Communities living in arid and semi-arid areas in Kenya have traditionally relied on pastoralism for their livelihood but diminishing pasture land and protracted drought attributed to climate change has in the recent years affected the communities’ wealth and food security. In these communities, the men are the custodians of family land and livestock.
In Kambi Sheik, a remote village in Isiolo County, the story for many families is changing. As recurrent drought wreaks havoc in the area wiping out their few remaining animals, women are taking center stage to ensure their families are resilient to the effects of climate change and are food secure.
Women like Susan Apuor, a mother of four, who used to depend on relief food, casual labor, and charcoal burning to feed her family. Now, Susan is a vibrant farmer, using agroecological techniques.
We first met Susan in 2012 when she joined a women’s group in Isiolo and was trained on agroecological practices, and supported with an initial seed supply of onion and tomato seeds, cassava cuttings and sweet potato vines.
Years on, Susan diligently spends her mornings braving the morning heat to attend to her farm before the heat becomes unbearable. Despite the current drought being experienced, Susan is food secure and has dedicated half of an acre to irrigated agriculture where she intercrops maize with beans, kales, spinach, sweet potatoes, cassava and some fruit trees like pawpaws, bananas and mangoes.
From this piece of land alone, Susan earns more than KES 10,000 (USD 100) every month.
The ability to farm all year round by irrigating her farm has made her resilient to drought and food secure and she can comfortably pay school fees for her children and even save some money for emergencies. She has also joined women saving groups where members can borrow money from to grow their small businesses and meet other family obligations.
“From my half an acre, I fetch more than KES 10,000 per month from kales, spinach, and pawpaws. Previously I used to spend a lot of money buying vegetables, and other foodstuffs and life was unbearable but now, I harvest enough to feed my family and take the surplus produce to the market to sell” Says Susan.
With support from ActionAid, Susan and other members of the group established a farmer field school where they met once every week. In the farmer field school, they were trained on appropriate dryland farming technologies, enterprise selection, agri-business and other agroecolocical practices. From the knowledge imparted, the members were expected to replicate the skills learned from the farmer field school at their home farms.
“I didn’t know that I just needed to be empowered with skills to run on my own. I used to burn charcoal for my survival and my family lived from hand to mouth. I had no skills and unless I worked on other people’s farms as a casual worker, I couldn’t put food on my table. My children were almost dropping out of school because I could not afford the fees required for school supplies and food”. Said Susan.
Engaging with the local community, ActionAid supported access to water harvesting methods through the construction of Kakili Irrigation Project which improved access to water for farms more than 3 kilometers from the river, Susan being one of the beneficiaries.
“We used to work as casual labourers on farms along the river since they could easily access water. With water available on my farm, I put in effort and worked on my farm so that I too can feed my children. I am now self-reliant and no longer depend on food aid..”
Susan’s transformation has been a beacon of hope for many families in Kambi Sheikh. Once a casual labourer whose children at times went to bed hungry, Susan has managed to turn her once bare piece of land to a lush green farm. Her journey, like the journeys of many other farmers in arid Isiolo County, reminds us of the pivotal role of women living in rural areas in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Inspired by her, we continue to work with smallholder farmers in arid areas to strengthen their resilience and improve their livelihoods.