The inflation rate in Kenya rose from 3.3 percent in August 2010 to 16.67 percent in August 2011, an unprecedented five-fold increase in the cost of living.
The World Food Program estimates that more than 2.4 million people have received food aid in the Horn of Africa. Northern and eastern areas in the Horn of Africa are feared to “deteriorate to crisis and emergency levels” if nothing is done to curb the trend.
For a country that is heavily dependent on agriculture, this prolonged drought has dealt a significant blow to our way of life in Kenya, especially to those who live in informal urban settlements in arid and semi-arid regions.
One such area is at the Kamwaa Child Development Center, located in the Mbeere District in eastern Kenya. This semi-arid region is typified by scattered hills and acres of dry shrubs, with an average annual rainfall of 750 mm (29 inches). Economic activities revolving around marginal farming and raising livestock have been affected by a lengthy dry spell.
Kathiga, the Kamwaa Child Development Center director, tells us,
“The last three years have been the worst.”
The Mbeere District survives on seasonal rivers that bring water from distant highlands and occasional flash floods. Most of the year, the riverbeds remain dry and dangerous, which could spell doom to naïve travelers, especially during a heavy downpour.
Well-known traditional and drought resistant crops — such as cowpeas — have not withstood the drought and therefore have brought a severely reduced harvest. Hunger has stared people living in this region in the face as they sought for other means of survival.
Several years ago, our child development center embarked on alternative agriculture through subsistence farming that the parents relied on.
“We started a demonstration farm for fathers and mothers to learn from and help them utilize this available resource.”
The staff at the Kamwaa Child Development Center then decided to convert this demonstration farm into a scaled income-generating venture. This new idea allowed them to receive external funds through Complementary Interventions. Our staff saw an opportunity where many did not, and went all out to prove that something good could come from thirsty soil.
Proud fathers and mothers tilled the virgin land and the proximity of a nearby river offered hope of sustainability for this program. These leased 20 acres would soon become a haven within otherwise parched lands.
A green canopy emerged in the middle of grey, thorny bushes. The young pawpaw (fruit) stems sprouted along the furrows watered from the nearby river. Below these slender stems lay green, leafy vegetables that mature much quicker than pawpaw.
This growth was the first great sign of hope. The farm rapidly became a huge source of attraction to any passerby. It was time to have a permanent caretaker for the farm.
The child development center enjoyed relative success over the last year, and has yielded fresh fruit such as pawpaw, watermelons, tomatoes (from two greenhouses), and honey from hives suspended among withering branches.
While in season, children have enjoyed fresh produce while locals purchase directly from the farm. Currently, two children facing malnutrition have benefited from weekly food rations.
“These two children were malnourished. We decided to include them among those children who required nutritional supplements. The farm has helped to provide for them.”
These surroundings also favor beekeeping, which led the center to produce and package its own honey.
“People from all over the district and beyond come to buy our honey. Its quality is unmatched! We want to register with the Kenya Bureau of Standards to have it vetted and made available in shopping malls.”
Sadly, the rain shortage has slowed down the gains from last year.
“The river we depended on for irrigation has been dried up for over two months. This is the first time this has happened in our generation.”
Most of our crops dried up under the relentless sun. The bees too could not withstand the heat and migrated to other hives, which in turn reduced our honey yield.
As a result, the center staff decided to introduce drip irrigation and water storage tanks on the site. This has helped to cut their water generator fuel expenses in half.
There is renewed hope now that the river is breathing new life along its path. The farm is not back to its glorious days yet, but the lush green is evident from a distance. The center expects a huge harvest from the farm.
Also, the center decided to introduce fish farming. The fisheries department assisted us in setting up one pond and supplied us with 1,000 fingerlings and a year’s supply of fish food.
Weather patterns remain unpredictable, and the weatherman has not offered hope to those that await the short rains to quench the hot and dusty surface.
Dire days are expected, but with initiatives like these, local families will eat good food from a land seemingly surrounded by scorched hopes. And we hope these families will learn from the income-generating ideas introduced by the Kamwaa Child Development Center.