Leaving town of Isiolo is a relief to be honest. This ramshackle town has a sinister feel to it. The poverty is very apparent but that fact alone hasn’t troubled me in the past. Something is different here, it feels edgy.
Out of town the feeling couldn’t be more different. Amidst a dusty, semi-arid landscape plots have been planted with rows and rows of maize, spinach, onion, sweet potato and tomatoes. People greet us with a wave and a smile as we navigate the rocks and holes in the road within the project area of Kakili – we feel incredibly welcomed into the area.
With the help of Peterson and Jamlick from the local ActionAid office, we are able to meet with three small-holder famers in the area - all are women and participate in ActionAid Farmer Field Schools (FFS) close to home.
Before meeting these women I wasn’t sure how I would feel experiencing what we define as poverty first-hand but these women wouldn’t allow me, or anyone, to feel sorry for them. They are resourceful, hard-working, dedicated and driven to succeed – “We will not stop,” one of them told me.
The concept of FFS is one that has been around in the developing world for some time, but is new to this area as a response to food insecurity and an uncertain climate. Known as 'schools without walls', FFS offer a supportive and hands-on agricultural education experience for farmers. Using a dedicated piece of land and with the guidance of a facilitator, farmers learn about, and experiment with, sustainable and climate resilient farming techniques in a weekly supportive group environment. They then take these skills and knowledge back to their own farms to implement.
This model of support provides the farmers with life-long skills that will help them avoid hunger and poverty regardless of the climate conditions. They also provide seeds for the farmers to plan, loan irrigation pumps and foster a strong community of knowledge sharing.
The three women we met each had her own story of how involvement in the FFS had enabled her to turn her life in a different direction free from hunger. Elizabeth no longer relies on food relief to feed her family and is able to send her children to school. Susan not only produces enough food to feed her family, she is also able to sell produce at the market and make a profit. Agnes, who farms alongside her husband Steve, has been able to buy a water irrigation pump and use precious water from the creek to irrigate her farm.
Each woman spoke with pride about what they had achieved. They talked about the future with hope and each had plans to increase yield from their crops and build a strong agriculture business. Peterson explains to me that many of the women involved in FFS become incredibly motivated and most of them succeed thanks to the support they get. We managed to sit in on two of the FFS in Isiolo. There was a genuine camaraderie amongst the farmers and teacher. The women sang softly as they mixed soil and fertilizer and packed into black plastic bags ready to grow seedlings.
As for the photography, well the sun is all sorts of crazy hot and bright. Shooting anything between 10am and 4.30pm is near impossible unless we shoot inside or in the shade but it is difficult to tell any farming story inside! After a bit of negotiation with my hosts and pleading for a 6am departure, we’ve shifted the itinerary around a little so that we could do interviews or travel during the day and visit farmers in the evenings and just after dawn.
Being out before 7am this morning made a world of difference. Golden morning sun created lovely soft shadows and danced across the green leaves of the crops. We’ve been using a reflector a lot to balance the light and create shape across the faces of the farmers – big thanks to ActionAid Field Officer Jamleck who has become my pro light shaper by mastering the reflector in the field. I’d be lost without him!
Onwards now to Makima for a couple of days…