Three consecutive failed rainy seasons have caused drought in Kenya. 3.1 million people in Kenya face food insecurity. Also, over 13 million people across the Horn of Africa region have been left food insecure.
Drought has forced livestock farmers to abandon traditional ways of life and seek out new means of survival.
Simon, who was once a livestock farmer, earning meager wages has been recognized known for his resilience, adaptation, and triumph. He is the proud owner of an oasis of nutrient-rich foods in arid and drought-ravaged northern Kenya.
Persistent drought cost Simon’s family their animals and livestock business which was their only source of wealth, forcing them to abandon a traditional way of life and to seek alternative sources of income.
“I worked as a farmhand doing everything from cultivating, planting, and harvesting,” says Simon.
Simon has found a new source of income and he enjoys it. To him, growing food for others is a tasking thing to do, but it is better than having to deal with the unforeseen circumstances that come with keeping livestock.
In 2019, he established a ‘forest of food’ by converting scrubland into an oasis of fruit trees and vegetables in Turkana County – one of Kenya’s most drought-prone regions.
Simon took training courses from the World Food Programme (WFP) on conservation agriculture; planting techniques that involve minimal disturbance of the soil which helped boost his farming skills; marketing and educating himself online.
“I am growing many things,” he says. “I have guava, pawpaw, bananas, and sugarcane and over there – avocadoes, mangoes, and many other fruits too.”
Simon grows lemongrass, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, kale, watermelons, cowpeas, spinach, onion, chilies, oranges, and cassava among other things. “As a parent, I have a responsibility to make sure there is food at home,” says Simon. “When I have a full stomach, I feel able to go and look for money.”
Simon is constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency on the farm which is a source of both nourishment and income for his family of five.
At the top of his mind is lowering the cost of pumping water from the nearby Turkwell River. Currently, he uses a petrol-powered pump which costs around US$5 to irrigate the 100 x 70-metres farm.
By planting crops in sunken pits and using mulching – leaving all plant matter on the farm’s floor to retain moisture in the soil – he has reduced the number of times he waters the crop from thrice to once a week.
However, with the ongoing drought and temperatures rising to 40°C, he is forced to pump water for longer to satisfy the parched soil and compensate for high evaporation rates.
“The drought has significantly increased irrigation costs, but it has also helped because the demand for vegetables is now very high,” he says.
Pawpaw is Simon’s cash crop earning him the equivalent of US$62 per week, while banana is the family’s staple choice.
“WFP has provided us with seeds and linked us to buyers which means we can grow more food because we are already connected to customers,” he explains.
In the near future, WFP plans to install a solar-powered irrigation system for Simon and other farmers in the area, introducing clean energy and saving on the cost of fuel.