While pursuing her Ph.D. in entomology at Auburn University in 2011, Esther Ngumbi (in-GOOM-bee) studied the use of parasitoid wasps to control major insect pests in corn.
Now, as a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Agriculture’s plant pathology program, she is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which “good” bacteria in the soil can produce improved growth, insect resistance and stress tolerance in agricultural crops.
The objective of both projects: sustainable food production in countries around the globe.
As a native of the Mabafweni village on Kenya’s south coast, she is especially concerned about the sad state of agriculture there, and she is determined to transform farming and lives in her home community and her home county of Kwale.
That’s why she founded Oyeska Greens two years ago. She describes the Oyeska Greens initiative, which she launched with her brother Kennedy, as “a startup venture committed to revolutionizing agriculture along the Kenyan Coast.”
“We want to empower smallholder African farmers, most of them women, with the knowledge to succeed and to show them, this is what it takes to succeed versus what we’ve been doing here for generations,” she says. “My mission is to help modernize farming practices, to show these farmers that they can do more if they work together and to transform the Kenyan Coast into an agricultural hub.”
These goals are based on personal experience. Although both of Ngumbi’s parents were teachers, their pay was meager. The only food they could provide for their five children was what they grew on their 10-acre farm.
“But we never knew the health of our soils, and many years, since we are rain-fed agriculture, we would plant all our seed, and then it would never rain,” she says. “We would put out lots of chemicals, too, but we never thought that the products we were applying might not even be what was needed.
“And most of the time, we got nothing, or very, very little.”
In Oyeska Greens’ first year, Ngumbi and her brother convinced 18 Kwale County farmers to participate in the project and trained them in greenhouse production, modern production practices, technology, smart marketing, hand irrigation
from shared wells and the value of
By the end of the first growing season, Oyeska Greens farmers had collectively harvested more than 3 tons of bell peppers and more than 4 tons of tomatoes, most of which they actually sold at a farmers market several miles away.
Collectively, the marketed crops generated close to $1,000 a year in the first two seasons. In Mabafweni, the average per capita income is $3 per day.
Learn more about Oyeska Greens at www.oyeskagreens.com.
Ngumbi is a motivational speaker and has received numerous prestigious honors, most recently being named a Food Security Fellow of the Aspen Institute and a 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University Mentor for Agriculture.
In 2011, One World Action, a London charity fighting for a world free from poverty and oppression named her to its list of “100 Women: the unseen powerful women who change the world.”