weeks. After dropping the crew at the hotel I was returning to Siaya and made a wrong turn instead ending up going through a small village where village justice was being practiced. A man sat on the ground surrounded by the village people carrying sticks, and judiciously beating him. He had obviously not lived up to their standards and a “caning” was in progress. As soon as I realized what was happening I turned the car around and backtracked to the same place only to find the ceremony was over and all had dispersed. Perhaps knowing an outsider had observed to procedure made them quit or they had mercy on the man. Often these rituals end in the death of the subject person.

Barry and I hit it off well. He is a member of a black church of formerly poverty stricken people in Alabama who decided to do something about their situation. Thirty years ago they pooled all their resources form 150 members living on food stamps and purchased a convenience store. Then they used the food stamps to by food at the store and from the profits paid for the store. Soon, they had four stores. These were sold and they started to purchase farmland, and now have 5000 acres of productive land. All their members are off welfare and have jobs at the farm. This place I have got to see.

Barry’s church was asked to come to a community in Kenya and tell them how to do the same there. They wanted to know the Dominion story and have my help to transform their community. I agreed to meet the community on Wednesday morning. The community is only accessed via dreadful roads but after an hour of 4-wheeling we were there. A group of 30 very poor but hopeful people waited in a small school for me to describe our Community Farm program to them. Chris interpreted and they listened intently taking every detail and asking valid questions. They have over 200 acres with river frontage which they want to pool together and farm as a unit with the help of Dominion and Barry’s church. Their incomes will go up by 5 to 10 times depending on crops grown. I expect this project to proceed but it is up to them; it is a break through for groups to lay down their pride and traditions for the common good, a theme Dominion has been promoting for years now. Someone is listening.

Wednesday morning we had a staff meeting with the senior managers of the various departments from the farm. This place is a tough place to live, isolated from the world, and it wears on people. Frustration levels easily exceed what a man can take and we all need to work together, sharing scarce equipment, and looking out for each other. Feathers are easily ruffled and tempers can often flare, but we are all setting examples of what must be accomplished to change this land of desperate people. We will all try harder.

The fish farm construction is progressing well with 12 green water ponds complete and 300,000 fish in half of them. The main grow-out ponds are now being built and four should be operational by February 1, 2010. The fields are harvesting well with yields similar to those of farms in the US. Our rice tastes good and it is now being processed for sales next week. Barring another hail storm we will have our granaries full within three months. New fields are being reclaimed from the swamp with around 400 acres close at hand for new planting.

Friday morning we met with our rice distributor for the area around the farm in Siaya. We are about ready to expand our distribution into Nairobi and working on those strategies. Kevin was our first distributor and consistently our best so we need his input and we hope he is involved in the expansion into Nairobi. Two years ago Kevin was an unemployed youth looking for direction. He began to sell and has worked very hard at it, now selling around 100,000 pounds of rice a month and growing; he purchased his first car this week and we are so proud of his accomplishments.

Friday afternoon we had a Christmas dinner for our staff at the same little hotel and the food was good, but our time was short. We had a hasty trip back to the farm and then on to Kisumu to catch the last plane into Nairobi and our last meeting of the day just before boarding for Amsterdam. As I stepped off the plane in Nairobi the phone rang. Our driver, returning to the Farm from Kisumu had a tragic accident on the way. A young man on a bicycle somehow drove out on the road in front of him and in trying to avoid the bicycle rolled and demolished the jeep and tragically the life of the man on the bicycle was ended. The driver was not badly injured but very sore. Life in Africa is so often suddenly scarred with death. Accidents, injury, sickness, killings, and war are so common here, but that does not make it any easier for those involved. We pray for the family of the deceased young man. As we boarded the plane for Amsterdam there was a sick feeling of hopeless pain in our hearts.

Currently we are three hours out of Detroit over the wilderness of Northern Canada. We are anxious to get to our respective homes, but can not wait to return to Kenya in just a few more weeks again. Sixty-eight trips are not easy and equate to over 2800 hours in coach class seats, but it is worth it, in the changed lives of the people.

May God bless the People of Kenya!


Steve said...

I enjoyed you blog and article.
God bless....My heart still is in East Uganda. I tried to looked up your farm on the Map and guessed where it is near Kisumu.
Steve Costello, Edmond

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the blog. I really enjoy hearing about the wonderful things God is leading you to do for the precious people there. That was a great story about Barry from Alabama, too. What an encouragement to hear about what they are doing to improve their situation!
Linda Stewart

re'gine said...

I visited your farm a few years ago while working for one of the multinational banks in Kisumu.
The work you are doing is very impressive. I was impressed by your willingness to incorporate the community in your activites, an aspect that most companies forget or choose to ignore.
Congratulations, God bless and if you need an administration person with local and international experience, please let me know.


madd medico said...

my name is DAvid the area where Dominion is located is my home area and i must say thank you for the good work that you are doing to my people. my father is one of your engineers there and for that my younger brothers were able to get through their high school. am really thankfull Dominion Farms were a Godsend........please advice me how one can apply to become a distributor since i live and work in nairobi i can arrange to be your distributor in Nairobi. once more many thanks

Cheap phone calls from Nigeria said...

Totally enjoyed this entire blog!!