Food Security

Lightweight kit for small farmers

Posted on 20 April 2010. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security |

All you need to farm...a backpack may contain farming tools, a training manual, even a collapsible water tank

A new piece of kit in the form of a backpack could help small farmers in Kenya increase yields, profits and agricultural know-how in a sustainable way.

The backpacks, weighing 15-42 kg, contain things which help farmers bring a crop to harvest, including tools, a training manual and, in some versions, a collapsible water tank. They are designed for small plots of land and are currently being used in the Mau Forest region.

“The nine month supply for a half acre [0.2 hectares] of land I bought, includes seeds, a plant nutrition system and water drip and it is light enough to be transported on my back” Rosemary Muthomi, one of the users of the system in Meru Green, told IRIN.

Small-scale farms are widespread in Kenya, where the great majority of the population depends on agriculture or fishing. But much of the farming takes place only on a subsistence level on small plots or `shambas’, and even in such households, food insecurity is common.

An April 2010 report by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said that although short rains at the end of 2009 improved food security in several areas of Kenya, “ recurrent seasons of failed or poor rains, sustained high food prices, environmental degradation, disease outbreaks, and flooding led to deteriorating food security conditions throughout Kenya, straining coping mechanisms, exacerbating pre-existing chronic poverty, and contributing to increased inter-ethnic conflict regarding access to limited land and water resources.”

The Backpack Farm Agricultural Programme (BPF),  brainchild of Rachel Zedeck and launched in late 2009, also aims to encourage small-scale farmers to form cooperatives so as to increase production and improve marketing.

“Our idea was to enable users to immediately start growing their own food. But the final goal is to ensure small-scale farmers increase their harvests and improve their quality of life and also to give them the technology, at a fraction of commercial costs, for opening up to markets.”

“As well as drought-resistant seeds of local crop varieties, we provide fertilizers that do not damage soil and water tables, a cost effective drip irrigation system, and training on green water management [rainwater collection] techniques,” she added.

The high cost of most ecologically friendly farm products has limited their use to around 10 percent of Kenyan farmers, according to John W. Njoroge, director of the Kenyan Institute of Organic Farming.

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Kenyan Bumper Maize Harvest in Coast and Southeast

Posted on 9 February 2010. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security |

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that about 540,000 metric tons of maize will be harvested from the short-rains season (file photo)

NAIROBI,  (IRIN) – Kenya’s coastal and southeastern regions will harvest a bumper maize crop from mid-February following El Nino-enhanced rains that fell in December, according to experts.

“The most likely situation between January and March points to significant improvements in food security, especially in the southeastern marginal agricultural livelihood areas,” the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) said in a report.

An agricultural officer who requested anonymity said the anticipated bumper harvest will help boost the nation’s grain reserves, which had been severely depleted due to low production in the country’s grain basket, Rift Valley Province.

The Kenya National Cereal and Produce Board would purchase at least four million 90kg maize bags from farmers in the coastal and southeastern lowlands, he said.

The KFSSG report contains inputs from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, the UN World Food Programme, the Ministry of Agriculture and the government’s Arid Lands Resource Management Project.

Current national stocks of maize are estimated at about one million tons. This will be boosted by an additional 100,000 tons to be harvested after the short rains in April.

“The Ministry of Agriculture also estimates that about 540,000 MT [metric tons] will be harvested from the short-rains season [April], subject to rains continuing through January, as projected by the Kenya Meteorological Department,” the report, covering January to June, noted.

Some maize was planted in non-traditional short-rains areas, such as South Rift, because farmers rightly anticipated heavier than normal rains during the October-January period, it said.

However, despite the expected improvement in household food security, the national indicators were yet to recover. An estimated 3.8 million people still do not have enough to eat, the report said.


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
A bumper maize harvest is anticipated in Kenya’s coastal and southeastern regions (file photo)

Slow recovery

KFSSG attributed the slow recovery to several factors including an under-resourced food pipeline, cumulative effects of four to five consecutive failed rainy seasons and lowered crop output.

Other factors included high staple food and non-food prices, the remaining impacts of conflict in pastoral areas, and disruption of livelihoods and markets caused by the post-election violence in 2008 in parts of the Rift Valley highlands.

The rains continued into January “enriching pastures, recharging water points, and heightening prospects for offseason cropping”.

Flooding

Between October and  December 2009, however, flooding killed 30 people and displaced 5,000 households in various parts of the country. Crops and irrigation structures were also destroyed.

The worst-affected districts included Turkana, West Pokot, Baringo, Isiolo, Kajiado and Narok. Parts of Kericho and Nakuru, and localized areas of the southeastern marginal agricultural areas of Kitui and Makueni were also affected.

The Lake region districts of Nyando, Kisumu, Siaya and Rachuonyo also experienced flooding, the report said.

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What is Behind the Mau Complex Controversy?

Posted on 1 October 2009. Filed under: Economy, Environment, Food Security |


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Over the past two decades, the Mau complex has lost at least 107,000ha of forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, logging and charcoal burning, as well as increased agriculture (file photo)

The continued degradation of the Mau complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – threatening everything from the spectacular annual migration of the wildebeest to pastoralism, agriculture and hydro-power generation, has dominated public debate for the better part of 2009. The government’s plan to evict the illegal settlers has added to the controversy.

The threat posed by the continued depletion of the Mau complex ties in with the increasing concerns, on a global level, over loss of bio-diversity, increased carbon dioxide emissions as a result of forest cover loss, and poor soil and water resources.

However, while climate change could be a major contributor to the current crisis in the Mau complex, the destruction of the forests has reduced the ability of the Mau eco-system to absorb or reduce the impact of climate change, increasing the vulnerability of the people to changing weather patterns.

We look at some of the issues surrounding the country’s largest closed-canopy forest eco-system:

Where is the Mau Complex?

Mainly in the Rift Valley Province, the Mau is one of the country’s five major water towers; it forms the upper catchment of the main rivers west of the province. The rivers are: Njoro and Makalia (these drain into Lake Nakuru), Sondu, Yala, Nzoia and Nyando (draining into Lake Victoria) and the Ewaso Nyiro, Kerio and Mara rivers.

The complex supplies water to many lakes in the Rift Valley, from Lake Turkana in the northwest to Lake Natron in neighbouring Tanzania – the only regular breeding site for millions of flamingos.

Historically, it is home to a minority group of indigenous forest dwellers, the Ogiek.

What is the size of the Mau complex?

It covers at least 400,000ha – as large as the forests of the Aberdares and Mt Kenya combined.

Over the past two decades, the complex has lost at least 107,000ha of forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, logging and charcoal burning, as well as increased agriculture.


Photo: go2africa
The Mau Complex is in the Rift Valley Province

What is at stake if degradation of the complex continues?

The importance of the complex lies in the eco-system service it provides to the country and East Africa as a whole, including river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, bio-diversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and micro-climate regulation.

The area contributes to the water supply to urban areas and supports the livelihood of millions of people in rural areas but the widespread irregular and poorly planned settlement and illegal forest resource extraction have affected the ecosystem, from water supply for commercial and domestic use to hydro-electric power generation, tourism and agriculture.

Moreover, experts have warned that continued destruction of the complex will lead to a water crisis that could extend beyond the country’s borders.

According to a September 2009 report by the government’s Interim Coordinating Secretariat for the Mau Forest Complex on the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem, if encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the eco-system continue, damage could be irreversible, with serious ecological consequences and ramifications for internal security.

When did degradation of the complex begin?

Originally divided into 22 blocks, the real devastation of the complex began in 1997 when the government allocated large plots of land to individuals in what was seen as a political bid to win votes during the general elections that year. The present government has said all land allocations in the late 1990s are illegal and wants to evict the occupants.

What is controversial about the Mau?

The government and conservationists agree that quick action needs to be taken to stop the continued destruction of the complex but Rift Valley politicians are divided over the eviction of those deemed to be illegally settled in the complex. Sections of government want the Mau settlers evicted without compensation while most MPs from the province insist they must be fully compensated.

Already, cases of intimidation have been reported in areas surrounding the forest while conflict over water points, pasture and land has been on the rise in recent months.

How many people would be affected by the government’s planned evictions?

An estimated 50,000 people are expected to be moved out of the forest once the government begins to execute its plan to save the area. Humanitarian agencies estimate up to 500,000 people could be displaced should violence follow.

Already, there are reports of communities living in the Mau arming themselves.


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A camp for the displaced: Humanitarian agencies estimate up to 500,000 people could be displaced should violence follow the eviction of people who have settled in the Mau complex (file photo)

What is being done to save the complex?

On 9 September 2009, the UN Environment Programme and Kenyan government launched a US$400 million appeal to save the complex, aimed at raising funds for its rehabilitation.

“The Mau complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya. The rehabilitation of the eco-system will require substantial resources and political goodwill. UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project,” Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said during the launch.

What will it take to reverse the destruction of the complex?

The restoration of the Mau is a strategic priority that requires substantial resources and political will.

On 4 September, Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched an interim secretariat to co-ordinate the implementation of a multi-stakeholder taskforce’s recommendations on the rehabilitation of the complex.

The recommendations include fencing off the area, as well as relocating individuals living in the forest.

A 10-point intervention plan was identified by the 11-member secretariat to implement the recommendations of the Mau Forest Task Force for immediate and medium-term action.

Sources:
The Ministry of Lands
The Prime Minister’s Office
The African Conservation Fund
UNEP

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Solving Kenya’s Food Crisis, One Indigenous Crop at a Time

Posted on 2 September 2009. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security |

In Kenya, persistent drought is threatening food security for some 31.5 million people, and more than one million face imminent starvation.

The United Nation’s World Food Program has requested $230 million for aid, but that seems too little, and perhaps too late for many.

Kenya’s government, looking for about $525 million in supplemental food funds from an already inflation-impacted budget, faces the prospect of feeding its people at the expense of a number of other projects that could improve food security for the future.

It’s a perilous tradeoff — survival now at the expense of future survival.

At the same time, the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) reports that the 2009 maize crop will be 28 percent below normal. This is extraordinarily bad news because maize is the staple food crop for 96 percent of Kenya’s people.

And therein lies the problem, says Professor Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a horticultural scientist, teacher and researcher with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture & Technology in Nairobi.

Abukutsa-Onyango, who has been following the crisis as part of her advocacy of African indigenous vegetables, says any long-term solution to global warming, drought and crop failure must be addressed by reducing dependence on Western-style agriculture in favor of indigenous crops.

The problem, Abukutsa-Onyango (in photo at right) notes, is one that has been developing for centuries as Western emphasis on mono-cropping introduced non-native foods (pineapple, cabbage, spinach, carrots, etc.) which required extensive irrigation and frequent applications of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

This non-sustainable form of agriculture, while producing revenues in the form of exportable food, is no longer a viable means of insuring Kenyan food security, given the fact that 80 percent of Kenya’s crops are grown in the arid lowlands, where rain is becoming increasingly unreliable.

As a result of crop Westernization, at least 200 indigenous crops once heavily cultivated in Africa – including such species as grain amaranth, cowpeas, jute mallow, Ethiopian kale, spider plant, African nightshade and pumpkin leaves – have been lost. Today, about 30 species remain, conserved at regional botanical gardens and national museums, as well as at the National Gene Bank in Kikuyu.

It has been Abukutsa-Onyango’s life work to isolate a handful of the most important of those indigenous vegetables and promote their cultivation at the most basic level – among the farmers of Kenya, many of whom are women.

Her efforts on behalf of indigenous crops and women have been surprisingly successful.

“Today, spider plant, African nightshade and vegetable amaranth can be found in Nairobi supermarkets and restaurants, after years of being spurned by the well-fed as food only for the poor, and by the poor themselves as alternatives only in times of extreme hunger,” she says.

The results have been decades in the making, as Abukutsa-Onyango first sought to identify the obstacles, and then created methods of overcoming them.

The outcome – a network of 100 contact farmers, or farmer’s groups, who are trained in all the technical and practical aspects of seed production, seed utilization, seed processing, sustainable indigenous crop production and organic farming methods – is the sort of grassroots outreach that has made indigenous seed more available and more viable, and provided a means of training others to grow these valuable, highly nourishing, food varieties.

“Most of my work on African indigenous vegetables has been participatory at all stages. First and foremost I had to identify and rank the indigenous vegetables grown by, and most familiar to, Kenyan farmers.”

But Abukutsa-Onyango is not promoting indigenous crops at the expense of all crops. Instead, she sees a future food landscape where Kenya’s cool, moist highlands continue to produce Westernized crops for export (and to supplement Kenyan diets), while the lowlands produce better yields of indigenous bambara nuts, for example, or amaranth, spider plant and pigeon pea, without irrigation and in spite of less fertile soils.

“For example, grain amaranth has high protein content, in the range of 10-15 percent, so it is definitely more nutritious than traditional maize. My recommendation here would be to grow the hardy sorghums and millets in combination with other short-lived grains like amaranths and traditional maize.”

It’s a scenario that would benefit both Kenyan prosperity and the health of Kenya’s inhabitants, since the indigenous crops have been shown to contain more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and micro-nutrients. This leads to greater dietary and nutritional diversity, which is especially important to growing children and pregnant women.

Many African indigenous vegetables also have medicinal properties. Spider plant is known to help constipation, as well as facilitating birth. Nightshades have been used for centuries to cure stomachache, and Colocasia esculenta, or Elephant Ear (also known as taro root), has been used to treat rapid heartbeat.

There are undoubtedly many more, but their medicinal use has been largely forgotten as Westernized medicine replaced native lore.

Perhaps an added benefit of indigenous cropping would be the rediscovery of natural medicines. Even if this fails to happen, though, Abukutsa-Onyango’s work represents not only a uniquely valuable African (and Kenyan) perspective, but also a global trend toward “homegrown” food and an increasing realization that traditional growing methods – like the Native American Three Sisters cultivation (of corn, beans and squash) – are not only more sustainable, but essential to food security in a warming world.

Her final words of wisdom represent an arrow in time, pointing to a future in harmony with the cycles of Nature rather than an attempt to control it. In fact, her prescription may be the only viable solution:

“I believe we cannot talk about meeting millennium development goals pertaining to food and nutrition security and poverty and health issues without the complementary use of African indigenous foods like indigenous vegetables.”

Courtesy: Jeanne Roberts’s blog

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Kenya Farmers “need help to reap rewards of El-Niño rains”

Posted on 31 August 2009. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security |


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Since the harvest from the 2006 long rains, Kenya has not had a bumper maize crop with adequate surpluses that could stabilize supplies (file photo)

Following below-average harvests in 2007 and 2008, Kenya’s grain farmers need seed and fertilizer support to enable them to make use of El Niño rains, expected between October and December 2009, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.

“Given that most of the farmers, both in high potential and agriculturally marginal ecosystems, lost most of what they invested in the short rains of 2008 and long rains of 2009, there is an urgent need to support them with inputs such as seed and fertilizer, to enable them to utilize the anticipated El Niño rains … [to enhance] their household food security and contribute towards bridging of the deficit in the national grain and other food budget,” FAO said on 27 August.

The agency appealed for US$23 million to enable it and the Ministry of Agriculture to supply various inputs to at least 100,000 families, “each growing an average of three acres in Rift Valley, Central Kenya highlands and marginal agricultural areas of eastern Kenya”.

Kenya’s Meteorological Department on 26 August said the outlook for the October-December short rains indicated that much of the country would likely experience near-normal to above-normal rainfall.

“This El Niño is currently classified as moderate or mild compared with that of 1997-1998. The distribution of the rainfall in time and space is expected to be generally good over most places,” it said.

The department said the rainfall expected over most of the country’s agricultural areas would be adequate for good crop performance.

“Farmers are, therefore, advised to work closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and take advantage of the expected good rainfall performance, the extended rainfall season, and extended length of the growing period, to maximize on the crop yield,” the department said.

It recommended that the emergency measures currently in place – food and water being distributed by the military to drought-affected populations – should be sustained until March 2010.

FAO said the near-certain El Niño type of rainfall during the short rains, due to start mid-September, provided “an opportunity to utilize the rains in both agriculturally high to medium potential areas and marginal ecosystems in production of off-season crops such as Irish potato, hybrid maize-500 series, green grams, cowpeas and horticultural crops”.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Gree maize: FAO says Kenya’s grain farmers need seed and fertilizer support to enable them to make use of El Niño rains, expected between October and December (file photo)

Insufficient harvests

Kenya’s annual consumption of maize, the staple food, is 33 million bags of 90kg each, said FAO; of this, 22 million are produced in agriculturally high and medium potential areas of Rift Valley and Western Province, mainly during the long March-June rains; another six million are produced in marginal agricultural eco-systems of Eastern Kenya, mainly during the October-December rains, while the remainder come from the Central Kenya Highlands and informal cross-border and official imports.

Since the harvest from the 2006 long rains, Kenya has not had a bumper maize crop with adequate surpluses that could stabilize supplies, the agency added.

“The declining trend in domestic maize supply is destined for the worst situation in the recent past, only comparable to 1984, this year, mainly due to an estimated 45 percent decline in production in the agriculturally high and medium potential areas during the long rains of 2009,” FAO said.

“This will imply that the country will anticipate a deficit of 10 million bags from the traditional grain surplus regions. The impending scenario has been caused by inadequate and poorly distributed rainfall during the main growing long rains season this year.”

Warmer oceans

According to the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO), El Niño conditions have become established over the tropical Pacific, and it is likely these will continue through the remainder of 2009 and probably into the first quarter of 2010.

“The ocean surface and subsurface in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific has been substantially warmer than normal during June and July, supporting the development of an El Niño event,” WMO said in an update issued on 19 August. “Atmospheric conditions across the tropical Pacific are increasingly showing patterns typical of a developing El Niño event. The development of a basin-wide El Niño has implications for the expected climate patterns in many parts of the world.”

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Trees “vital for food security”

Posted on 31 August 2009. Filed under: Agriculture, Environment, Food Security |

Countries tackling food insecurity and climate change adaptation can greatly benefit from agroforestry – integrating fleshy plants and trees into their farming systems, environmental specialists say.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a history of food insecurity brought on by meagre rains, land degradation, declining soil fertility and bad management of resources, among other factors.

“How do we, in a world of more than six billion people, rising to perhaps over nine billion, feed everyone while simultaneously securing the ecosystem services such as forests and wetlands that underpin agriculture, and indeed life itself in the first place?” Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), posited at the second World Congress on Agroforestry in Nairobi.

“We can empower people – not to wait for others to do something for them – but to take the initiative, one tree at a time,” Steiner said. “Trees are one of nature’s most ingenious answers to many of our problems.”

Agroforestry helps supply fodder, fruit and nuts as well as trees and shrubs that produce gums, resins and valuable medicines.

Steiner said agroforestry may have many roles to play in the new landscape of rewarding countries for their natural or nature-based services.

“Firstly it offers the potential for maximizing sustainable food production in the zones surrounding natural forests while also boosting biodiversity and other ‘natural infrastructure’.

“Secondly, it offers an opportunity for timber production and thus alternative livelihoods to meet perhaps a supply gap that may emerge under a fully-fledged REDD [Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation] regime.

“Thirdly these agroforestry areas can also potentially secure flows from carbon finance in their own right.”


Photo: UNIC
Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (file photo)

Better REDD

REDD is a strategy to help local communities conserve forests, including funding these efforts through governments and market-based mechanisms, such as trading the carbon stored by forests as credits to greenhouse gas-emitting industries.

Trees such as the Faidherbia albida, a leguminous acacia-like tree, are especially useful.

“Faidherbia goes dormant at the beginning of the rains and deposits abundant quantities of organic fertilizer on to the food crops to provide nutrients and increase yields, totally free of charge,” said Dennis Garrity, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Director-General. “They are fertilizer factories in the food crop fields.”

The leaves and pods of the Faidherbia, which are adapted to a wide array of climates and soils from deserts to humid tropics, provide fodder in the dry season too.

Garrity said: “The much higher food prices… have exacerbated the pain of hunger in hundreds of millions of households. The standard solutions just aren’t working. The question is, what are we as agroforestry scientists going to do about it? What are we going to contribute to sustainable solutions?”

With shrinking forests, he said, “the rising demand for tree products will have to be met from farm-grown sources. Clearly, agroforestry science has much to offer in overcoming the food security challenges in Africa, and elsewhere in the world.”

Tree cover

According to a 24 August report by ICRAF, “tree cover is a common feature on agricultural land”, and represents over one billion hectares of land.

“Agroforestry, if defined by tree cover of greater than 10 percent on agricultural land, is widespread, found on 46 percent of all agricultural land area globally, and affecting 30 percent of rural populations,” stated the report.

Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said: “Seventy-five percent of Africa’s farm lands are degraded, and deforestation is taking place at four times the global average, destroying 1 percent of our forests every year.”

Agroforestry alone could remove 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next 50 years, meeting about a third of the world’s total carbon reduction challenge, according to ICRAF studies.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Maize field: Mllions of households in Africa are facing hunger (file photo)

Carbon payback

Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai suggested that subsistence farmers might be more willing to invest in farming trees if there were carbon credit revenue guarantees.

UNEP recently launched a Carbon Benefits Project in the catchments of Lake Victoria, Niger, Nigeria and China, which seeks to find a standardized way of assessing how much carbon is actually locked away in vegetation and in soils under different land-management regimes.

This has been a major challenge for African smallholders seeking to access the carbon market. Preliminary findings are expected within 18 months.

According to Steiner, economic incentives are required to reverse deforestation and forest degradation.

“…Simply locking away forests to secure their carbon as if they are the Queen’s jewels, or putting up the modern equivalent of a Berlin Wall between forests and people, is almost certainly folly and almost certainly a recipe for disaster,” he said.

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After 50 Years, Land They Can Call Their Own

Posted on 8 July 2009. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security, Refugees/ IDPs |


Photo: Wilfred Muchire/IRIN
A view of the land that the government recently allocated thousands of people in Central Province

NYERI, 6 July 2009 (IRIN) – After a 50-year wait, thousands of Kenyans in Central Province have received the most coveted asset in the country – a piece of land.

The move is not only good news for those allocated the land but for the country as a whole as the move will boost food security when the recipients start farming wheat, beans, maize and livestock on the 6,070ha.

The 2,900 families have started tilling their land as the government formalizes the settlement, which was part of more than 28,327ha of land initially used for cattle farming, as well as a private game sanctuary owned by an investor.

The government paid the investor US$16.5 million for the land, between Mt Kenya and Aberdare National parks near Central Province’s boundary with Rift Valley Province.

Most of the recipients had, since independence in 1963, been living on government land within Mt Kenya forest and Aberdare Ranges until 1989 when the authorities evicted them for encroaching on water catchment areas.

Since they had nowhere else to go, they camped on road reserves adjacent to the forests where they lived in deplorable conditions.

Demarcation

They are among thousands of Kenyans who failed to secure land when demarcation took place in the late 1950s before independence. This was because they had sold off their land, had worked away from home when demarcation took place, or were so poor that they did not have any land when demarcation began.

After they were evicted from the forests in 1989, most settled in areas adjacent to the two major water towers (Mt Kenya and Aberdare National Parks) in areas such as Chehe, Hombe, Kagochi and Ragati near Mt Kenya and Zaina, Kabage and Gakanga in Aberdare Ranges.

Japhter Kiplimo Rugut, the Central Province commissioner, who has been overseeing the resettlement, said the settlement scheme involved farmers living on designated sites and farming elsewhere.

Under this model, being tested for the first time but set to be rolled out in other areas where there are squatters, the allocated land entailed 0.2ha for each farmer to set up a homestead and another 1.6ha on which to farm.

“People will be living in one area and farming elsewhere in this new planned settlement scheme,” Rugut told IRIN. “The government will be carrying out a similar exercise in Kibwezi area of lower Eastern Province and in parts of Coast Province where there are landless people waiting to be given land.”


Photo: Wilfred Muchire/IRIN
Mary Wambui outside her hut; she is one of the thousands of beneficiaries of government land

Food security

Rugut said the move was expected to boost the region’s food security as the government had, for years, been feeding the families.

“We have been giving relief supplies to the more than 2,900 families who have been given land,” he said. “They did not have anywhere to farm and solely relied on the government supplies, which will be a thing of the past once they settle in their farms.”

The government has set aside more than $1.2 million to set up various amenities in the area, including water, electricity, health and education facilities.

James Mwangi, 75, one of the recipients, said he hoped to enjoy the fruits of his land despite his advanced age.

“I have been landless throughout my life and I can only thank God and the government for eventually giving me a piece of land; we have suffered for decades,” Mwangi said.

Another recipient, Mary Wambui, was optimistic that despite the failing rains, she would harvest her own crop after years of depending on relief supplies.

“The last time I harvested my crops was in 1989 before we were evicted from Mt Kenya forest; for the last 20 years, we have been surviving on government and Red Cross supplies and occasionally [some] from well-wishers,” she said.

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Kenyan Eco-town: From the Slums to a ShiningTown on the Hill

Posted on 28 May 2009. Filed under: Environment, Food Security, Poverty |

A woman tends to her crops in Kaputei, a town built to help people escape Nairobis slums

A woman tends to her crops in Kaputei, a town built to help people escape Nairobi's slums

In Kenya a little bit of money and a can-do attitude go a long way. Daniel Howden sees how Kaputei has transformed the lives of the country’s poor

Clarice Adhiambo was looking for the usual things when she moved. Safe streets, more space, a guest room, maybe even a view of something green. More than anything she wanted a place to call her own. Her wish-list would be familiar to first-time buyers anywhere in the world. What would be less recognisable is the place from which she was moving.

Clarice left behind a 10ft by 10ft tin shack that she shared with eight others in the Nairobi slum of Soweto. Unlike the iconic South African shanty town of the same name, there is no electricity, running water or flushing toilets and no prospect of getting them. Kenya’s capital offers some of the most appalling urban poverty to be found anywhere in the world. It was in places like Kibera, Mathare and Soweto that the term “flying toilet” was invented. It describes the desperate people who cannot afford to use pit latrines and have to defecate into plastic bags and hurl them on to a nearby roof.

In her new home in Kaputei, an eco-town rising from the plains south of Nairobi, she has a flushing loo for the first time in her life and understandably she’s delighted. “This place has fresh air,” the 53-year-old says, almost unbelievingly.

Clarice is part of one of 50 families who have bought into a startling experiment that it is hoped will change the nature of microfinance and banking for the poor. The practice pioneered by the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, of offering tiny loans to the some of the world’s bottom billion living on less than $1 a day, is flourishing. From six million borrowers worldwide in 1987, microfinance groups now lend to 150 million people. And while the rest of the banking industry has been in meltdown, microfinance has been a rare pocket of stability and growth. The sector brings together an unlikely, eclectic mix of people from frustrated charity workers to entrepreneurs, to those who have already made their fortune and come to microfinance with the evangelical zeal of the reborn.

Ed Bland falls into this last category. In his past life as a Microsoft executive he was the man who launched the X-Box. Today he is the president of Unitus, an American non-profit group in a hurry to make a big difference to global poverty and intent on using microfinance to do it. Mr Bland explains his credo as “the ability to use common business principles to make people’s lives better in a way that development has shown it can’t do”. In the future, he believes there will be an “opportunity for enterprising banks to focus on the bottom and not just the top”. “Look what happened when we just focused on the top,” he muses.

Seattle-based Unitus uses its capital, connections and corporate credibility to persuade mainstream banks to loan to, or underwrite, microfinance institutions (MFIs). It then uses its know-how to identify and support innovative microfinance outfits it believes can make a dramatic impact on alleviating poverty.

Mr Bland rates Jamii Bora, Kenya’s oldest and biggest MFI, among the most innovative organisations in the world. When Jamii Bora – Swahili for “better families” – found that micro loans and repayments could take the poorest only so far, it decided to do something new.

“As long as you are living in the slums, you will never climb out of poverty,” says Ingrid Munro, the founder of Jamii Bora. “Families of course need economic opportunities to rise out of poverty but what good are they if you are still living in hell?” The solution they came up with was to build an entirely new town, a Milton Keynes of microfinance.

The result is Kaputei with its neat rows of clay-tiled roofs. From a distance, it looks like the shining town on a hill, only this one is set among Maasai grazing lands and the occasional polythene flower farm. “We are seeing something that we haven’t seen anywhere else in the world,” says Mr Bland, bumping along the dirt track towards it in a mini-bus.

When Jamii Bora found that the Kenya power corporation wanted a fortune to connect the town to the grid, their attitude was “we’ll do it ourselves”. So they built their own renewable power station. When builders’ merchants wanted to overcharge for breeze blocks and tiles, they built their own factories which now provide jobs as well as materials. Kaputei’s houses are powered by solar panels and its water will be processed by one of the first ecologically sound recycling plants in Africa.

The question is whether Kaputei is scaleable. Even if it succeeds in getting 2,500 families to move from the slums, it is a pressure release that will be barely felt in the likes of Kibera, with its one-million plus residents.

Relaxing in an armchair in her sitting room, Clarice gives the former Microsoft whizzkids her take on where Jamii Bora’s ferocious can-do mentality comes from. It is an organisation she knows well, having joined at the “ground level”.

Born into poverty near Lake Victoria, Clarice had a hard life. She was badly beaten by her husband and the father of three of her four children. He eventually threw her out and she drifted from friend to relative before ending up a street beggar in Nairobi.

While living rough she was raped, conceiving her only son. Clarice and her fellow beggars struck up a relationship with a kindly worker of a non-government organisation they knew as Mama Ingrid. As well as a little money, the Swede would take the time to talk to the women, Clarice remembers.

Despite this friendship, the women were deeply suspicious when Mama offered to help them learn how to save money. The women thought “she’d been sent from Sweden to come and eat our money” and hatched a plan to beat her up. Ingrid Munro persisted and persuaded a few dozen of the beggars to trust her. Clarice’s face contorts with remembered shock when she recalls the day Mama told her she had saved 1,000 Kenyan shillings (£8).

There were more surprises to come as Mrs Munro offered to lend her the same amount again to set up a business. “Don’t give me a headache,” was Clarice’s initial response. “What is a loan? What business can I do? I don’t even know how to write my name.” The Great Lakes girl put her 2,000 Kenyan shillings in fish. With each loan repaid she would borrow more.

By her sixth loan, there was too much money for fish and she expanded into market stalls. By her 10th, she was borrowing £1,200 and opening a string of slum businesses. The first group of 50 beggars a decade ago has swollen to a membership of 225,000.

Clarice’s latest loan is a mortgage on her home in Kaputei with monthly payments of £23. She is “overpaying” at the moment to settle the loan early.

From the window of Clarice’s kitchen, the green of the grasslands is only interrupted by the black and white lines of a herd of zebra. But it is the sink tap that holds her attention. She turns it on. “So much water,” she says with infectious wonder.

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Kenyan Slum-dwellers Priced into Hunger

Posted on 28 May 2009. Filed under: Food Security, Poverty |


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Women selling fish in a Nairobi market (file photo): Slum-dwellers have been hard hit by the food price crisis

NAIROBI, 27 May 2009 (IRIN) – Millions of people who live in Kenya’s sprawling slums are among those worst hit by the food price crisis, yet they receive far less humanitarian attention than other demographic groups, according to officials, who pointed in particular to the plight of malnourished children in such settlements.

“While there are also very serious food crises elsewhere in Kenya – for example, in the north – they at least get some attention from governments and donors, whereas the crisis in the cities is often completely forgotten or ignored,” Alun McDonald, the regional media and communications officer of Oxfam GB, told IRIN.

“In Kibera [Nairobi’s largest slum] alone, there are over 5,000 children under five years old who are suffering from malnutrition – more than 1,000 of them suffering from severe cases,” McDonald said. “Severe child malnutrition should not be happening in a modern capital city.”

Food insecurity has been exacerbated by drought, rising food and non-food prices and poor harvests. “In the past 12 months… essential foods such as maize more than doubled in price… Oils and vegetables are also much more expensive now than they were a year ago,” he said.

The price of maize has risen by up to 130 percent in Nairobi and 85 percent in Mombasa over the past year. Cooking fuel prices have risen by 30-50 percent and the cost of water by 90-155 percent, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

“It’s not just food that is more expensive – people cannot afford as much water now, which means children use dirty water and get sick more easily… It is getting much more expensive just to survive,” he said.

School feeding

According to Gabrielle Menezes, WFP information officer, high food prices have affected the urban population considerably, “as these are people who depend on markets to buy food, and do not really grow their own”.

WFP is feeding 145,500 urban children under the School Feeding Programme, which covers 195 schools in the Nairobi slums and the coastal town of Mombasa. “In response to high food prices, WFP began feeding in the Mombasa slums at the beginning of this year,” Menezes said.

“School feeding becomes even more important at times of crisis, as people resort to drastic coping measures, pulling children out of school to beg or work,” she said.

She noted that subsistence farmers in the southeastern and coastal areas were also hard hit by the failure of the October-December 2008 short rains.

''having hundreds of thousands of increasingly poor and hungry families could well lead to further instability on the streets of Nairobi -and potentially other cities''

“They experienced almost total crop loss, and many families will need food assistance,” she said, adding that WFP was providing general food distributions to 2.5 million people in the country.

According to Sylvia Khamati, acting head of the health department at the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), the need for proper nutrition in Kenya is huge. “Generally, most children are malnourished, it does not matter in what setting they are,” she said.

In March, the Kenya Food Security Steering Group called for food price controls, provision of food aid and the creation of employment opportunities to stop more Kenyans going hungry.

Khamati said attention should be paid to special needs groups such as children younger than five and pregnant women. “When there is a food crisis there is more focus on supplementary and therapeutic feeding as the goal is to save life. But this is expensive compared with providing nutrition education on integration of readily available local foods for a healthy diet,” she said.

According to Oxfam’s McDonald, hundreds of thousands of people in Nairobi already live in serious poverty and are just surviving. “They simply can’t afford to pay any more for food,” he said.

“But the urban crisis is not just about poverty – it is also about governance,” he said. “Citizens need to have affordable access to basic services such as water and healthcare.

“Given the political tensions in Kenya at the moment, having hundreds of thousands of increasingly poor and hungry families could well lead to further instability on the streets of Nairobi – and potentially other cities.”

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Helping Kenyan Farmers at the Touch of a Button

Posted on 7 April 2009. Filed under: Food Security, ICT |


Photo: Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN
Mobile phone technology could be used to correctly diagnose and treat crop diseases

The ability to correctly diagnose and treat crop diseases such as banana wilt via mobile phone is just one of endless possibilities for smallholder farmers if location-specific (geospatial) information were available, according to researchers.

Such a project would, for example, make use of mobile devices equipped with Global Positioning Systems and cameras.

“A trained community worker can input the location coordinates, take a photo of the diseased crop, send it to our database, from which we would forward the image for expert review and feedback,” Whitney Gantt, a project officer with the Grameen Foundation, told IRIN. “In addition to being able to identify a disease, people will know what to do.”

The Grameen Foundation is conducting a seven-month pilot project in two Ugandan districts, whereby community workers collect and disseminate information on crop acreage and projected harvests through mobile device surveys.

In the scheme, 45 community knowledge workers (CKWs), selected from existing farmers’ groups, are trained in using mobile devices for data collection.

Each has a mobile phone, some of which are equipped with cameras. From a drop-down menu on the phones, the CKWs are able to enter the required data, which is then transmitted to the foundation’s database for agricultural forecasting.

The phone cost ranges from US$30 each to $330. “It is a cost-effective method and we are also testing the three devices to see which collects better data,” Gantt said.

Challenges

Finding CKWs who are literate and fluent in English is a challenge and it is difficult reaching women farmers as most phone-owners are men.

Network connectivity and lack of electricity in the rural parts are a problem and can delay information transmission.

Ensuring accurate data is also a challenge. “Getting information that is actionable is very useful… how do you ensure that the data is accurate?”


Photo: David Gough/IRIN David Gough/IRIN
Location-specific information will not only maximise crop yields but also reduce uncertainties in production, according to researchers

According to Gantt, the goal of the project is to work intensively with the CKWs with a view to a possible scale-up. From the information collected, the foundation also hopes to link farmers with buyers. “A lot of providers are without such information,” she said.

Mapping

In another application, a study in Ethiopia is expected to capture information on rural road types, sea and inland water ports, airports, border crossings, private and community depots and silos and market locations for use by farmers and other service providers, according to Tesfaye Korme of the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development.

The use of high-resolution mapping is another possibility. “High-resolution mapping for fields would not only help with field acreage knowledge but could also be a precursor for sustainable land management,” said Pierre Traore of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. It could also be used to map low fertility areas within farms.

Crop yields

According to researchers, geospatial information on soils and the best crops, appropriate farming techniques and early warning on droughts, floods, diseases and pests, as well as up-to-date market and price information, would not only maximise crop yields and market access but also improve livelihoods and reduce uncertainties in production.

Such information does not reach those who most need it. “The information is often used by a select group of project farmers yet many such projects do not last beyond project funding,” said Jennifer Barnes of the consulting group CH2M Hill. “Current data is also not provided in relevant time and map scales yet there is a need for the information to reach farmers rapidly.”

According to Enrica Porcari of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) : “There is a lot of information at the policy level yet the problems are at the local level … Although we have solutions, they often don’t come off the shelf.

“There are challenges in the nodes of the chain from the researchers to the farmers,” Porcari said, adding that the mandate of research institutions did not extend to dissemination of information to the farmers. CGIAR is holding a meeting in Nairobi on opportunities in geospatial technology and accessing a broader range of users.

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Late Rains to Worsen Food Security in Kenya

Posted on 20 March 2009. Filed under: Food Security |


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A woman selling bananas in a Nairobi market (file photo): Food insecurity is set to escalate due to late long rains

NAIROBI, (IRIN) – Food insecurity in Kenya, already affecting millions of people, is set to escalate because the long rains are late and unlikely to be sufficient, officials warned.

The forecast has contributed to an upward revision of the cost of humanitarian needs in 2009, from US$390 million to $575 million.

“Predictions are that the long rains [which normally start in the second week of March] could be poor; this would lead to a more serious drought later in the year,” Jeanine Cooper, head of the Kenya division of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN on 17 March.

Abbas Gullet, secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), told reporters on 17 March that Kenya’s humanitarian situation was deteriorating with the failure of the rains.

“The situation has not improved; we were expecting rain but it has not started,” he said while collecting donations in Nairobi for distribution in the worst-hit areas.

Gullet said most of northern Kenya, Samburu, Moyale, Tana River, Narok, Muranga, Nyeri and the Ukambani areas of Makueni Kitui and Mwingi were affected.

Combination of factors

Launching their revised Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan (EHRP) on 16 March, UN agencies and NGOs said poor rains, food shortages and high commodity prices had deepened food and livelihood insecurity across many parts of the country.

They said instability and conflict in neighbouring Somalia had prompted a marked increase in refugees entering Kenya, hence the review of programme requirements in line with existing and emerging needs.

The humanitarian community said emergency interventions were now essential to ensure life-saving food aid for an estimated 3.5–4.5 million. Increasing water availability through enhanced harvesting and storage was also vital.

“Long-term non-food interventions to support the livelihoods of vulnerable populations are also required to mitigate the impact of the current crisis and to cushion future shocks,” OCHA Kenya said.

It said thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs), especially those displaced in poll-related violence a year ago, were another target group for the revised EHRP.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
An internally displaced persons, IDP, camp (file photo): An estimated 3.5–4.5 million people including IDPs will require life-saving food aid

The IDPs’ situation stabilised over 2008 due to political progress and joint humanitarian efforts, OCHA Kenya said, and, as a result, an estimated 347,418 IDPs had returned to pre-displacement or transit areas.

Building resilience

“Nevertheless, many of the transit sites have inadequate basic services, including sanitation, hygiene and health facilities and limited access to schools,” OCHA Kenya said.

“Peace-building and reconciliation for displaced people and the communities that host them urgently need more and sustained engagement, while increased investment in livelihoods is essential to ensure that returnees can lead productive lives and meet their basic needs while rebuilding socio-economic security.”

Aeneas Chuma, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Kenya, who presented the humanitarian organisations’ plan to support populations affected by climatic shocks, food insecurity and livelihood deterioration, post-election violence and a growing number of refugees, said: “As development partners in Kenya, we recognise the importance of tackling chronic, recurrent and predictable problems with durable and effective solutions.”

Cooper said the government and aid agencies were capitalising on the spirit of collaboration to strategise, prioritise and plan for 2009, “in order to tackle persisting chronic food insecurity, peace-building initiatives and restoration of livelihood to build the resilience of most vulnerable populations”.

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Severe Warning Sounded on Food Security in Kenya

Posted on 20 March 2009. Filed under: Food Security |


Photo: Kenya Food Security Group
The area covered by the 2009 short rains food security assessment for Kenya

NAIROBI, (IRIN) – Immediate, medium and long-term priority interventions, including controlling food prices, providing food aid and creating employment, are required to stop more Kenyans going hungry, an inter-agency assessment of the 2008/2009 short rains recommends.

The interventions in livestock, agriculture, fisheries, water, education, health and nutrition sectors would address Kenya’s food insecurity, which is becoming “increasingly entrenched”, states the report compiled by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group, with several Kenyan ministries, UN agencies and NGOs.

Poor October-December 2008 short rains precipitated the food security crisis, with the south-eastern, coastal and central lowlands receiving exceptionally poor rains, according to the assessment.

Besides crop failure, the poor rains caused severe water shortages, mostly in the north-eastern pastoral districts; aggravating resource conflicts in the region.

The short rains assessment, undertaken by nine field teams, covered 37 traditionally drought-prone pastoral, agro-pastoral, marginal agricultural districts, including five agriculturally high potential districts affected by post-election violence in early 2008.

For agriculture, the report recommends providing drought-tolerant seeds and farm inputs to farmers in areas affected by months of post-election violence in early 2008.

For the water sector, the assessment recommends water-trucking; fuel subsidies, borehole rehabilitation; desilting water sources; rain harvesting; rehabilitation of shallow wells and the rehabilitation of irrigation canals.

In the food sector, the report says at least 123,000 metric tonnes of food commodities will be required from April to September and recommends the prioritising of food and association costs for 2.5 million drought-affected people; 850,000 school children and 150,000 internally displaced persons; and a supplementary feeding programme.

On 18 March, the UN World Food Programme said it was scaling up food aid in the country to feed 3.5 million people hit by drought and high food prices.

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Profile : Catherine Mwango’s Success Story at KWAHO

Posted on 6 November 2008. Filed under: Environment, Food Security, Governance |

Maji na Usafi Voices! newsletter had an incisive chat with Mrs. Catherine Mwango, executive director, Kenya Water and Health Organization (KWAHO). We bring you the rich excerpts of the far-reaching achievements of one of the founder members of KEWASNET.

Q. What is KWAHO’s establishment and mandate?

KWAHO is a national Non-governmental Organization(NGO) founded in 1976 as project of the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) which was registered as an NGO in 1983 with a mission to improve the health status and livelihoods of disadvantaged communities by facilitating access to safe drinking and adequate water, improved sanitation and promotion of hygiene education, management of sustainable environment and promotion of income generating initiatives, especially for women as prioritized by the Kenya Women delegation to the International Women Conference in Mexico in 1975.

Q. What is the rate of achievement on the core objectives KWAHO’s founders?

Over the period KWAHO has significantly achieved what were the core objectives of the eminent women of Kenya and in whom in close collaboration with the Government of Kenya, founded KWAHO as the gender focused WATSAN organization.

Factors contributing to this success among others have been KWAHO’s committed core staff drawn from various professions in the fields of geology, Water engineering/technicians, Sociologists/Community Capacity builders, Environmental/Public Health officers, Water quality technicians, and drillers working under focused executive direction of her board of management.

Q. What are the thematic focus areas for KWAHO on water and sanitation?

Water supply facilitation to disadvantaged communities both in the rural areas and informal settlements through collaboration with the target communities or schools install water points with the following technological options; borehole/Shallow well drilling, rainwater harvesting, spring protection, and gravity system where appropriate, etc. These are largely in the rural areas. Water facilities availed to the urban communities being storage tanks.

Access to Water Quality through the promotion of Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS) at the Point of Use (POU). This is one of the most effective and low cost Household Water Treatment technologies (HWTS).

Ensuring quality testing of water from all installed water points.

Sanitation – Construction of sanitation facilities using conventional technologies such as Ventilated Improved Pit (VIP) latrines and Ecological Sanitation (Ecosan) or adoption of appropriate sanitation facility models i.e. the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) training.

Intensive Capacity building of communities and schools in the areas of project initiation, implementation, and Operation and Maintenance (O&M) and sustainability issues.

Helping communities to form water and sanitation committees and Health Clubs at schools to manage the facilities.

Hygiene Education and promotion and related to water and sanitation.

Environmental of water resources management and conservation

Income generating activities for economic empowerment that becomes necessary for Water Rights Users after the communities have increased access to water and improved their health.

In all its activities, KWAHO endeavors to mainstream gender as one of the surest ways of increasing participation by all in water and sanitation issues at all levels.

Q. What is the geographical scope of current KWAHO projects?

Over her period of existence, KWAHO has had projects in all the provinces of Kenya with some spectacular projects that won her international recognition such as the Kwale Water and Sanitation project, the Wongonyi piped scheme, the Ndakaini and OlKalao projects in Central province, the Tharaka Nithi and Wamunyu projects in Eastern province, Baringo and Nakuru districts in Rift Valley, Lower Tana Delta district, Butere-Mumias WatSan, etc.

However, KWAHO’s scope of current project coverage are as below with considerable success rating.Coast Province – Lower Tana Delta Water and Sanitation project funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADC/ADA) for over 20 years. Nyanza Province : Kombewa and Maseno divisions WatSan funded by ADA for the last 17 years. Siaya district – East Gem WATSAN funded by WaterCan EauVive, Canada. Sustaining and Scaling School Water and Sanitation Hygiene Plus Community Impact (SWASH+) in 105 schools and its environ in Rachuonyo and Suba districts assisted by Bill and Melinda Gates through WPI and others. Nyalenda SODIS project funded by Eawag/Sandec,

Western Province – Butere Mumias district EU/GTZ/ KWAHO EcoSan Promotion project in Mumias district; Rift Valley – Samburu district Ndoto Njema water and Sanitation project funded by LIECHTENSTEIN (L.E.D) Development Service of Germany. North-Eastern Province – Wajir project SODIS funded by UNICEF. Nairobi Province – Kibera and Mukuru WATSAN funded by WaterCan Eavive Canada. Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS) at households and in schools in Makina, Kisumu Ndogo, Mashimoni, Kianda and Gatweikera villages in Kibera and in Mukuru Kwa Njenga in informal settlements. Projects funded by Solaqua Foundation, Rotary Clubs and Lions Club through Department of and SANDEC in Switzerland.

Q. What are KWAHO’s upcoming projects?

  • Enhancing Water Governance through a Human Rights Based approach a pilot project for Bondo and Siaya districts to be funded by UNDP
  • SUFA – Clean Water for Schools project in Eastern province, Makueni district
  • EU/GTZ EcoSan Promotion project in Siaya and Rarieda districts

Q. What are KWAHO’s successes so far?

Since its inception over 33 years ago, KWAHO has reached over 2.5 million people in Kenya as direct beneficiaries in her core activities in the area of Water and Sanitation. Several water facilities have been installed jointly with communities and schools around Kenya. Some of the projects referred to above are just among the many projects whose scope covered all the provinces of Kenya.

Apart from communities, KWAHO has impacted greatly in a number of schools and public institutions such as health centers etc. Through these programmes KWAHO ensures that the benefiting communities have attained;

(a)  Increased awareness in the communities on the necessity of accessing safe drinking water is evident

(b)  Better access to safe water within reasonable distances for domestic and livestock use

(c)  Behavioral change achieved due to appropriate personal hygiene practices acquired after intensive hygiene education and promotion through PHAST, PHASE, CHASE etc. KWAHO has through institutional capacity building of groups put in place various committees that are able to collect and utilize funds collected from the water and sanitation facilities appropriately in terms of O&M.

(d)  Through technical training of the communities for Operation and Maintenance (O&M) of the facilities for sustainability, the communities have acquired the capacity (relevant skills) to manage, operate, maintain, sustain facilities and replicate them.

(e)  Human capacity building through training of artisans within the project areas.

(e)    Water resources in the respective areas of operation are well protected because of the resultant training on environmental management training that go with WATSAN provision by KWAHO

(f)    Incidences of water borne diseases such as diarrhea have declined due to availability of water and sanitation facilities and the related hygiene training for behavioral change through improved hygiene.

(g)    Has mobilized various communities and linked them with other Stake holders i.e. government for better WATSAN services.

(h)   KWAHO has capacity build communities to engage positively in income generating activities to improve their livelihoods under the theme ‘After Water What’. As women get more time saved from fetching water from long distances, the extra time is spent on carrying out income generating activities that for income.

(i)     Improved income levels for economic empowerment.

(j)     At school level reduced absenteeism by the pupils especially girls

(k)   Has mobilized various communities and linked them with key Stake holders i.e. government for better WATSAN services.

Special areas of mention are as follows:

Capacity building: KWAHO uses her vast experience gained over the years in the sector in community mobilization, training for capacity building and project sustainability. The skills imparted on the community enables them to plan, implement and monitor their own water and environmental initiatives. KWAHO invests sufficient efforts in preparing modules and toolkits for training programmes designed for community resource persons. A substantive part of the project’s skills enhancement component is devoted to facilitating training workshops and exchange visits with community representatives.

Community Participation: KWAHO’s community participation approach is premised on the principle that the project’s primary stakeholders are better placed to challenge, question and make choices from the development initiatives and the menu of technologies that are available to them. The development process is locally driven to incorporate the principles and concepts of sustainable livelihoods, partnership, inclusiveness, and participation. This helps to promote a sense of ownership among the target beneficiaries, which is very vital for the sustainability of the development process.

Gender mainstreamed into projects – Equity achieved : KWAHO is sensitive to the needs of both men and women by ensuring gender equity in the allocation of resources and representation in the decision making process and implementation in WATSAN projects. Emphasis is however laid on women and children because they are the most vulnerable and marginalized in the communities. The intervention strategies selected aim at addressing factors i.e. cultural or religious that normally constraint sufficient access by women and children to better livelihoods and education opportunities in the target areas.

KWAHO’s joy is what the communities we work have to say about what they get from our projects. Giving the example below:

Extra Time Saved: When water is a provided to a community, many women are able to use the extra time saved as a result of reduced distances to the water point to do household chores effectively. Others engage into Income Generating Activities (IGAs) such as selling farm produce e.g. vegetables, fruits, cereals, while others run small home based shops. This is what one woman from Nyapora Tusaidiane group had to say when the above borehole was installed in their community with the help of KWAHO

Nowadays I earn more money from “Muraba” (which means offering farm labour in another person’s farm for payment) because I am able to work longer hours given that water is close by to my home. I don’t get worried even when my children come home from school for lunch in my absence as there is water for them—‘

At a school level school, Mr. Omutiti, the principal of Lubinu secondary school had to say this after a 40,000 litre water tank was installed in his school:

Thank you very much for remembering us, this water tank is going to serve generations and generations to come in this school. The training on hygiene that you have offered is what my boys needed most. Many of them have been missing lessons while going to seek treatment from hospital particularly for diarrheal cases but from what they have learnt from the training   it has helped reduce trips made to hospitals”.

Q. What challenges have you encountered at KWAHO?

i)         Funding reliability – like most civil societies, reliability of funding for the project activities is not ensured. Funds are normally project based and short term i.e. on a yearly basis. This is in essence becomes a threat to the stability and sustainability of project activities.

ii)        Poor infrastructure – With the goal to work in any part of Kenya, KWAHO sometimes is faced with challenges of working in areas whose infrastructure is deplorable i.e. impassable roads to some remote parts of the country where there are project sites. Poor infrastructure consequently cause expensive implementation of the project

iii)       Expensive soft ware components – Projects need sufficient time allocated for training of communities to ensure sustainability of the projects

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Kenya Pays the Cost of Bad Farming Policy

Posted on 24 October 2008. Filed under: Agriculture, Food Security |

Anthony Kimani Muhia is as ambitious as he is entrepreneurial. The 32-year-old farmer from central Kenya has figured out much of what’s wrong with the country’s farming system, and he’s determined to change it, starting with himself.

His plot of land feels not much bigger than a handkerchief – about ¾ of an acre – but he’s been using it to find new ways of farming that might help him, his family and his community escape the poverty trap.

For all its tiny size, the farm is impressive.

There is the traditional stand of bananas surrounding an 8th of an acre of maize shoots, but the other half of the land has been turned over to horticulture, with rows of spinach, Chinese cabbage, and tomatoes.

All of them are radical departures from the usual subsistence crops that the community has depended on for generations.

Photo gallery: Maize – from harvest to market

“The biggest problem we have is inheritance,” he said.

“Every father divides his land amongst his sons, and now plots are so small that it’s almost impossible to survive, let alone make a living.

“We’ve got to come up with a way of combining and consolidating farms into communal plots so we can benefit from economies of scale.”

And for Anthony, the issue of land reform lies at the heart of Kenya’s food crisis.

Small farm headaches

“The problem for small farmers like myself is that we have to buy our inputs in very small quantities. That means we get no bulk discount for seed or fertiliser.

“We can’t afford to improve our infrastructure with things like irrigation systems, so we’re dependent on rain, and there’s no way we could ever think big machines like tractors.”

Anthony showed me his meagre maize harvest: about half a bag of dried white maize – the staple that keeps most of Africa’s poor alive.

He shook his head in frustration: “The agronomists tell us we should be getting about three bags of maize for a plot my size. That’s what they harvest in the US or Europe. But here, we get one sixth of that.”

About half the maize that ends up in Kenya’s markets comes from small farmers like Anthony Muhia. Ironically, that tends to inflate the impact of rising prices for inputs like seed and fertiliser.

“Because subsistence farmers pay a premium for buying small quantities of their inputs, any rise in costs has a disproportionate impact on the price of their produce in markets,” said agricultural economist Dr Julius Okello.

“Ultimately it’s the consumers who pay, but it also makes it impossible for small farmers to improve themselves or their farms.”

Even getting produce to market is a problem.

Because small farmers can’t afford to hire a truck, brokers come by every week or so to buy from the farm gate and move the goods to town, adding their own premium in the process.

Self-inflicted inflation

Dr Okello acknowledges that the global rise in food prices has had its impact in Africa, but he also argues that most of the problem is self-inflicted; that Africa’s own unique circumstances have added to the crisis and pushed domestic prices far higher than they should be.

“The continuous subdivision of land is the starting point. We’ve never had a proper land policy in Kenya, so the farms are chopped into smaller and smaller pieces that are impossible to survive on.

“But the food distribution system – the infrastructure – is very poor, so it is very expensive to move things like maize from where there’s a surplus, to where it’s needed. Why would you organise a truck to get your maize to Nairobi, when it’ll probably break down on the bad roads along the way?”

“And on top of it all, we’ve got retrogressive trade policies. The (Kenyan) government has just announced a ban on maize exports, but all that will do is create a black market for smuggled grain that will drive prices up even higher. Either way, the consumer pays.”

Election violence

And in Nairobi the problems have been compounded by a drought, and the post election violence of early this year.

The trouble erupted after disputed elections, and tens of thousands of farmers were forced from their properties and had their crops destroyed in the process. Many still haven’t gone back to their land.

In Nairobi, trader after trader in the grain market shook their head when I asked for maize.

“It’s impossible,” said one stall-holder who gave her name as Margaret. “We haven’t had maize for ages. You just can’t find it. Of course, the season is over, but we’ve always been able to get hold of some for our customers in past years. And the price is just too high… It was about 15 shillings (20 US cents) a kilo last year. Now it is about 25 shillings – almost double.”

Margaret pulled out a small bag of “mixed grains” – maize and beans together, selling now for about 50 shillings a kilo.

“That’s it. That’s all I have,” she said. “But people here – they want pure maize. And we have nothing to sell.”

Source: BBC Radio World Service
First broadcast on 16th October

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40,000 Riparian Livelihoods Threatened as Tana River Changes Course

Posted on 23 September 2008. Filed under: Environment, Food Security |


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
The Tana River has changed course threatening the livelihoods of thousands of people

TANA RIVER, 22 September 2008 (IRIN) – The riparian livelihoods of more than 40,000 people in southeast Kenya are under threat because of the sudden change of course of the Tana River, the longest in the country.

“People in six locations in Tana Delta district are the most affected,” District Officer, Benson Karani, told IRIN.

“They lost access to the food supplements they had from fishing; the farmers now have no water for irrigation and many people now have no milk as pastoralists have driven their livestock out of the area in search of water,” he added, listing the most affected areas as Shirikisho, Ngao, Konemasa, Chara, Bilisa and Wachu Oda locations.

The Tana River changed course near the town of Garsen in early August.

Karani explained how it happened: “Someone cut a channel to take water to his farm and because of sedimentation when the water levels were low the river changed its course following heavy rainfall as alluvial soils are easily eroded. This was facilitated by the flat terrain at the brook where the river changed course.”

The population of Tana River and Tana Delta districts is estimated at 250,000, with about 134,000 being in Tana River District. Tana Delta district was carved out of Tana River district in 2007.

“Unless the river reverts to its original course, massive flooding could be experienced in the area it has diverted to; at the same time, there are more people living along the original riverbed who now have to cope without the water from the Tana River,” said the district officer.

Omar Buya, headman of Malalo village, by Matomba brook, near the point where the course of the Tana changed, said this had happened before but usually temporarily.

“The latest diversion is the longest we have experienced in many years. In the past we only experienced extreme reduction in the water level but this would change as soon as heavy rain fell upstream. Now we are having to rethi nk our survival as we realise that the water may not return to course soon,” he said.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Joyce Atieno fetches water from a hole she dug on the riverbed after the Tana River changed course in early August

“This river gave us water for farming; it allowed us to harvest big and juicy mangoes from the trees lining its shores. We fished and sold our catch in order to feed and educate our children. Now we have nothing. I have had to look for alternative means of survival.”

Buya said he was now sustaining his family by doing errands for other people such as building huts and chopping firewood.

“The hardest-hit have been the children who previously did not lack food as we caught fish from the river. Now we have to explain to them why they have to go without meals sometimes,” Buya said.

For Joyce Atieno, whose home is metres away from the now-dry riverbed, water has become so scarce she has to compete with monkeys for the little she fetches from a shallow hole she has dug on the riverbed.

“I use this stick-netting to cover the hole otherwise I will find the monkeys have raided it and I might have nothing for my family to drink and to use for other needs at home,” she said. “I hope the government will come to our aid soon and help us get this river back on course. We are really suffering. I have lived here since I was young. I am now in my 50s and this waterbed has not been dry this long.”

The local and national governments are working on redirecting the Tana back to its former course and on preventing it changing its course again.

The Tana River area is prone to both drought and flooding, undermining the food security of those who live there. Should the short-rains, due mid-October to December fail, humanitarian needs in the area are expected to rise significantly.

In the meantime, local officials have banned residents from collecting sand from the riverbed in an effort to protect underground water reserves. They have also distributed chlorine tablets to stem an increase in waterborne diseases, trucked in water and begun to repair damaged boreholes and dig new ones.

The most viable of the long-term measures under consideration, Karani said, was the digging of a one-kilometre channel at the Matomba brook to divert the Tana River back to its course, and the blocking of another six brooks downstream to enable the water to flow better.


Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Omar Buya, headman of Malalo village, by Matomba brook, near the point where the course of the Tana changed

“Stabilisation of weak points along the river’s banks is also crucial,” Karani emphasised. “We must also undertake constant monitoring of the river, by deploying scouts to patrol it, in order to keep abreast of any developments of water diversion.”

A national environmental protection and management programme, he added, was being implemented to ensure the river’s protection right from its source in central Kenya.

“On the ground, we have begun a promotion of hygiene programmes aimed at checking any upsurge in waterborne diseases and we are carrying out sensitisation through barazas [public meetings], urging the people to purify water and not to bathe or wash clothes in the river,” Karani said.

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