Solomon Owiti with a bag of saplings

R & A: Improving our Lives and our Planet by Organic Change By Solomon Owiti: Rusinga Island Permaculture Lead

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Following on perfectly from Joy’s article last week, Solomon, also from Rusinga Island, dives deeper into the positive impacts being felt by the Mothers of the Forest alliance on Rusinga Island. 

Solomon notes how climate change, and the resulting food and water insecurity, continue to cause problems for the Islanders. 

This fuels his passion to continue to help the Mothers of the Forest by boosting their knowledge of syntropic agroforestry, organic growing and permaculture, creating perfect opportunities for the Mothers to advance themselves and improve biodiversity for everyone.

Don’t forget, you can listen to Joy’s report and previous episodes by visiting

A Moment of Reflection and Thanks

Let me begin by taking a moment on behalf of my whole community to express our feelings of gratitude for the amazing year we’ve had through 2022/3. Simon West, Tracey West and the Word Forest Organisation fraternity, let me once more say thank you. You made me truly confirm the existence of the phrase: “If you want to go fast, go alone and if you want to go far, go together”

In spite of all of our challenges with the weather, rising temperatures and big cost of living increases since COVID, we have had a good year full of sustainable development projects in the community that target climate change, as well as improving our food and water security. 

The New Normal

Over the past decade and more, Rusinga Island has been seriously hit by the terrible effects of global heating. We could go for 5-6 months without a single drop of rain. Our grandparents used to have 2 planting seasons per year but now, things have happened such that we are even straining to have one. This has led to a great deal of food insecurity, worry and stress on our Island. 

However, in association with the Lake Victoria Peace and Sustainability Center and with financial support from Word Forest, we’ve planted and are taking care of around 100,000 trees. Their ongoing care is being done because we have mobilised our youngsters, women and men. We are taking an all round approach to getting everyone involved because we know we will all benefit from it in the long run.


Everybody here knows this planting and this work is making a difference to climate change here and around the world. Many people have improved the standards of living in the community through tree planting. Many people have diverted their minds away from fishing Lake Victoria (which is very, very overfished) and they are focused on small-scale organic farming with permaculture methods. Fishing was the main and only real economic activity around here. Now, we know we need to conserve our existing mature forests and plant more trees too, if we are all to survive and thrive into the future. Word Forest has encouraged us to spread that message far and wide.

We have reached out to the men and women, girls and boys in our communities through Word Forest projects with tree planting and environmental education. We’ve shared ideas, had meetings with open minds and free flowing thoughts. We have made a big impact caring for our Mother earth as well as the people and wildlife upon it. We feel like together, we are coming to the rescue of our planet and through many different initiatives, we are making good progress with all members of society.

The Mothers of the Forest

I know you will have read about the Mothers from my colleague Joy, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the group too. The Mothers come from all the different corners of Rusinga Island. They have formed a powerful alliance with each other and they are learning so much about all matters relating to climate change and food production. Each and every one of them is now equipped with permaculture and syntropic agroforestry knowledge and they utilise that in order to raise their own organic food and fresh produce for themselves and their neighbours.

During their 2 main workshops each month – held on the first and last Wednesday of every month – they come together to share a meal, discuss matters pertaining to just being women and of empowerment. It has been the pleasure of my wife Florence and I to offer our home so they can do these efforts in comfort. I know at some point in the future, we will build an Edible Classroom where they can work. For now, this is all good. 

These meetings have made the women play a much bigger role in the wider community. They are all taking care of more trees than they were before. Together, we’ve planted 500 additional trees around our Permaculture Training Centre. Their kitchen gardens by their homesteads are flourishing too because they are implementing the permaculture principles and ethics. I am so proud to be part of their learning.

Word Forest Came to the Island

We were very much happy to receive the Word Forest Team in December 2022, led by Simon West, Tracey West and Phil Gamble, their permaculture expert from the UK. They also brought along Eva from Garashi, Coast Province and Paul and Laura Clark, Word Forest Corporate Partners, Phat Pasty, from the UK. We all had many very wonderful moments planting trees together, offering permaculture advice during the workshops Phil led and the gifts we were given made a very big impact on us and our families.

I am a lover of football, as are many youths and men from the Island. One of the most memorable events from their visit was the arrival of the kindly donated football kit from Bristol Rovers, which was given to our local football team. We have renamed ourselves the Rusinga Rovers in their honour! 

We have a new initiative and we’re using football as a way to engage with the younger generation and also for us to be more inclusive in the community. Word Forest already does great work with women, but they know we mustn’t forget the men and youths too! The arrival of the football kit and the naming of the Rusinga Rovers was very powerful. We have a men’s and a women’s football team and when Word Forest were with us, we brought everyone together to do some tree planting in thanks. 

Bristol Rovers kit and footballs were donated by the Bristol Rovers Community Trust and we remain incredibly grateful to them. To add to this already great concept, Simon West came up with the idea of a Trees for Trainers project and I am so pleased to say the players in the mens, youths and women’s team now have trainers to wear when they play. This has made a huge difference to their health and their minds too. We all feel stronger and more united as we look the same, we are a proper team!

We know we need to start our own sapling nursery so we can keep up with all the planting we want to do in the future. We know this is going to take infrastructure, some buildings and more fencing. As soon as we are able to receive funds, we will get to it, we will make the Island proud with our saplings and more planting. Our humble request is that we start creating a tree nursery so we can get back on our journey towards regenerating Mother Earth for us now, and for future generations too.

Developing the Permaculture Teaching Centre

With gracious assistance from Word Forest, we have managed to fence in 1 hectare of my farm that I have willingly donated to the project from my family’s land. This space will be of so much benefit to the Mothers of the Forest and to other groups that come there to learn.

As Rusinga Island has moved to being a one season planting community, animals are usually being left to graze freely where they roam but there is a lack of food for them too. By putting a fence around the Mother’s vegetable planting area, we’re doing all we can to fully protect the food we human beings need to survive.

I am so happy we have created this little Permaculture Teaching Centre. We can demonstrate how to carry out the practices of Bill Mollinson, the creator of permaculture. This is what we all need across the whole of Kenya. I remain confident Word Forest will be able to raise more funds and do this undertaking.

Nobody in this world is doing things perfectly. We are all human. We all need to share ideas, information, minds, thoughts and energy for the betterment of our communities today and tomorrow. We know that by putting our energy into teaching permaculture, we are planning to make good use of the little knowledge we have gained so far. We hope to be able to train more and more people in the ways of this simple land management system. I know our demonstration farm will really help in the long term.

One of the first things we did there was to build a safe and proper pit latrine toilet and to get a large water tank installed so we can store and gather fresh water. Once we have a teaching building with a good roof, we will be able to take advantage of the runoff water. We have created all the right conditions for a training centre to be most effective. These important things are in place and we have lots of food growing too in the safe arms of the trees we’ve planted. All we need now is our first Edible Classroom and I know that will come as soon as it possibly can, we are ready!

Looking to the Future

With our shared mission to spread more sustainable development projects across the Island, targeting the improvement of food and water security, we will see the need to fully advocate more permaculture and syntropic agroforestry lessons.

In the year ahead, our Word Forest team is going to concentrate on getting more of our members trained and furnished with Permaculture Design Certificates (PDCs). In time, I believe it will be possible to offer more training to everyday people here on the Island and to make learning simpler and affordable. Our teaching centre is so well placed for this to happen and we are excited about the future for the first time in many years.

Everyone here looks forward to 2023/4 being a great year of action with Word Forest and the communities on Rusinga Island. 

Asante sana for all of your belief in what we are doing and for your support into the future.

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