From Food Insecure To Self-Reliant

How asset creation and livelihood diversification leads to resilience in Kenya’s arid counties.

Susan Wanjiru Mwangi tends to her kale crops on Kakili Farm in Isiolo County in northern Kenya. Picture: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

“I wanted for us to be self-sufficient, because I knew that one day the free food would end.”

Susan Wanjiru Mwangi ushers me towards a chair in a corner of Kakili Farm, her three-acre farm in Kenya’s Isiolo County, as she recalls the days when her family were enrolled in the World Food Programme’s (WFP) ‘Food for Assets’ (FFA) programme in 2010.

Susan and her husband James joined the programme after a succession of droughts in 2008 and 2009 had left them unable to grow food and dependent on relief food.

“Life was difficult” says Susan, “I used to search for vegetables and charcoal from other farms to sell to feed and clothe my family of six children. My husband made bricks for building and our money was very little.”

Under the FFA scheme, Susan’s family and others were taught dryland rain water harvesting techniques such as zai pits, trapezoidal and semi-circular bunds, where crops would be planted in pits dug to catch rain water. In return for the work, families received cereals and pulses from WFP.

“Such water harvesting techniques were effective but very labour intensive for the farmers” explains WFP’s Programme and Policy Officer Timothy Koskei.

In 2015, using funding from USAID’s Food for Peace, WFP in partnership with the Kenya government and Action Aid initiated a visibility study into the use of micro-irrigation schemes using water from a nearby stream. By constructing a weir on the stream, engineers were able to pipe water to the nearby farms, while still allowing those downstream continued access to the water.

Monitored by an irrigation committee, Kakili Farm is allowed piped water for one hour per week, enabling Susan to irrigate half of her three-acre farm.

Susan’s husband James clears the irrigation channels to allow the water to flow. Picture: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio
Water flows through sunken beds on the farm to irrigate the crops. Pictures: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

In a bid to combat future climatic shocks, farmers are encouraged to diversify their livelihoods and today Kakili Farm boasts a variety of irrigated crops such as spinach, maize, cowpeas, onions in addition to a variety of livestock such as goats, cows and chickens.

“A group of us formed what is called a merry-go-round, where we all contribute money and then take it in turns to use the collective money to buy things for our farms. When it was our turn, we bought seeds and some chickens” says Susan.

Susan’s family also have ten cows, the first of which they were able to buy after raising enough money from the sale of their onions.

The females are kept for milking and the bulls can be sold for up to 50,000 Kenya shillings (US$500) when they reach three years of age.

Kakili Farm now has ten cows, chickens and some goats. Pictures: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

Benefitting from WFP’s partnership with Government

As WFP in Kenya shifts its approach from service delivery to that of supporting national and county governments, Susan benefits from the expertise of agricultural officers from Isiolo County government who help with agricultural training and crop choices in addition to receiving WFP’s technical expertise in accessing food markets and livelihood diversification.

Susan receives expert advice on her crop of cowpeas from the government’s Agricultural Officer Evelyn Gathogo. Picture: WFP/Alessandro Abbonizio

Today, Susan sells eggs whenever she needs to raise money for school fees, and with WFP’s technical assistance she has even been able to supply chicken and eggs to a nearby Kenyan military base and French beans to a major horticultural company.

However, often affected by quality and consistency issues, small-scale farmers like Susan are encouraged by WFP to form cooperative societies. This not only eliminates any potential middle-men and their associated costs, but also enables the farmers to aggregate their produce and access larger food markets.

“Yes, we are now self-sufficient in food,” says Susan “And I now want to buy a water generator and more pipes with which I can cultivate the rest of my farm.”

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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