Facing ever more frequent droughts and floods, an estimated 1.1 million Kenyans living in the country’s arid and semi-arid regions struggle to maintain their crops and herds, and thousands of children face a constant threat of hunger and malnutrition. Emergency food assistance has provided a lifesaving safety net to many of these households—but can it do more?
Ndeli Samuel is evidence that it can. A widow with four children, she lives in Kathemboni in Kitui County in the marginal agricultural lands of Kenya. She is now a beneficiary of a U.N. World Food Program (WFP) project funded by USAID. The project is an emergency response that goes beyond saving lives to helping communities become more resilient to challenges such as the effects of climate change as they try to recover from the 2011-2012 drought.
In Kathemboni, food assistance enables heads of household like Samuel to participate in programs that teach new skills—like creating sunken crop beds that help retain water. When farmers irrigate their crops, the sunken beds help keep the water from running off.
In exchange for participating in this project, the farmers receive rations of either food or cash to help meet their food security needs during the hungry season before the harvest. The idea is to provide emergency assistance in a way that will reduce a household’s need for future assistance. Cash is provided to beneficiaries with access to functional markets where food is readily available at a reasonable cost. When markets are not functional and food is not readily available, the program provides food rations.
Kathemboni is one of more than 700 resilience-building projects supported by WFP in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas and marginal agricultural lands. In fiscal year 2013, USAID food assistance programs contributed $58.4 million to support WFP operations in drought-stricken regions of Kenya. Of this, $45 million was provided in food and $13.4 million was provided in cash transfers.
Farmers learn new skills on communal land where they are each allocated a plot. They can then apply their skills on their individual farms. By adopting simple but more effective technologies to make better use of water in this semi-arid area, most participants are able to grow enough food for their families in as little as one season.
Of the 57 people working in this area as part of the project, 45 are women. Women also make up most of the members on the project committee.
Samuel, who chairs the 24-person project management committee, says she is ready to graduate from the program and help others in her community.
“We started work on this site in May of this year,” she says. “We started by planting kale, spinach, tomatoes, onions and maize. We benefit from this project. First, we eat the vegetables at home. And we also sell some of the foods." She adds that "Our plan is to expand this project. We’d also like to involve more community members, especially those who cannot work. We’d like to include them in the project and make sure they do not go hungry.”
Last updated: May 02, 2014