On June 15, 2014, armed gunmen entered Mpeketoni, a small community of approximately 1,000 people southwest of Lamu, Kenya. The attackers torched businesses, homes and vehicles and killed approximately 60 people, mostly men. A smaller attack occurred in July where the gunmen targeted the nearby village of Hindi and killed another 30 people. These attacks resulted in the deaths of between 90-100 people, with nearly 5,000 people internally displaced and living in either a prison compound or nearby forests.
Edwin Kuria, a communications officer with World Concern, an NGO working with the displaced people, talked with those who were affected. One of the men, a cashew farmer named Lawrence, says “I wish night would never come.” Another man asked him “What can you do to take away my fear?” Edwin says this man is so scared that the sound of people jogging terrifies him.
One of the organizations working to help the people recover is the Integra Foundation, a Slovak NGO that works in communities to alleviate poverty by creating development opportunities. Integra was created in the early 1990s by members of the Navigators in Eastern Europe, and continues to have a close co-operation with the Navigators of Canada. Integra has been working with the cashew farmers in the area, about 3,500 in total, to provide high-quality training in fair trade and organic farming.
Allan Bussard, Integra’s director, says the effects of an attack like this extend far past the destroyed infrastructure. “The community is thrown into upheaval; the kids quit going to school, the businesses stop working, the farmers neglect their crops. Even after they might return, they go back and their house is burned, their crops are gone and so if one was managing to stay above the poverty line, they sink below it and struggle to get back out again.”
A significant difficulty the farmers face in staying above poverty is dealing with brokers who exploit them. Integra’s involvement with the Mpeketoni farmers began last year to help them form a co-operative and cut these middlemen out.
David Ogiga, Integra’s business development manager for this initiative, says the brokers operate “like a cartel.” They offer half the normal unit price and delay purchasing if the farmer refuses to pressure them into accepting, or else risk losing their crop to spoilage because they lack long-term storage capabilities. “No one is really connected with anyone, just the farmer and broker, and the farmer ends up broke,” David says. “The farmer has everything to lose in conventional farming, but if they start into fair trade, they have everything to benefit.”
In addition to providing training, Integra has also taken on the role of buyer and processer through their Ten Senses fair trading company, founded in 2005. This gives the farmers a reliable buyer who will buy their crops at harvest time without delay and give them the price set by FairTrade International. In addition, for every kilogram sold, FairTrade International stipulates the farmers receive an additional portion of the unit price, called a social premium. These are put into a community fund for the farmers to use on development projects, such as building clinics, schools, water wells, etc.
In June, Integra was set to begin a training program for organic farming, but the attack on the eve of the roll-out prevented it from being immediately implemented. Despite the uncertainty about how to regroup and keep going, the farmers are eager to continue the program to make up for lost time. With organic farming, the payoff is that organic cashews fetch a higher price than fair trade cashews on the international market.
To keep the training momentum going, Integra is training five representatives from the farmers’ groups in Nairobi in August. David says these representatives will be “trainers of trainers. When we roll out the organic training program, they’re the ones who will visit the farms and help us.” Despite the setback in training caused by the attack, Integra is taking proactive steps to ensure the farmers will continue to receive high-quality training in a sustainable manner, as well as equipping them so they will be able to teach future generations.
Allan says Integra’s approach is to be holistic, to help the farmers find sustainable solutions for the problems they face in ways that reap both material and spiritual benefits. “Ministry is just as much helping people climb out of poverty,” he says, “as it is giving them explanations to the meaning of the world. It’s right at the core of our ministry because people were designed to live a life that is more dignified than a lot of these people get a chance to live.”