GROUP of men and women are gathered in a field in Kenya,
measuring distances using lengths of string. Following them are
others, who are digging small holes at very precise angles, and
applying specific amounts of fertiliser and seed. There is a great
deal of laughter and animated talk, but also concentration.
These pastors and church leaders from the Anglican and Roman
Catholic Churches in Kenya are learning a form of agriculture
called "Farming God's Way", which is not only helping to restore
degraded land and protect the environment, but is also increasing
crop yields - sometimes significantly, by three, five, or even ten
In the words of the trainer Craig Sorley, of Care of Creation
Kenya, it is a way of farming that "gives glory to God and hope to
Agriculture is the backbone of sub-Saharan Africa, providing the
biggest source of employment, livelihoods, and foreign exchange.
Yet African agriculture is in crisis: soils are worn out, and
agricultural production is falling. Fragile soils in Africa suffer
from a combination of poor agricultural practices, degradation of
natural resources, overgrazing, and the pressure of growing
Other problems include lack of access to land, particularly for
women farmers. Most people farm on plots of two hectares, or
smaller, and these smallholders provide as much as 90 per cent of
the agricultural production in some countries.
As populations increase, the soil is worked harder on
ever-decreasing plots. The International Fertilizer Development
Center (IFDC) estimates that sub-Saharan Africa loses about eight
million tonnes of soil nutrients per year, and that more than 95
million hectares of land has been degraded to the point of greatly
Farming God's Way is a faith-based approach to farming, founded
on the idea that God is the master farmer, and that he calls people
to be faithful stewards of the land. "Farming God's Way puts God
back where he belongs - into the very centre of how we view and
practise agriculture," Mr Sorley says. "This is a holistic approach
that ministers to farmers, addressing the spiritual and physical
roots of the decline that is taking place.
"For Christians, the story of agriculture begins in Eden, with
the knowledge that God was the one who planted a magnificent and
diverse garden. This story brings tremendous meaning and dignity to
the realm of agriculture. As Christian gardeners, we need to follow
the example of the first farmer, and uphold the Garden of Eden as a
model to be pursued. The beauty of a healthy, productive, and
well-cared-for agricultural landscape should be a testimony to the
N PRACTICE, Farming God's Way is similar to conservation
agriculture, which is promoted by secular groups, such as the UN's
Food and Agriculture Organiza-tion, as a form of climate-smart
agriculture that both restores degraded land and increases crop
Its supporters say that, besides reducing drudgery for
smallholders, this farming method nourishes the soil, and enables
it to retain water better, which means that it is particularly
useful in dry areas.
The difference with Farming God's Way is that it is based around
biblical teachings. "Conservation agriculture is Farming God's Way
without God," Mr Sorley says. "But it's the God part of this
picture that really changes attitudes."
The core principles, he says, are: first, minimal disturbance of
the soil (no tillage). Ploughing destroys the soil structure,
including the micro-organisms that live in the soil, leading to
erosion and rapid water loss.
Second, permanent organic cover in the form of mulch. "In
creation, we observe that God does not leave the soil bare." This
improves the soil's ability to absorb water, and adds organic
Third, no burning of crop residues, as is common in African
agriculture. These are used instead to cover the soil.
Finally, crop rotation, which reduces the build-up of
crop-specific pest and disease problems.
N KIJABE, west of Nairobi, Mr Storey grows crops using both
Farming God's Way methods and conventional agriculture, in order to
compare the results. His plots are only a few years old; with every
year, the soil will become richer and more productive.
Even so, he has already seen big differences. In 2012, he
harvested 89 kg of potatoes from his Farming God's Way plot, and
just 51 kg from the conventional plot. His bean harvest was even
more impressive -three-and-a-half times as much from the Farming
God's Way plot compared with the conventional one.
'They are planted on the same day - same variety, same small
amount of inorganic fertiliser applied, and this is all rain-fed
agriculture," he says. "The beauty of this is that it's simple,
it's achievable, you use your own resources in the community - you
don't have to bring in fertilisers and seeds from the outside. It's
just a change in commitment to the soil itself. If we restore the
soil, we will bring more food into our families.'
His results are echoed elsewhere in Africa where similar
techniques are applied. In Uganda, for example, the Ministry of
Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries reports that crop yields
are up to 600 per cent higher on farms that use conservation
Augustine Muema Musyimi, of the Methodist Church in Kenya,
attended one of Mr Storey's workshops. "We've trained people to
understand what the Lord says about farming," he says, "and,
because we are Christians, that really resonates with us. We feel
that we need to take care of creation, and of the way we are
"What do I think? That farming will be transformed across Kenya,
that many people will learn to farm in a way that glorifies the
Lord, and our produce will increase. We will conserve our land, and
it will be richer."
N THE first weeks of this year, an unusual workshop was held in
Nairobi. About 30 imams had gathered there from all over the
country to learn the practical techniques involved in farming
sustainably - techniques that are based on Islamic teachings about
caring for Allah's creation. This was the first training workshop
in a new Islamic approach to agriculture, Islamic Farming,
developed by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), and
the UK-based international Muslim NGO Global One 2015, after
requests from ARC's Muslim faith-partners.
The seeds of this new approach go back to ARC's Nairobi
celebration in 2012 to launch 27 long-term plans for the
environment, developed by Christian, Muslim, and Hindu faith-groups
in sub-Saharan Africa.
During the two-day meeting, Muslim participants listened to the
presentations on Farming God's Way. They were particularly struck
by the way it both improved crop yields and protected the
environment, through linking a farmer's faith to the way she or he
cared for the land. At the end, they had a question: "What about
Muslim farmers? Why isn't there a faith-based approach to farming
It was a good question. Out of 910 million people in sub-Saharan
Africa, 248 million are Muslim, and many are small-scale farmers.
As a result of this call, ARC and Global One 2015 began working
with Muslim faith-partners in Africa to develop a faith-based
manual and training programme inspired by Islamic teachings and
This would be the first manual specifically designed for Muslim
farmers using the practical prin- ciples of conservation
agriculture, but with a spiritual foundation based entirely on
Islamic scriptures and teachings.
The first step was a thorough theological assessment of Islamic
scriptures. Focus-group meetings were held with Muslim clerics and
scholars in Uganda and Kenya to consider issues connected with
Islam and farming, and there was considerable enthusiasm for the
project from all involved.
N UGANDA, Muslim farmers attended a Farming God's Way workshop
so that they could see how the Christian faith was integral to the
teaching, while also learning the practical techniques used.
The environmental champion Hajjat Aphwa Kaawaase Sebyala was
among the Muslims to receive this training, and afterwards planted
her garden using Farming God's Way techniques.
The results, which came after a prolonged dry period in which
conventional crops experienced almost total failure, amazed
Even though she had started her planting late, with little time
to prepare her land properly, her Farming God's Way plot had a
50-per-cent survival rate, showing that it dealt with the very dry
conditions much better than the conventional plots. And her Farming
God's Way maize cobs were twice the size of the traditionally
farmed maize: "This Farming God's Way really works," Ms Sebyala
Delighted though she was, her success brought unexpected
problems. "Many people resorted to stealing from our Farming God's
Way plot, as the cobs were really big, healthy, and attractive,"
she said, shrugging philosophically. "I understand why: they needed
The Islamic Farming handbook was launched in Nairobi this year,
to great enthusiasm from the Muslim community. What makes Islamic
Farming different is that it speaks to Muslim farmers in the
language of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
The Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, which represents Muslims
in Kenya, has established a demonstration and training farm on a
700-acre site in Thika, Kenya. Another ten demonstration farms have
been established elsewhere in Kenya, and a further ten in
This is an edited extract from Faith in Food: Changing
the world one meal at a time by Susie Weldon and Sue Campbell,
published by Bene Factum Publishing at £14.99 (Church Times