Drought in Kenya: Ensuring Food Security through Diversification and Simple Innovations
Edward (Eddy) Ouko lives in Kisumu County in western Kenya. He is married with four children. When World Neighbors, a small development group based in Oklahoma City, came to his community in 2005 to partner with a community-based organization called Friends of Katuk Odeyo (FOKO), Eddy was a struggling farmer specializing mainly in growing corn and beans and keeping traditional breeds of goats and poultry. Along with other farmers, World Neighbors taught Eddy better methods of crop production and livestock husbandry.
This was achieved by forming common interest groups in which farmers could learn from one another. The fruits and vegetable group determined that corn was very water intensive. While it is a staple and nearly all farmers need to grow and sell it, introducing specialized, higher priced crops would lower water use and increase income. In addition to corn, Eddy now grows sorghum, butternut, beans, mangoes and other vegetables. The crops are improved varieties that mature faster and require less water. For example, the traditional mango varieties Eddy used to plant took many years to bear fruit and were primarily for home consumption. The faster growing and more nutritious varieties are sold at market.
The UN and other groups have been sounding the alarm about drought and starvation in East Africa, including in Kenya, where the government has declared an emergency. Immediate aid is necessary. But even more important are changes in farming methods to help small-scale farmers become more resilient to drought and climate change.
In Kenya, these changes center on diversifying production from water intensive corn and wheat; and adopting simple sustainable techniques that lower all inputs, including water, and increase output and profit. Eddy’s story is one of many.
The result of these innovations and new revenue sources is that Eddy’s family is food secure and produces a significant surplus that is sold in local markets. He has gone from subsistence to a market-driven farmer. Eddy has used the profits to take his daughter Linda through high school. Her next stop is college. Eddy’s son Bill attends a good boarding secondary school.
In 2015 Eddy was recognized by the county government of Kisumu as a model farmer and was chosen to host the annual ‘World Food Day,’ during which farmers and government extension workers came to learn from his experiences.
As Eddy’s example illustrates, relatively simple and low-cost changes based on community needs can significantly increase resilience and result in greater output and profit. This enables farmers like Eddy to help their children take the next steps up the development ladder through education, better health, and other improvements.
Community-centered approaches like those practiced by World Neighbors in Kenya and other countries point to how adapting to climate change can not only prevent starvation. It can also spur better and more profitable agricultural practices.
This op-ed was written by Kate Schecter, President, and CEO of World Neighbors.