The 'snow peas' in Kenya: Diary of PhD Fieldwork in Kenya II

Submitted by DPP on Friday, September 2, 2016 - 11:32

The place the snow peas comes from: Nyeri to Milton Keynes via Nairobi and London; 

It’s a cold evening and I am sitting in a tiny hotel room tightly wrapped in warm clothes deep  in Nyeri County staring out of the window trying to catch a glimpse of the setting sun. It’s my last evening here, after 3 days of data collection, and as I have been told by the residents that I have to see both the majestic snow covered peaks of Mount Kenya and  the evening sun setting over the Mountain peaks; I am patiently waiting for the clouds to clear. For the last three days I have been unlucky, frequently craning my neck to gaze towards the mountain, even in the middle of interviews, hoping to catch a glimpse of the snow peaks. But I have been unlucky; the clouds have been tightly hugging the mountain peaks since I arrived spewing out chilly breeze that cascades down the forested mountain slopes, over the acacia woodlands, through the mosaic grass plains and thus blanketing the surrounding valleys with cold. From where I am sitting I am buffeted by Mount Kenya on one side and The Aberdares Ranges on the other and the plains and valleys in between covered with a sea of households stretching as far as my eye can see. While the Abedares is not as famous as its neighbour Mount Kenya, the ranges forms the eastern rim of the Great Rift Valley with heavily forested ravines and open moorlands with elephants, black rhinos, spotted hyenas and leopards roaming its slopes.

I am told from June to September, this place is habitually cold; if the winds from the Aberdares subside, the chillier ones from Mount Kenya engulf the whole place. The leaves of the snow peas are constantly swinging to the rhythm of the breeze from either Mount Kenya or the Aberdare’s. I am here for my fieldwork because this region, Nyeri County, is the leading place where exported snow peas from Kenya come from. Therefore, I have been meeting farmer groups for interviews and focus group discussions for the last three days.

Nyeri County is the home of Mount Kenya, with one of its peak forming the 2nd highest peak in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro. The slopes of the mountain are covered with thick evergreen forest which gives ways to gentler slopes and plains where elephants are known to roam. It here that the elephants frequently travel back and forth between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare’s, depending on the season, searching for water, pasture and for their famed maternity clinic. About 10 KM away from the foothills of Mount Kenya is the famed place where Mount Kenya elephants come to calve. This place locally referred to as Gaketha Elephant Maternity, is where expectant jumbos annually comes to calve! Though it is not known why the elephants would migrate here, and indeed prefer this place for calving, it has been speculated that since Gaketha is on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya, the jumbos prefer the safety of the gentle slopes for their new born calves. 

This place Nyeri is also the birth place for the late Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai. Maathai was born not far from the slopes of Mount Kenya and made her name working with rural women in rehabilitating portions of Mount Kenya forest that had been deforested. Also not far from here on the lee wide side of Mount Kenya towards the Laikipia plains within the Great Rift Valley, is the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy that sprawl 62, 000 acres of vast grasslands that fluctuates between lush green to golden brown depending on the season. The breathtaking conservancy at the foothills of Mount Kenya offers the perfect place for royal love to blossom into engagement!  Somewhere deep within this conservancy is the secluded wooden cabin where the then Prince William  proposed to the then-Kate Middleton while on safari in October 2010. And not far from here, within the Aberdares is the Tree Tops lodge where Princess Elizabeth acceded to the thrones of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms upon the death of her father while staying there in 1952.   

So this is Nyeri, the place where our snow peas comes from! A place with snow peaked mountain and heavily forest moorland that gives forth ice cold streams trickling down the mountain slopes into rivers to irrigate the snow peas planted in the valleys below, a place where moisture is captured by the chilly snow peak Mountain  locked in perpetual embrace and then violently released to fall as rains in the valleys and plains below to water the snow peas, a place where jumbos roams and breed and then meander off to calve in Gaketha their maternity clinic, a place where a princess beholds the setting sun and then with the rising of the sun and cooing of the Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike and the Long-tailed widow-bird is crowned a monarch for the commonwealth empire, a place where a seed for a new generation of royalty is borne forth in love when a prince charms a maiden and ask for her hand in marriage, a place where a future Nobel laureate is  born and learns her trade in environment conservation before she is thrust forth to the global stage. This place Nyeri is where the rightly called snow peas from Kenya come from. Next time I am in Milton Keynes and I hold that packet of chilled snow peas written ‘product of Kenya’ from Tesco supermarket, I will think of Nyeri the place that the peas comes; This place Nyeri!  

Fredrick Ajwang is a doctoral student in the DPP and his research is focused on the governance of vegetable export sector in Kenya through the lens of food regime as a critique to food sovereignty.