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The path to food security in Kenya

Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 16:01

One year ago, Kenya among other countries in the horn of Africa was affected by the worst drought in 60 years. Suddenly we needed to scale up our emergency response. We identified an urgent need to improve the communities’ resilience to droughts. In ActionAid Kenya, we worked around the clock to scale up the drought response and to support fundraising. This was done through photos and stories revealing the extent and severity of the drought especially to women and children.

These stories and photos were used to launch a fundraising appeal in the UK and other countries.

The support was overwhelming. As a result, ActionAid Kenya was able to alleviate suffering and embark on long-term recovery activities targeting 375,000 people. The number has long since grown beyond this target. The rains also came and the situation has really changed.

The once perched and dried up dams impounded water. The bare, dry and bone littered land regenerated with grass and the once gray and leafless trees grew leaves. The river banks are lined with green leafy vegetation and teaming with birds. The women who had to get into over 20 feet wells to fetch water are now fetching the water at the surface of the wet sand.

My recent visits to some of the affected areas we work in were encouraging. The once empty granaries hold some food stocks and the once emaciated livestock is healthy and producing enough milk for families. Our work matters and the extra funding from the drought appeal make a difference.

Livelihood diversification interventions have made it possible for communities to change their eating habits. The drought has made it necessary for previously pastoralist families to change their diet.

As Mr. Ibrahim from Rapsu tells:

previously, our food consisted mainly of meat which kept reducing as the drought decimated our livestock. Through ActionAid support, we now grow maize, beans, sugar cane, bananas and other crops that constitute our food.


File 9378Mr. Ibrahim in the Rapsu FFA site


Families growing crops have also realized that the farming techniques they used to employ are no longer tenable. The rains have become very erratic and unreliable. Even where water was available in plenty for furrow irrigation, the water levels have gone low forcing the government to restrict abstraction of water for irrigation through furrows. This forced some farmers to abandon farming since they could not afford to pipe the water. Some of our projects support communities in digging trenches and piping the water. This has led to resumption in farming and adoption of drought resistant crops.

A fact Gitonga Johnson, chairman of a community projects at Kambi sheikh village, confirms.

‘’We (a group of 300 farmers) used to irrigate our farms using furrows and produced our own food. When the government insisted we pipe the water, our farms turned into bushes because we could not farm anymore. We also suffered numerous crop failures due to inadequate rains. When we received support to pipe the water, we worked very hard to dig the trenches and lay the pipes. We can now produce our own food again. The number of members in the group is still growing. We are getting closer to becoming self-reliant.’’

In one of the Farmer Field Schools in Kakili village, 42 years old and mother of nine Veronica Iro is all smiles as she narrates the benefits.

‘’What ActionAid has brought to us in terms of training, water for irrigation and provision of seeds for drought tolerant crops has made us realize that we can feed ourselves. We have learnt how to prepare our farms well, plant on time and be guaranteed of a harvest. The drought resistant crops that we have been introduced to such as sorghum, green grams and sweet potatoes require very little water to mature. ActionAid has also trained us on how to prepare a nice meal from sorghum, which we never used to consider as food. We now grow and eat sorghum unlike before. We have also been taught how to prepare kitchen gardens and produce vegetables that we can eat and sell the surplus for some money.’’

An encounter with James Nyamo revealed that the irrigation project also helps farmers not working directly with us from ActionAid. 

When the water reached my farm, I was able to get connected. I now use it to produce vegetables, maize and also give it to my livestock. My current crop of spinach is too much for the family. I sell some to make some which I use to take care of my family. I am now able to pay all school levies for my children.

To ensure that these gains are sustained and communities cope better if and when another drought comes, we need to ensure that the work already started on resilience building is strengthened.  There is need to focus our efforts on high impact livelihood protection projects. These will cushion communities against droughts. We hope your support will keep coming to help support communities living in poverty and exclusion overcome hunger.