Cummins teaches food security in Kenya
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 05/21/2012 1:44 PM
CHARLES CITY, Iowa —When George Cummins of Charles City retired from Extension in 2010, his goal was to return to Africa to teach.
In February he completed a three-week volunteer assignment in Kenya. It was his second trip to Kenya in 18 months.
Cummins, a retired field agronomist, served three years in Tanzania with the Peace Corps. Later, he and his wife, Vonda, trained local Extension workers in Swaziland. He volunteered in Malawi during his years with Extension.
During his most recent assignment, Cummins was assigned to the Kitui Development Center, located in the semi-arid region of Kenya, three hours southeast of Nairobi, the capital city. KDC is a local Kenyan organization that has initiated rural development activities geared to socio-economic development and poverty reduction.
"I so admire the staff of men and women at KDC," Cummins said. "They are well educated, work together well and are very dedicated."
He told how KDC received funding to do a survey asking 200 households in the Kitui District how they were adapting to climate change. The staff had just five days to complete the survey.
"On my last day there, I sat in on a weekly staff meeting that ended at 3 p.m.," Cummins said. "By 4 p.m. the staff had jumped on motorcycles and scattered throughout the district to do the survey. They planned to be back in four days."
Cummins' assignment was to address food security issues.
Because of limited rainfall, poor harvests, inadequate drying and storage, and grain molds that produce mycotoxins, supplies of quality food and feed are inadequate, Cummins said.
KDC has set up several food stores across the area to address immediate food needs. The food stores are stocked with corn and beans shipped in from Busia, a distant town on the Kenya/ Uganda border.
Cummins worked with KDC staff to develop an action plan for the formation of food banks based on the Genesis Strategy — a concept based loosely on Joseph's interpretation of Pharoah's dreams of fat cows and thin cows and the need to store in times of plenty to carry through the lean years.
KDC works with "self-help groups," small groups of people in and around a village who are eager for change. With Cummins' assistance, KDC staff and Kenyan Ag Extension officer Elijah Muviti conducted a workshop with one self-help group on food security issues. Ways to increase productivity and profitability, maintain grain quality after harvest and in storage, insure an adequate supply of food, and increase family incomes were identified by members of the group.
"Working with and being part of value-added, value-retained community development groups in Iowa over the years prepared me very well for this assignment," Cummins said. "People are basically the same and the methods and techniques that work well here, work well there as well."
A graduation ceremony was held for class participants.
"They were very proud of their certificates," Cummins said.
He also visited Dryland Seed in Machakos, where he volunteered 18 months ago. In both Kitui and Machakos, farmers operate small holder farms of less than 10 acres.
Cummins' assignment was organized as part of the Farmer-to-Farmer Program of CNFA, a Washington-based organization providing agricultural expertise to several countries in East and Southern Africa as well as four of the former Soviet Union republics. Additional information on CNFA and upcoming volunteer opportunities is available at www.cnfa.org.
Cummins offers this advice to people who would like to volunteer in Africa: "First, do no harm. Second, remember that you won't change the world in three weeks."