Winds of hope blowing in the arid north as women take to farming

As drought continues to ravage northern Kenya, pockets of areas practice dryland farming using irrigation. In Isiolo, members of Guba Bisanadi women group in Kinna location use water from Bisanadi river to cultivate food crops like orange sweet potatoes and fruits like mangoes. They also grow fodder crops. From the sales they make, the women support their families with basics like food, clothes and pay school fees for their children. [Ali Abdi, Standard]

It started in 2010 as an eco-tourism centre, dotted with traditional huts, and hosting visitors who would be treated to the rich cultural traditions of the Borana.

But despite its popularity, life was difficult for members of the community living in the vast piece of land at Kinna location in Garba-Tula Sub-county.

‘‘Some of us used to fetch firewood from inside the game park in order to fend for our families. Life was hard then,’’ says Makay Mamo, adding that “our families, like most of the community in Kinna, used to rely heavily on relief food, especially during drought season.”

This was until five years ago, when the community diversified into dryland farming.

Mamo was among the founders and now chairs the Malka Bisanadi Women Group, a community based organisation which brings together women from poor families whose husbands either lost livestock to drought or castle rustling, and are widows.

The group owns 10 acres of land, and about six are under cultivation. Fodder crops occupy three acres, orange sweet potatoes two while mangoes are on one acre.

The group rotates growing of orange sweet potatoes with onions and tomatoes. They also own a fish pond that has tilapia and mud fish.

For irrigation, they use piped water from the seasonal Bisanadi River that is pumped to the farm using a power generator.

After harvesting fodder and fruits, the women sell their produce and use the proceeds to provide food for their families, pay school fees for their children and cater for other basic needs.

They also save some money in their bank accounts.

‘‘We thank God and our partners for helping in transforming our lives. We can now help our families and sometimes our communities,’’ says Mamo.

The Malka Bisanadi group received training in dryland farming and fodder seedlings from the County’s Agriculture and Livestock department in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), while the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas assisted in marketing.

Caritas and the CRS are among organisations under the consortium of Nawiri that are working with county governments in Northern Kenya to combat the effects of drought among pastoralist communities.

The organisations buy fodder from the group and donate it to pastoralists in other areas.

The fodder is transported to areas like Duse, about 30km from Kinna, where animals are dying due to lack of pasture and residents rely on relief food from both national and county governments and NGOs.

Each bale of fodder costs Sh500, but as part of giving back to the community, local herders get a bale at a discounted price of Sh300.

The group’s previous harvest was sold to Caritas, which then donated them to herders in parts of Marsabit and Wajir. “I am happy now that we no longer require outside intervention,” Mamo says.

Isiolo WFP Coordinator Albert Mwambono says the group was encouraged to grow orange sweet potatoes as the variety is drought-resistant and rich in Vitamin A, which is good food for children under five years, pregnant and lactating mothers and the elderly.

Mwambono said the 1.8 kilometre canal from Kinna Springs constructed by the WFP for 300 farmers of Guba Dida will be extended next month, and is expected to enable area farmers, including the Malka Bisanadi group, to benefit from the spring water and become self-sufficient in producing its own food.

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