Farming for a brighter future

How vegetable farming changed the life of a refugee family in Kalobeyei Settlement, Kenya

May 28, 2020 · 6 min read

As told to Christine Khavetsa

Hoda standing in front of the Kalobeyei farm, where she is one of 600 farmers tending the crops. Photo: WFP/Robert Eipa

“That Tuesday afternoon the sun was unusually hot. The lorry parked on a dusty road on what I came to learn is village 2 of Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya. My daughter carried a gunny sack. It contained rice, peas and vegetable oil, that was to be our food for the next two weeks. The door of the lorry swung open, I hopped out with my son tightly wrapped on my back, my other children hopped out of the truck as well. We offloaded our belongings, tied up in three large bedsheets. This strange and dry place was to be our home. My thoughts rushed back to life in Juba. I lived in a posh home in the outskirts of the town with my husband, our son and five daughters. Life was good until one day he left home never to come back. Some people say he went to Congo while others say he went to Khartoum. I know that he left never to return. He has never called me. Sometimes I think he got caught up in the war and died. I know that he is not coming back. This is why I sought refuge in Kalobeyei settlement with my six children,” Hoda Nyadwela Adam, 41, explains her transformative journey from South Sudan to the refugee settlement in Kalobeyei in Northern Kenya.

On arrival to Kalobeyei in 2016, the World Food Programme (WFP) provided Hoda and her family a food ration for two weeks, before she was registered for the monthly cash transfer ‘Bamba Chakula’.

“The cash assistance was not enough. My family would run out of food mid-month and I would be forced to take credit at the WFP-contracted traders to cater for my family’s need. The food would not last for the month because the market prices are quite high. At that time the fresh vegetables were very scarce in the market. They would come from Kitale [about 400 km from Kakuma] and by the time they arrived to the camps three days later, they would be withered, but at the same time, very expensive. Most of the time I would not even afford to buy vegetables, so we lived mainly on cereals, pulses and omena [small dried fish].”

Hoda tending crop at the Kalobeyei horticulture farm. Photo: WFP/Robert Eipa

WFP, with support from the European Union started activities in Kalobeyei to encourage people to produce their own food. Several water harvesting structures have been constructed to improve the livelihoods of both refugees and the host community — meeting the needs of farmers as well as livestock keepers.

In 2018, WFP constructed a water pan in Hoda’s neighbourhood making water available for agriculture. WFP also fenced a portion of land around the water pan to prevent animal and human interference. People were then allocated plots around the farm in June 2019.

“I was among the first refugees to embrace farming. I was assisted with a hoe, rake and seeds. I acquired several plots around the water pan and planted kales, spinach, tomatoes, okra, cowpea and jute mallow. Every day I wake up with a determination to work hard on my farm. I enjoy working on the farm because it gives me hope and a sense of purpose. Before I started farming, I used to feel empty. I did not like sitting at home all day long just waiting for WFP’s food ration. Now I feel that I have a choice and some control over what happens in my life.

It was easy for me to embrace farming because it gave me a chance to produce the vegetables that I enjoyed eating back at home in South Sudan — vegetables like jute mallow, cowpea and black nightshade, which I previously could not afford. I had never practised farming before joining Kalobeyei settlement. I have learnt it all here, and I like it very much. My children join me in the farm in the evening so that they too can learn the skill.

Kalobeyei is very warm and the vegetables mature very fast. Within a month after we were allocated the plots, I started harvesting vegetables for consumption. We started eating different kinds of vegetables. My children were very happy because they did not like omena and now they had a substitute. I stopped selling food rations to buy vegetables, and Bamba Chakula started to last us longer” explains Hoda.

A section of the Kalobeyei horticulture farm which is irrigated using drip kits. Water is pumped from a WFP-constructed water pan to the farm. Photo: WFP/Robert Eipa.

According to Hoda, a better diet for family was a huge achievement because she knew it kept diseases away. She is more grateful for her gardens now at a time when the threat of coronavirus looms, because she knows her family is in good health.

Hoda’s motivation was further boosted when she started to sell vegetables.

“I made my first money ever in Kenya from selling vegetables. I did not even have to go to the market. I sold the vegetable here at the farm to traders and people buying for consumption. I have been making between 5,000 and 6,000 shillings [US$50–60] every month from vegetable sales,” says Hoda proudly.

WFP completed construction of the horticultural farm in Kalobeyei settlement and laid a drip irrigation system in November 2019. Hoda was among the 300 farmers (equally split between refugees and locals) allocated plots here.

She planted tomatoes. When the first case of coronavirus was reported in Kenya in mid-March, Hoda’s tomatoes were about to mature and the timing was ideal.

Hoda supplied tomatoes to the small traders making 12,000 shillings (US$120) in six weeks. Retailers preferred her crop because it was fresh, straight from the farm and her price per kilogramme was lower than that of traders bringing in produce from Kitale in the western Kenya highlands.

Since the dusk to dawn curfew was declared and movement restrictions put in place, the demand for fresh vegetables has risen steadily.

Hoda is among the several refugees in Kalobeyei whose lives have improved as a result of the proceeds from farming. Through the earnings, Hoda has bought household items, clothing and continues to pay school fees for her children including for the eldest daughter is studying in a college in Eldoret town. She is proud that she can afford better and nutritious meals for her family.

Hoda is a leader and has won the heart of her community due to her hard work. She has learnt to speak Kiswahili fluently and hence communicates easily with both refugees and Kenyans. Because of her commendable personality, Hoda has been selected as part of the committee members who help in managing operations and maintenance of the horticulture farm.

“I use the opportunity to encourage single mothers to work very hard and improve their lives. I love this horticultural farm project since it is giving me more income,” she says with a huge smile on her face.

Hoda has turned her life around from the desolate ‘widow’ she was when she first set foot in Kalobeyei, to a community leader spreading hope among other women.

This self-reliance project that is funded by the European Union and implemented by the World Food Programme in collaboration with the government of Kenya, Turkana County, and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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