Pastoralists in Marsabit County exhibit spinach and kale from PlantVillage's, Ririma irrigation scheme.
For decades, the arid Marsabit County in the northern Kenya region has been least famous for crop farming, forcing the communities around it to stick to pastoralism as the only way of sustaining their livelihood.
"We depend on milk, blood, and meat from our animals to survive; we are experiencing hostile climatic conditions that are unfavorable for crop farming; unless otherwise, no food crop can survive under these conditions," said Thureya Isole, a resident.
According to the Kenya 2019 census, the area has a population of 459,785 people, putting a large percentage of the county's population at risk of malnutrition.
With milk, meat, and blood as their staple foods, community members, especially children and women, are deprived of other essential nutrients such as vitamins, mineral ions, and carbohydrates required for proper body growth, resulting in a high childbirth mortality rate, stunted growth, and an increase in mother-to-child infections, among other conditions.
"Some children survive narrowly but grow up weak, while some don't make it past birth due to malnourishment, "added Isole.
PlantVillage as the game changer
However, some rays of hope have flashed on the community following PlantVillage’s launch of a wick irrigation system in Ririma, Marsabit County, as part of a plan to transform the community's view of crop farming and regreen the ASAL's communal land.
A section of pastoralists who have benefited from the project, accompanied by PlantVillage's Dream members.
The project is barely two months old, yet the residents have begun benefiting from a supply of fresh fruits and green leafy vegetables.
"Our goal is for tens of thousands of hectares to be transformed from bone-dry sand to vegetable-sprouting soil. Water exists underground; if we can have golf courses in Arizona, we can surely have vegetable plots in the Horn of Africa," said David Hughes, founder and director of PlantVillage.
About a quarter of an acre of bare land in the county has been converted into productive farming land and planted with food crops such as kale and spinach to help people diversify their nutritional choices.
"During my clinical checkups, the medics I interact with have been asking me to observe a balanced diet, especially during pregnancy, not only for my own good but also for the unborn baby.
"They emphasized greens like spinach and kale, which are rich in vitamins A, C, and B6, which help in vision, immunity, prevention of mother-to-child infections, and nausea reduction during gestation," said Kidogo Eydimole, another resident.
Before the establishment of the Ririma wick irrigation project, residents walked more than 10 kilometers to Kargi town to purchase vegetables, a cumbersome journey that forced many to just rely on meat and milk, hence risking malnutrition.
"Children usually suffer from marasmus and kwashiorkor, characterized by brown hair and sunken eyes. With the irrigation project in place, we hope our children will have all it takes to grow healthy," she added.
Changing mind set
PlantVillage Dream Team scouts Fofen Lawrence and Rashid Kena have been entrusted with the task of managing the farm. When there is a harvest, they distribute it to the people in the area.
"Since its inception, we have harvested twice: once on April 16th, when we harvested 25kg of kale and 5kg of spinach, and a second time on May 4th, when we harvested 5 kg of spinach and 48 kg of kale," said Lawrence.
Members of the PlantVillage Dream team harvesting the second batch of kale and spinach.
The duo is now recommending more training and engagement with the locals to help them promote and depend on themselves, as well as start their own kitchen gardens.