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Kenya to conserve soil to help farmers

08-29-2011 08:29 BJT

In the first part of a special series on the drought gripping the Horn of Africa, our correspondent Okwi Okoh tells us about the challenges facing communities in affected areas. Today, he looks at how one grassroots project could change the fortunes of some 400 households in Kenya’s Mwingi District.

Tilling land - by hand - is not an easy task. It’s especially difficult in Mutwaathi Village in Kenya’s eastern Mwingi District where the terrain is hilly and the heat is intense. Despite the dust and hard, dry earth they’re digging up, these farmers have chosen to believe their government’s predictions that the rains will come in about two months and put an end years of drought.

The government - with support from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization - has been preparing farmers to make the most of whatever rainfall they may get.

Charles Oranga of UN food and Agricultre said, “If you looked in this region, you’ll see the kind of soils that we have here. They’re quite unfavourable. The soils themselves are fertile but they have been eroded and if not well protected, if not well conserved, then the output will be very low. So part of what we’re doing for this region is to ensure that the soils are conserved.”

These trenches and terraces are meant to trap rainwater that would have otherwise flowed down the hills, not staying long enough to sufficiently soak the earth, and also carrying off the fertile topsoil that’s needed to properly nourish crops.

The farmers were organized into small groups that work together to prepare each other’s fields and dig dams near seasonal rivers. They are also taught by agricultural experts about farming techniques, entrepreneurship and given various life lessons like how to avoid HIV/AIDS.

But many of the people who need the lessons the most, have left their parched farms in search of other ways of putting food on the table.Getting farmers like Rose Mutia to stay on their land, trusting that the rain will come, and that the new methods will bear fruit takes a lot of convincing, so the government and its partners came up with a Voucher for Work initiative. Farmers are given vouchers worth 200 Kenya shillings - that’s about 2 US dollars - for each day they work and train on the farms.

Rose Mutia, a farmer said, “There’s a lot of peace in the community now because the vouchers can only be converted into food. Before this system was introduced, some husbands would get work, get paid and then buy alcohol which led to a lot of domestic disputes.”

One of the vouchers is used at accredited hardware stores to buy construction materials for building the trenches and walls that will help harvest rainwater and conserve the soil, the other coupon is used to buy food from traders like Josphat Kithome. Josphat was specially selected by the farmers in the program to redeem their vouchers for food of equivalent value.

Josphat Kithome, a trader said, “This voucher system is important because people don’t have to rely on credit and end up incurring debt. Before this, people were borrowing too much. Others would just hang around here, saying their children are hungry and that they haven’t eaten in three days, so I would just help them even if they could not pay.”

Okwi Okoh in Mwingi, Kenya said, “Traders like Josphat Kithome are a critical lifeline for the farmers in the vouchers for work project. Without rain, their farms can’t produce so this is their only source of food for now.”

One of the objectives of the project is to give people practical ways to solve their problems and keep them from depending on short-term, emergency solutions like food aid. Beth Syengo runs the Kenya Network of Grass-root Women which helps implement the Voucher for Work initiative. She says its important to empower local organizations to run programs like this rather than managing them remotely.

Beth Syengo, exec. Director of Ken-Grow said, “Working with the grass-root is very important. When the capacity of local institution is built that they continue working with the local community. They are living with them every day, they know what they go through, they go through what they go through so they are together in suffering and in the enjoyment of the fruits of the project.”

But funding for the program will soon run out and issues like helping farmers get the right seeds, storage for their crops and better access to markets have still not been adequately addressed.

Okoh said, “All this work is being done to get their farms ready for the rains in October if and when they come. But much more needs to done to help people here improve their lives despite their difficult circumstances and harsh environment.

Editor:Li Wanran |Source: CNTV.CN

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