Mohamed Bilala, ActionAid Kenya’s Warehouse Supervisor in drought-hit Isiolo, shows me a room packed with maize and through to another packed with pulses. So far so normal in a drought relief situation.
The next room, however, leaves me momentarily disoriented. With row upon row of shovels and pile upon pile of pick axes, it looks less like an emergency distribution warehouse and more like a DIY centre.
Another way of looking at it though, is that this is a room with a long-term answer to Kenya’s current food shortages.
This is the main warehouse for ActionAid’s food distribution in Isiolo – which, in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), is providing food relief to communities who are currently unable to provide enough food for themselves. It is also the centre of ActionAid’s Food for Assets programme. In exchange for staple foods people are working on projects which will build ‘assets’ for their community.
The work communities are involved in takes many shapes and forms. Michael Thiauri, ActionAid Technical Advisor, explains that communities decide what is going to be most appropriate to the area they are living in and which will yield the biggest results. In areas that receive erratic rainfall, for instance, they may work on structures like irrigation channels or zai pits, which enable them to collect run off rain water. These simple structures mean farmers can store precious rain water and channel it to their farms or home gardens.
Elsewhere, communities may choose to work on surfacing a road so they are better able to transport their produce to a nearby market. Or they may plant trees to provide pasture for their livestock and help to regenerate a piece of land which has been overused. Whatever the project, and however their working day is spent, communities are investing their time in projects that address the challenges they face today.
Mike explains, “vulnerable people living in North East Kenya are living day to day. They have families to feed so they rely on work that will give them immediate sources of income to buy food and water. As a result, they spend most of their time working on the farms of the rich or doing casual labour just to take care of their stomachs.”
This means they have to leave their own farmers unattended and renders them forever dependent on others. If farmers want to improve the productivity of their own land, they need to invest time and resources – a luxury that most can’t afford as tilling land or digging a water dam won’t put food on the table today.
Drought will happen again in Kenya, but aid agencies like ActionAid intervening with food relief is not a foregone conclusion. There are simple, cheap and practical solutions which farmers can use to increase their productivity. They just need the support, the tools and resources to be able to implement them.
Alongside the WFP, ActionAid is reaching more than 60,000 people in Mwingi and Isiolo through the Food for Assets scheme.
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