I met Daniel while he was working at the Wellness Center desk and I was teaching yoga. We both attended an Earlham Men’s basketball game. As the minutes dwindled, even though Earlham was losing, Daniel continued to say, “They’ve got time.” It became a mantra of hopefulness that I connected with him.
It wasn’t until later on that I realized that Daniel had embodied that hopefulness by putting action to goals-and by creating an ambitious project in Kenya.
Daniel Kibet ’19 took part in a modern-day Johnny Appleseed/Biblical Noah experience while growing up in Kenya.
“And now I have a deep interest in preserving the ecosystem, mainly the trees and vegetation,” says Kibet, an economics and business and nonprofit management double major at Earlham.
For years, Kibet and his father planted trees.
“We planted maybe 10,000 trees,” he says. “People were laughing. My father had to buy his maize and potatoes from other farmers, and they laughed at him.
Now we have wood. We have trees that can be used for electric poles, and we have tree tomatoes, (tamarillos) that are in demand,” he says. “A lot of farms lie idle, and instead of being idle, trees are a good idea. There’s not a lot of maintenance, they purify the air and they look nice.”
Foremost in his mind these days is an idea he calls the Mashinani (Swahili word for rural) Farming Initiative, a business that uses experiences and ideas from his life that shaped his interest in the environment.
“I want an app that is designed to connect farmers with potential buyers in undeveloped countries like Kenya,” he says. “We will have a specialist on site to visit the farm to test the characteristics of the land, the soil’s alkalinity, the altitude, the amount of rainfall. That will be taken into consideration with what other farmers are producing in that region, and the specialist will determine what type of crop is best suited to that land and region.”
Kibet hopes the app will eliminate the current model where most farmers plant maize and potatoes, which creates a saturated market and idle farms.
“Rather than clearing the land to plant the same crops over and over, this program will emphasize non-invasive ways of farming,” he says. “It will encourage farmers to interact with natural systems.”
Trees need time to grow, and farmers need to make money while the trees grow.
“I remembered when I was 10 years old climbing trees and was stung by a bee from a colony in the trunk,” he says. Although the sting caused pain and swelling, Kibet says the experience allowed him to see the benefit of beehives.
“If you plant trees, part of the idea is to put beehives in and sell honey to sustain yourself until the trees mature,” he says.
Mashinani Farming Initiative won $1,250 before bowing out in the second round of the Earlham Prize for Creative Capitalism competition during the spring competition. With part of the funds, Kibet placed 20 beehives on his father’s farm to serve as a model and encourage other farmers.
Also this past summer, Kibet worked with local builders to construct a simple latrine system and hand-washing station in his primary school in western Kenya. The new building, which replaces broken and unsanitary facilities, has five stalls for girls and two stalls and urinals for boys. Kibet was awarded $10,000 by Earlham for his Project for Peace to fund the construction. The award also paid for soccer balls and jump ropes for the children at the school.
Kibet learned about Earlham while a student at United World College Pearson in Canada, where he says he learned an even greater respect for the environment through sustainability. He was drawn to Pearson because of its greenhouse.
“I needed to know how that worked,” he says. “I learned how tiny strips of soil could be utilized in a way to produce vegetables more efficiently.”
He hopes the Mashinani Farming Initiative will expand to include greenhouses and container gardening for urban areas.