Farming in fear

49 years old Fatuma Wario with orange scarf
Fatuma fears being attacked by thugs while she grows food for her family
Photo: Søren Bjerregaard/ActionAid

Drought has left women farmers like Fatuma Wario in fear for their lives despite access to a fertile area to grow food on.

Fatuma is part of a women’s group that rents a piece of land outside Gambella, 15 kilometres north of Isiolo (Kenya). The women’s plot is on a green oasis where an underground river provides much needed water for growing vegetables. However recent hardship provoked by the drought means that tribes are fighting over the oasis. Fatuma now farms in fear for her life.

Fatuma (49), a mother of 4, farms with 14 other women in Gambella. Supported by ActionAid, the group have received training in business, farming and empowerment and the farm provides them with vegetables for their own households and for selling at markets. However the recent drought has meant that those farming this precious piece of land are being targeted and killed.  Fatuma explains that thugs hide in the long grass around the perimeter of the farm and attack in early morning or at night, when most farmers have left.

Before the drought, there were no problems. We could farm in peace. The Morans (young warriors from pastoralist tribes) never harmed ordinary people. Now they fight to survive.

Fatuma is desperate as there is no other place for the women to grow their vegetables which they need to feed their families. Despite coming across two dead bodies in the plot next to theirs, the women have no choice but to stay, look after each other, and remain vigilant.

Fatuma explains that many pastoralist communities in the area have lost everything to the drought and the Turkanas, the Borans and the Somalis are fighting for the little water and farmland that is left.  Naturally, several tribes claim the land because it is fertile and everybody needs food. Hunger has changed people and made them ready to risk their life and take the life of others.

An ActionAid partner organisation, Pastoralist Women for Health and Education (PWHE) has held several peace interventions in the area, including sending women to local schools to try and dissuade young boys from becoming Morans [warriors]. Towards the end of 2010, the area was peaceful, but the drought has ignited the old tribal wars.  

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