FAO, WFP and partners help refugees in Kenyan camp to grow their own food by harvesting rainwater

Martin Karimi
May 2, 2017 · 4 min read

Kalobeyei settlement, near the Kakuma refugee camps, opened in June 2016 as a model to increase self-reliance and integrate refugees with the local people. The settlement brings the Kenyan host and refugee populations together to jointly participate in economic, educational and livelihood activities. Together, the county government, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and partners, with funding from the European Union Trust Fund, are supporting crop growing in backyard gardens using sunken beds and other technologies.

Ishara Baraka, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, prepares a garden behind her house in Kalobeyei settlement in northern Kenya. WFP/Martin Karimi.

Ishara Baraka scoops mounds of manure and diligently mixes it with the soil. She is preparing a garden behind her house in Kalobeyei settlement in readiness for planting.

“Back home, I was a farmer. Here, I intend to plant cowpeas and vegetables such as amaranth and okra,” said Ishara, a 23-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Vegetables are good for the body.”

About 200 refugees in Kalobeyei settlement are setting up backyard gardens employing ‘sunken beds’ for irrigation. Sunken beds harvest rainwater and are constructed to retain moisture, even from little amounts of waste water flowing from homesteads.

WFP is introducing dryland farming methods as a first step in improving food production and nutrition and increasing self-reliance among refugees.

Integrated living

Since its opening last year, 26,000 refugees have settled in Kalobeyei, which is supported by WFP cash transfers, called ‘Bamba Chakula’, Swahili slang for ‘get your food.’

Refugees use the cash to buy food at the local market where host and refugee communities trade side by side.

“Without vegetables in the diet, children may fall ill easily,” said Rhoda Jokudu Martin. “I want to plant my own food to supplement the cash we get through Bamba Chakula.”

Twenty three-year-old Rhoda and her 27-year-old husband David Yespota James came from Central Equatoria in South Sudan at the end of 2016.

“WFP and the government agriculture officers trained us on layout and construction of sunken beds. We were given a hoe, a rake and some manure. The sunken beds will help keep water for longer, allowing the crop to grow to maturity,” said David.

Technical support and inputs

WFP has given farm tools, seeds and manure to over 200 families. FAO is training the farmers on crop management. WFP/Martin Karimi

Agriculture officials from the county government together with WFP held community training sessions in Kalobeyei, demonstrating the ideal measurements of sunken beds as well as the desired depth. Each bed measures five by six metres and is subdivided into four parts for ease of managing watering, weeding, pest control and harvesting.

Over 200 families interested in establishing simple rain water harvesting technology have been identified and issued with farm tools including hoes, rakes, pangas, wheelbarrows and pans for scooping out dirt.

An initial 100 farmers received a supply of seeds for their first crop. So far, WFP has distributed 400 kilogrammes of assorted seeds such as jute mallow, cowpea, okra, amaranth and black nightshade. WFP is buying manure from local herders and supplying it to the refugees in order to enrich the soil before planting.

“I was among the first to plant. I expect to start harvesting okra in about one month’s time,” said 20-year-old Delphine Mutwimana from Burundi.

FAO will train selected farmers on best crop management practices using a farmer field schools approach, where the first group will in turn train other farmers. This will equip the farmers with the knowledge needed to make sound agricultural decisions.

Sprouting bed of okra covered with a shade net to prevent excessive loss of water through evaporation and to protect the seedlings from livestock and chicken. WFP/Martin Karimi.

Larger farms in the future

WFP, the county government and FAO have identified areas within a 430-hectare plot allocated for agriculture in Kalobeyei settlement that are suitable for rainwater harvesting and cultivation. Plans are underway to develop rainwater-harvesting structures to assist the refugee and Turkana communities to produce more and higher quality food.

“Backyard gardens are an entry point to strengthening the ability of the refugees to start growing their own food,” said Humphrey Emuria, the Sub-County Agriculture Officer for Turkana West. “The goal is to improve nutrition and food security at the family level and then progress towards larger-scale crop production.”

Through its asset creation work, WFP is also supporting local farmers to start dryland farming using rainwater harvesting technologies on 200 hectares near Kalobeyei town centre.

“These activities are aimed at improving agricultural production for both the refugees and the host population,” said Zippy Mbati, Programme Policy Officer at WFP. “The host population farmers are also expected to supply refugee markets with produce, enhancing economic integration.”

Livelihood activities in Kalobeyei settlement are funded by the European Union.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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