Living textiles

How human hands can turn a cotton boll or silk cocoon into thread, and then turn that thread into cloth is, to me, the epitome of ingenuity. And I’m intrigued by hand-decoration and embellishment of cloth, which breathes life into fabric and turns it into a work of art and beauty.

As a huge fan of handcrafted textiles, I’ve been consciously and unconsciously collecting functional and decorative pieces for nearly two decades.

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A hatbox of beauty, joy and healing: Meet Lali Heath, Kenya’s own couture milliner

Through her stunning creations, Lali Heath is bringing her lucky customers the smile and self-confidence that comes from crowning your look with a beautiful, impeccably crafted hat. And Lali herself is experiencing the power of handcraft to calm a distressed mind.

I caught up with Lali, exhibiting under her label, Lali Heath Millinery, at a Christmas craft fair in Nairobi last December.

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Crocheting cartridges: Dinah Cele weaves up one beautiful solution to e-waste

Meet Dinah Sibongile Cele, an unassuming Durbanite who is upcycling used printer tape into useful and decorative homewares and accessories.

Dinah never set out to be an eco-warrior. But when she was widowed at age 40, in 1998, she had to find a job—and quick— to sustain her two school-going daughters. She took up the first job she could find, working as a printing assistant at a small printing firm in Durban.

The company, where she still works, was generating a good amount of waste printer cartridges, and one day Dinah looked inside one.

She was intrigued by what she saw: perfect rolls of multicolored tape lay inside. The colours were vibrant; CMYK—cyan, magenta, yellow, and black—and the tape was coiled neatly in an endlessly repetitive pattern. She touched it and tugged at it.

“It could bend like this and like that. This thing is the same as plastic!” thought Dinah.

She asked her employer if she could take some of that tape home, and they were happy to oblige.

Now Dinah’s mother had always woven and crocheted. Basketry is famous among her tribe, the Zulu people of South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. Zulu women make their beautiful baskets mostly from the Ilala palm and the bark of ncebe, a wild banana. The baskets’ geometric patterns have meanings, with masculine and feminine symbols that can tell a story to the trained eye. These baskets have a super-tight weave, and besides storing and carrying grain, they are used to carry liquids like umkhomboti, a traditional Zulu beer.

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First ‘fruit tree portfolios’ established in Kenya, in a novel approach to improved year-round nutrition

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) researchers have launched a novel approach to tackle the problem of micronutrient deficiencies, also known as ‘hidden hunger.’ The fruit tree portfolio approach involves cultivating a set of fruit trees on farms, which is carefully designed to supply nutritious fruits to eat throughout the year, for diverse diets and improved health.

The fruit tree portfolio for a particular locality gives the optimum number and combination of ecologically suitable agroforestry tree species to provide for year-round fresh fruits for households’ requirements of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A, both essential nutrients. Because the trees in the portfolio have different harvest seasons spanning the entire calendar year, they provide a year-round supply of at least one fruit species per month for the household. Read more…

Agroforestry among ‘100 Under $100’ tools for women’s empowerment

In her new book ‘100 Under $100’, Betsy Teutsch rounds up a hundred innovative yet affordable tools and practices that can make a huge difference in the lives of poor women in low-income countries. Agroforestry is among these innovations.

Fertilizer trees raise and stabilize maize yields in Malawi. Photo: ICRAF
Fertilizer trees raise and stabilize maize yields in Malawi. Photo: ICRAF

Many of the tools featured, like childhood immunization, handwashing, and clean birth kits—are lifesaving. Others, like agroforestry, rainwater harvesting and beekeeping, ease labour and drudgery and provide income-generation options for women. Others still, like the internet and voting rights, give women a voice and open up their world. Read more. . .

More money and less risk for African eco-farmers

Rose Koech at her farm in Kembu, Kenya. She has a mixed farm with trees, crops, fodder species and vegetables. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF
Rose Koech at her farm in Kembu, Kenya. She has a mixed farm with trees, crops, fodder species and vegetables. Photo by Sherry Odeyo/ICRAF

A Greenpeace study in Malawi and Kenya has revealed that chemically-intensive farming hurts the bottom line of small-scale farmers; agroecological farming is more profitable.

Agroecology refers to a suite of sustainable farming practices that use few or no external chemical inputs. The approaches, often rooted in traditional farming techniques, include sustainable land management, water harvesting, agroforestry, biological control of pests and weeds, intercropping, organic farming, permaculture, and several others. Read more..