Sakota Guyo has witnessed years of cyclic droughts and the devastation that seeps in with them. He is sixty years old, and as people in other arid parts of Kenya queue for relief food to help them survive the drought, Guyo has found a reason to smile. He is among several small holder farmers in Gambella Village in the Isiolo District, Eastern Province of Kenya.
Isiolo lies 285 kilometers North of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya and just like other arid areas in Kenya, the area is vast, chapped dry and rocky.
Under a Food for Asset Project - a community owned project initiated by ActionAid and the World Food Programme and one that entails the creation of community projects that creates food security - Sakota Guyo and other Gambbella villagers have managed to grow and harvest sorghum, maize, tomatoes, green grams, kale and onions, owing to trenches they dug that channels water from Ngare Naitingi river. The water is enough to irrigate their crops.
Providing food in exchange for work has made it possible for communities to devote time and energy to removing the first steps toward the hunger trap. Although land used to harvest the crops is communally owned, they have divided the plots amongst each other.
"This water has allowed us to farm all year round in a relatively dry environment, leaving our work largely unharmed by the cyclic droughts", Guyo adds as he takes us around his green farms."
Beaming with hope, Guyo, who also happens to be the secretary of Gambella Self Help Group, tells us that after every harvest, he makes around 200,000 Kshs.
"I don't ever regret losing my 150 cows and 50 sheep because I am more financially stable now than before", Guyo adds as his wife harvests onions from their farm.
This project has enabled us to look beyond relief food. We have been given relief food for ages and that’s embarrassing. Every year, we see more people queuing for relief food. We want to tell the whole world that with this water, we can feed ourselves.
It is ironic that in this part of Isiolo villagers are sitting on a gold mine that could be harnessed to change the fortunes of the region as far as food security is concerned.
Using the Village's example, Romano Losike Nasur, an Action Aid food monitor for the area, called upon other pastoralists to diversify In order to avert the famine problem.
He believes that even if relief food is effective in saving lives in the short term, it may pave the way for future difficulties as it creates dependency. "There is need for long term sustainable solutions to be put in place", he adds.
As we continued to walk around the farms, we met with Madina Wario, a 30-year old farmer, with Sofia, her youngest daughter, digging trenches in her farm. Madina, who also happens to be a widow, tells us how the project has helped her and her six children.
"Previously, my family depended on goats. We had 67 of them, but 17 of them died because of drought and the rest were stolen in a raid that also killed my husband."
But Madina seems to have put all that behind her as she tells us that she makes over 700 Kshs daily after selling her tomatoes and onions harvested on her one acre farm. This is enough to cater for her and her children needs.
The work of digging out the trenches was carried out by local farmers under the supervision of ActionAid and the World Food Program.
The farmers were supported with food, seeds and farm tools. According to Abey Enoy, a beneficiary and also a member of Gambella Self Help Group, the project currently benefits over 200 households with every house having an average of 8 persons. The success of the project can be measured by the lack of dependency amongst it’s beneficiaries, creating self-sustaining projects that helps a community without infringing on their self-integrity is the real journey towards empowerment.