FAO assists Kenyan communities to diversify in Agriculture

Invited by the West Pokot County Government of HE Simon Kachapin, FAO Representative in Kenya, Mr. Gabriel Rugalema, and the Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Mr. Mauro Massoni, visited West Pokot County, 14thto 15thJune 2016. The objective of the mission was to witness the impact that the intervention is having on local communities and to discuss with the county officials how to further synergize efforts.

The Italian Ambassador officially informed the Governor that a 10 million Euro-Italian funded third phase of the Wei Wei irrigation project is set to be launched in a few weeks’ time. The Italian government established the Wei Wei Irrigation Scheme in the early 1990s, enabling farmers to practice drip and furrow irrigation along the river banks and produce crops off-season.

The farmers have mainly focused on maize production, but further technology has been necessary to increase diversification of food products while responding to the growing population of residents interested in farming. FAO has so far provided ninety generators that farmers use to bring water to their farms. The FAO Representative to Kenya thanked the project beneficiaries for their cooperation and engagement, and promised to return to West Pokot for further engagement.

The two day-visit covered over 150 km of the region visiting farmers who are benefitting from innovations of fruit and vegetable improvement not previously grown in the areardquo;, said FAO Representative Gabriel Rugalema.

The project is coordinated FAO project lead Giuseppe De Bac, an agronomist/horticulturist with over thirty years of experience in facilitating communities in crop diversification.

Mangoes, papayas, bananas and watermelons as well as okra, egg plants and green grams are now thriving and gradually, new ideas of both consumption and markets are being introduced in West Pokotand; this is quite encouragingrdquo;, added Guiseppe De Bac.

One of FAO’s interventions has been to establish county offices that work in collaboration with both the national and county ministries of agriculture. There has been a strong need to address the chronic challenge of food insecurity in a semi-arid area that remains relatively cut off from the rest of the country due to poor infrastructure and relatively low literacy rates. This is gradually being achieved through irrigation, crop diversification and new technologies of fostering agriculture. For this to be sustainable, a strong relationship between FAO representatives, the county government and the communities is constantly being nurtured.

Creating local fruit markets

Since July 2015, at least eight groups comprising of about a hundred persons have been taught how to propagate good quality fruits (papaya, banana, avocado and mangos). The seedlings that are propagated in county government fruit nurseries are then sold to farmers who grow the same trees in their farms, converting Central West Pokot into a fruit growing region. So far, more than four thousand seedlings have been sold, with more than fifty-thousand seedlings targeted by the end of the project in February 2017.

Reliance on livestock, largely considered the property of men in a highly patriarchal society often means that women have little to no control over the family’s wealth. Livestock is not only a symbol of wealth but also often amounts to a family’s entire wealth in a society where land largely remains communal. FAO’s intervention targets those left out in the division of wealth � women and the youth – and is going a step further by facilitating and enhancing the productivity and income of rural households. The project beneficiaries are gradually being assisted to sell their produce by creating market linkages with consumers and encouraging value addition of the products. For instance, one of the women groups in Lomut is currently producing mango chips that are sold in the local markets. FAO has also helped construct market stalls along the Lodwar-Turkana highway where fruits are sold.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is aware that better agricultural practices can help bridge some of the existent gaps and enable rural communities access food and improve their livelihoods.

The 900,000 US Dollar two-year project funded by the Italian Cooperation targets fifteen thousand persons comprising of women groups, the youth and farmers in the areas of Sigor, Masol, Lomut, Ortum and Lelan.

Since 2015, demonstration plots managed by FAO are being used to train farmers transition into farming as well as grow other fruits and vegetables that they not only consume locally, but also target markets in the nearby towns such as Kitale and Eldoret. Some of the skills that have been introduced in West Pokot include the selection of viable seeds, preparation of seed-beds and grafting of fruit trees to improve the varieties.

Reaching Marginal Counties

The people of West Pokot County might be better known for pastoralism, but climate change, urbanization and land tenure challenges are just some of the factors that are forcing farmers to rethink their lifestyle. Lying 470km North-West of Nairobi, communities here face an uphill task towards sustainable food security and access to markets. Most of the former pastoral communities have become poorer and have been left out of Kenya’s economic growth and social transformation. The majority of such communities are in the arid and semi-arid lands which have practiced pastoralism for ages.

Kenya has been a devolved state since 2013 with county governments largely operating independently.

Identified as one of thecountry’s marginalized counties,with a slower pace of development compared to the rest, context-based solutions have been necessary to address systemic challenges that can be traced back to geographical location, inequitable government policies, culture and lifestyle among other factors. West Pokot’s dominant narrative in the media has been of warring tribes, tales of cattle rustling and pastoralism � ignoring a part of the region that lies in the highlands that has been practicing agriculture for many years and is fertile, but under exploited.

The Government of Kenya is keen to ensure that the economic gains of the last decade are equitably distributed and also that the marginalizedrdquo; counties contribute to Kenya’s economic growth and development. One solution has been to work with various development partners in support of livelihood diversity and economic growth in the marginal counties.

The aim of the project is the eventual integration of successful field demonstrations and use of best practices and appropriate policies that will lead to sustainable improvement of the livelihoods among the communities in West Pokot. With the type of strong partnerships witnessed in this project between FAO, the government, the Italian Cooperation and local communities, there is a strong indication that the fruits of this project will be sweet.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).