The Rastafarian Community: H.I.M. Negus Shiriki
Located in the community of Maragua, a couple of hours from Nairobi, is the Rastafarian community of Negus Shiriki. This group of about ten people occupied nearly one and a half acres of land to raise crops using biontensive techniques as well as to live according to the ethics of their religion, renouncing many material desires and focusing their energy on building an intimate and sacred relationship with the forces of nature.
During a visit we were guided by a community member who took us through the fields showing us much more than the 100 varieties of plants among which there were trees, edible plants, medicinal plants and those used in rituals.
“This one fixes the nitrogen, fertilizes the soil. This one controls pests. This one here works to cut out the parasites” our guide said as he walked along, smiling, in the vegetable garden, followed by his little daughter. “She could give you this tour” our guide says “at her age she already knows the names of all of these plants and what they are good for.”
“And what do your neighbors say about you?” one of the members of the group asked. “The neighbors appreciate us and come to ask for medicinal plants when they need them,” he pointed out. He then added, “the Rastafarians do not beg, they produce what they eat. That is what our neighbors think of us and that is why they respect us.”
After the tour through the farm, our hosts announced, “It is a tradition that those who visit us plant a tree.” Led by community members, we broke up in pairs to plant our trees. The one I planted was a lemon tree.
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The tree planting ceremony was followed by a sumptuous meal and some crafts shopping. We met with the only woman in the community who had just had twins; I could not help asking her, “What do you think of polygamy?” “It’s good,” she replied, ”it generates ties between the communities, and makes for there to be more women in the community and that brings prosperity and abundance.” Later, she invited us to her home, a humble shack built from mud and she showed us her babies, two precious children who appeared to be quite underweight, “the birth got complicated for me, they had to take me to the hospital and then I was admitted for two weeks, the father had to bring them home and they did not nurse from me during that time, they were fed moringa, a very nutritious plant that we have, they are going to recuperate now that I am here.”
After saying our goodbyes my mind was trying to grapple with the fact that they lived in a mud hut. Why do the babies drink moringa and not milk? Why do they weigh so little if there is such abundance on the farm? The next day I woke up and shared my impressions with a Canadian documentary film maker who went with us to that community and he told me, “Look, they live the best they can, they interact in a healthy way with the environment and they seem to be happy. That they may not be living in a way that you consider good or correct does not mean that they are not living well.” I bowed my head in silence and thanked him for the lesson.
Photo 1. Members of the Rastafarian community displaying the diversity and the agroecological design of their land.
Which way will Africa go?
The future of agriculture in Africa will be the battle of forces between big capital and social movements. Big capital is led by organizations that call for neocolonial solutions that concentrate resources in the hands of a restricted elite, as in the case with the Gates Foundation and its biotechnological proposal. Social movements call for alternatives based on self-sufficiency, redistribution and equality such as the movement for food sovereignty with experiences like those described in this series.
The European colonial occupation left deep wounds in the psyches of the people and in the systems of government where it was imposed. In addition, it completely transformed the systems of production and land holding and the use of resources. It imposed large-scale landholding with a model of agricultural development based on the monoculture of colonial products for export like coffee, tea and, more recently, transgenic crops like corn. It seized control of the lands and privatized natural resources. It has defended corporate interests, with blood and fire, and the laws that benefit private over public interest. This colonial legacy perpetuates poverty and is, at the same time, the main obstacle to implementing alternative agricultural proposals.
In most African countries agricultural, fishing, and livestock activities make up the largest sections of the economy. This, without a doubt, is one of the main strengths of the African small farmers movement. To a great degree the effect that this sector can have in the struggle to defend its rights and interest will depend on the unity and organization of the small farmers’ sector.
Organizations like La Via Campesina and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa take an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-patriarchal stance and, based on this, they set out the guidelines that the African agricultural model should follow: Agro-ecology and gender-equity are the main slogans of the struggle.
Which way is African agricultural policy headed? That is an open question. But there is no doubt that the experiences presented in this series show that the demands for sustainable agriculture are not weak, nor are they isolated. In Africa there are people working tirelessly with dedication to inclusion, diversity and autonomy. They are people fighting relentlessly for life!
* This is the fourth segment of a series entitled ‘Africa and its Crossroads: Will it be Possible to be Sustainable?’ Written after a visit by the author to Kenya to participate in the general meeting of Agricultural Biodiversity Community (ABC) in November 2015.