Kenya is said to have one of the most dynamic and innovative economies in sub-Saharan Africa. A decade after going through a food crisis and in the aftermath of the drought in 2016-2017, the country aims to achieve self-sufficiency in food products such as maize, tomato, cabbage, rice, beans, milk and meat. This clearly stated ambition of the Kenyan government has received support from the African Development Bank (AfDB), which sees food security as a catalyst for the growth and development of the country’s productive sectors.
With a flourishing fruit and vegetable business and the ability to employ her own farm workers, Lucy is changing stereotypes about what Kenyan women can accomplish given the right support.
It’s been eight years since Lucy, a widow and mother of four, joined the Mbogoni irrigation programme, in the Tharaka Nithi County to start a small farm to grow maize, green beans and coffee.
Now, she is able to make a good income from her one-hectare plot. Despite the sudden loss of her husband following a road accident in 2016, she is confident about the future for her children, two of whom are at university, one in secondary school and the other in primary.
“I want to thank the small-scale horticulture development programme financed by the African Development Bank. The irrigation programme has meant that I could extend my irrigated land to three hectares and I now grow eight different crops – tomatoes, onions, hazelnuts, green beans, maize, cabbages, peppers and chillies – and have two cows and one banana and one mango grove,” Lucy told a visiting team from the bank in an interview last November.
Lucy employs two men to help her in her fields. She says that her tomato crop which she harvests twice a year, generates a net annual income of approximately KSH 600,000, about $5,800. At nearly KSH 1.2 million per annum, or $11,600, her mango crop, harvested once a year, is her main source of income. Green beans come third, with two harvests per year adding some KSH 150,000 ($1400) to her income.
Lucy’s story reflects the positive impact of the project on women’s lives. In all, 1,164 women-led households have benefited from this project. The women said that 29% of their agricultural incomes were spent on school fees (children in boarding or private schools), 20% on food, 17% on clothing, 14% on investment, 14% on home renovations and 6% on miscellaneous expenses.
Florence Mbeluha has a similar story. The 30-year-old mother recounted how the project transformed her life. She also farms a hectare of land which she rents in the area of the Kabaa irrigation programme in Machakos County, south-east of Nairobi, where her maize and green beans crops give her a net annual income of KSH 720,000 about $6,900. She uses part of this to pay for her child’s school fees.
Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Ten years after a food crisis and in the aftermath of the severe drought of 2016-17, the country is aiming to achieve self-sufficiency in food products such as maize, tomato, cabbage, rice, beans, milk and meat. This ambition of the Kenyan Government found willing ears at the AfDB, which views food security as a direct catalyst of the growth and development of the country’s productive sectors.
Since launching its “Vision 2030” long-term development strategy in June 2008, which places special emphasis on agricultural development, the Kenyan Government has been working assiduously with the African Development Bank Group to combat food insecurity, especially in rural communities.
Today, more than 10 million Kenyans suffer food insecurity, mainly in the arid and semi-arid areas of the north of the country, and most of these people depend on food aid.
But, Kenya has immense areas of arable land with relatively abundant rainfall and a dense river system. Agriculture accounts for more than 35% of GDP and employs over 60% of the country’s active population. To escape the threat of famine or unemployment, though, large numbers of those living in rural areas move to the cities. The response of the African Development Bank has helped to improve life for more than two million Kenyans, especially in rural communities.
AfDB’s interventions combat poverty and improve the quality of life for local populations
Over the last 15 years, the African Development Bank has supported 10 operations and invested approximately $194 million in Kenya. One of these projects is a small-scale horticulture development project with a total cost of $27 million. The bank supported this project in order to contribute to reducing poverty and improving food security.
Through this project, 3,173 hectares of land have been irrigated, more than the 2886 hectares originally planned. A total of 100 women’s groups have received training and equipment to process agricultural products. And large numbers of farmers have been mobilised, organised and trained in a range of areas including crop production, livestock, marketing and the management of irrigation systems.
Two field visits have taken place per year in relation to this project which, as Gabriel Negatu, Director General of the AfDB’s Eastern Africa Regional Hub says, helped ensure its successful implementation: “Thanks to effective management of the resources allocated, the project achieved most of its objectives on schedule. Close co-operation with key ministries and other stakeholders enabled rapid and appropriate implementation of the project’s components and activities.”
Irrigation and infrastructure development have enabled the refurbishment of nine existing irrigation systems for small farmers over an area of more than 2886 hectares and benefited more than 5812 households – 40% of which are headed by women. Eight livestock watering points were built; eight water-consumers’ associations were established and registered, office buildings were constructed in rural areas with water and sanitation facilities and the programme’s access roads were repaired and environmental management was facilitated.
With support to farmers in production and marketing of their produce and financial services support, more than 100 farmers’ groups became engaged in horticultural production and marketing activities. Over 100 women’s groups were helped to successfully conduct various food processing activities and nine storage sheds and market sheds were built. In addition, many farmers received training in the production and marketing of horticultural crops. Farmers were also put in contact with different financial institutions in order to access credit facilities and purchase inputs.
Results beyond expectations, especially on women
Productivity of some of the crop varieties selected have exceeded expectations, ranging from 100% to 500%, depending on variety. This increase has been entirely due to the irrigation system, improved varieties, increased production capacity and the continuous training of farmers.
Average annual incomes of farmers have grown by more than 195% compared to the original target and continues to increase as new systems come into production.
In some areas, the benefits have spilled over into school enrolment rates, which have seen a considerable increase, as project beneficiaries have been able to afford children’s school fees, thanks to their increased earning power. Some beneficiaries have been able to build modern houses and create non-agricultural income-generating activities using agricultural produce.
But the most compelling impact of these changes has been their benefit to women.
Like Lucy and Florence, women of the Kathiga Gacheru irrigation programme, in Embu County, some 120 km north-east of Nairobi, owe their improved incomes and standard of living to the irrigation systems, training and support received as a result of the project.
Before the project, agriculture was highly dependent on rainfall. Those farmers surveyed admitted that in times of drought, they used to rely on the government and aid agencies for food aid. Now, thanks to the irrigation systems, the training they have received and other project inputs, this agricultural community has become self-sufficient in food. The programme has a total of 161 members from households in Embu County, including 23 families headed by women. Beatrice Njeru is one of these.
Njeru used to pump water from a nearby river to irrigate her farm. She could only grow tomatoes on one eighth of her land because of her difficulties in accessing water. Thanks to the project, she has extended her fields to two hectares and now has two cows and grows cabbages, papayas and tomatoes, as well as having mango, orange and banana groves. She also plants sugar cane for soil conservation and grass to feed the cows. In this way, she now earns KSH 1.5 million ($15,000) per year.