By Paul Ndiho
The World Bank says that Kenya’s semi-arid north is enduring longer and more frequent periods of drought due to climate change. As a result, traditional cattle-herding communities who have roamed the region for centuries now have to farm vegetables as well, to provide food for their families.
In Turkana, northern Kenya, about 15 farmers are attending a class on vegetable farming. The farmers are enrolled in a training program known as ‘furrows in the desert’ designed to teach communities to grow more vegetables, fruits and crops to improve food supply for their families.
The project was started by Kenyan and Israeli volunteers in 2012 to better prepare communities for the effects of climate change.
In recent years, severe droughts have vastly reduced the region’s water supply, so the pastoralists are learning how to set up irrigation systems to take advantage of the water they have, and ensure that crops get the proper amount of water.
“i didn’t know the importance of manure but now i understand its benefits. I will go home and educate others on its use and show them how to farm and weed and make sure they understand the importance of manure.”
The people of Turkana traditionally keep livestock as a way of life, and have lived in this semi-arid part of the country for centuries, but over the years, dry spells and violent cattle raids between them and their neighbors has been a major threat to their herds.
Turkana remains one of the poorest regions in Kenya, and the government, as well as various aid agencies, is trying to get more pastoralists to farm over 300 acres of land in addition to keeping their animals.
The farmers are also taught how to control pests, trap water, create dams and determine the best methods of rehabilitating land for future harvests.
The project is targeting about 140-thousand people who live in Turkana, hoping that they can quickly replicate the farming model in their communities so they can grow crops.
Residents are beginning to reap benefits and some like Lucy Mutunga say the difference is obvious and that the quality and quantity of crops harvested is encouraging.
“I planted on the 2nd of January but now I’m harvesting, my crop yield is fair. During the first planting season, i harvested 30kgs for a plot of 250 meters square.”
For now, the food production remains for subsistence, but over time farmers hope to increase their returns and find a marketplace in Kenya for their produce.
By farming and keeping livestock, the people of Turkana will be in a better position to increase their food stocks, and ensure that their families are not hungry.