Connecting farmers to markets in Northern Kenya
Institutions such as schools, the local government and refugees living in Turkana are a ready market for local farmers
Lokaale Ngimare Pelekech guards her acre of sorghum all day long. It is easy to see why. Her field is the only one with some crop. The surrounding farms are bare. Many planted, but the crop withered and died when the rains failed.
Lokaale lives with two of her children in Nakwanjom village, Northern Kenya, an area prone to drought. This farm is her main source of food.
“I’ll stay here until it is all ready for harvest,” she said. “I decided to leave all other activities and concentrate on the farm. When the first harvest failed, I planted again. Luckily, it rained and my crop is now almost maturing.”
Lokaale has built a makeshift hut on the edge of the farm to shield her from the hot sun. She patiently guards the crop against destructive birds.
Productive assets linked to markets
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is working with farmers like Lokaale in small scale irrigation schemes along the Turkwel River and other parts of the county to grow crops for food and to supply any surplus to the local market including the area primary schools, Kakuma refugee camps and Kalobeyei settlement.
One community group is already milling and adding nutrients to flour for the County Government-supported early childhood education centres as well as supplying the WFP-supported school meals programme in the Kakuma refugee camps.
In Kakuma camps, WFP gives food assistance to the refugees in the form of cash and in-kind food; while in Kalobeyei, WFP’s assistance is almost entirely in the form of cash transfers. This gives the local farmers a ready market. WFP injects around 95 million Kenyan shillings (US$950,000) into the Kakuma and Kalobeyei markets every month.
In collaboration with Turkana County Government, WFP is training the farmers on improved crop production, reducing post-harvest losses, marketing, commodity pricing and value addition skills. WFP is also strengthening the group’s access to structured markets by entering into forward and direct contracting for purchase of locally produced, drought tolerant and popular food crops such as sorghum and cowpeas, meaning farmers are guaranteed a market for their produce.
Gradually, WFP plans to improve the production capacity of the host community living near Kalobeyei town to take advantage of the static market provided by the 220,000 refugees hosted in the county. Farmers such as Lokaale can grow sorghum knowing that their harvest will have a ready market.
Water harvesting funnels
Currently, close to 91,000 people in Turkana County work with WFP on asset creation activities such as constructing irrigation channels, fencing farm plots to keep animals out, and expansion of irrigation land to create room for increased production. All aimed at developing their assets so in the future they can produce enough food all year round to feed their families.
In return for their labour, they receive food from WFP during the non-production months and when drought conditions persist.
Lokaale is one of the 500 farmers growing sorghum on two farms in the outskirts of Kalobeyei town. It is the preferred crop to grow as it only take three months to mature and is drought-resistant.
“The County Government has distributed 300 mt of sorghum, green grams and cowpea seeds to farmers in Kalobeyei Ward of Turkana West sub-county,” said Lopem Ebenyo, the area agricultural officer. “The biggest challenge is that we are still relying on rains to grow crops and they are very uneven, even within the same locality,” he added.
Looking for a longer-term solution
With the support of the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, WFP helped the farmers plough the two farms in preparation for planting in March.
Poor rains in the March to May season however meant that farmers like Lokaale had to replant again. Hopefully this may become a thing of the past as WFP is working with the Turkana County Government to establish a more reliable source of water to supplement the current spate irrigation (funnelling water to the crops using raised soil bunds).
“We are exploring the area to identify suitable locations for erecting water pans,” said Lopem. “We will harvest surface-run off water and use it to grow crops or grass for livestock.”
Such assets will allow smallholder farmers increase their production enabling them to supply formal markets for income.
Livelihood activities in Kalobeyei settlement are funded by the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. WFP is providing food and cash to refugees in Kenya this year thanks to donations from Canada, China, the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Germany, Hungary, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Click here to read more about WFP’s work in Kenya.