Improving Nutrition in Narok County Through Kitchen Gardening

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Narok County, predominantly inhabited by the Maasai community, is located on the leeward side of Mount Kenya, exposing the area to arid and semi-arid conditions. 


The area's harsh climatic conditions affect the availability of rainfall, which is crucial for practicing agriculture, a scenario that has forced the community to rely heavily on livestock for their dietary needs, resulting in nutritional deficiencies, especially among vulnerable groups like children and women.


Lack of a balanced diet resulting from exclusive consumption of animal products has led to malnutrition-related diseases such as kwashiorkor and marasmus. 

Improving Nutrition in Narok County Through Kitchen Gardening
Nalotuesha Nkoing'oni, a pastoralist in Narok County, is milking one of her cows. She has been depending on her animals for milk, meat, and blood. Photo credit: Dennis Avokoywa.


In Nkorinkori village in Narok West Sub-County, the consequences of this dietary challenge are evident. Agnes Nkongoni, a mother of 5, highlights the struggles families face in the region.


"We primarily depend on our animals' meat, milk, and blood for sustenance. While these meals provide protein, they lack other essential nutrients," she said, gesturing towards her children, who exhibit signs of stunted growth despite their minimal age differences.


The repercussions extend beyond mere physical health. The lack of adequate nutrition affects children's concentration in school, leading to increased school dropout rates. Moreover, disputes over lands often erupt as communities compete for fodder for their animals, causing tensions and further straining resources.


"In our communities, there have been instances of dispute over grazing lands and water sources essential for our animals. Here, land is individually owned, and some graze their animals past their boundaries, which often leads to disputes," remarked Brian Sankei, a PlantVillage Moran residing in Narok-West, Narok County.


Introduction of Kitchen Gardening

In response to this pressing issue, PlantVillage has launched a pioneering project in Narok County, focusing on kitchen gardening techniques tailored for pastoral communities in Kenya's arid and semi-arid lands.


"This initiative aims to introduce kitchen gardening techniques to diversify nutritional intake and enhance overall well-being," said Melodine Jeptoo, the PlantVillage Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) lead.

PlantVillage's morans demonstrating to a group of pastoralists in Narok County how to establish a vegetable nursery. Photo credit: Dennis Avokoywa.


PlantVillage is fully utilizing the rainwater available in the area during this prolonged rainy season to train the community on crop farming. The organization conducts community training sessions focused on cultivating vegetables, to supplement the traditional diet, which heavily relies on livestock products, with nutrient-rich crops.


"We launched this project a month ago in Narok County, and so far more than 80 household women have been trained on how to plant different types of vegetables, such as kale, cabbage, and spinach. We plan to replicate this model in other arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) counties in Kenya," said Serah Lanoi, Narok’s PlantVillage Field officer.


The kitchen garden initiative is among the expansive projects rolled out in ASAL Kenya under the Warrior View Project, supported by Google, to improve the living conditions of the people in arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya.

Serah Lanoi, a PlantVillage field officer, is with one of the several groups of women in Narok County. Lanoi is showing them how to weed a vegetable nursery. Photo credit: Dennis Avokoywa.


Through collaboration with local women's groups, PlantVillage ensures the dissemination of farming knowledge and skills, recognizing the pivotal role of women in household nutrition and community development.


"We have trained over four women's groups in all four sub-counties. We began by instructing them in seedbed preparation, and now we're assisting them in transplanting the seedlings from the seedbeds to nurseries," she emphasized, stressing the importance of prioritizing women. She highlighted that women are more receptive to new techniques and easier to train compared to men, who typically dedicate most of their time to tending livestock.


Community Adoption and Impact

According to a report by UNICEF Kenya, over 2 million children under the age of 5 face stunted growth problems due to malnutrition, with this number affecting more children in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya. 


Cynthia Mugaduka, a nutritionist from Oasis Hospital Kakamega, clarifies how malnutrition affects a child’s health.


“For a child to develop well, they require a balanced diet, particularly vitamins, carbohydrates, and proteins. However, for those in the ASAL region, they are deprived of carbohydrates and vitamins, which are essential. The brain requires glucose from carbohydrates to work well and coordinate with the other body parts, while the lack of vitamins leads to poor immunity, resulting in recurrent infections," she said.

Serah Lanoi, PlantVillage's Narok field officer practically instructing a pastoralist on how to plant a transplanted vegetable seedling. Photo credit: Dennis Avokoywa.


This has seen individuals like Ann Nkongoni transition from beading to farming and demonstrate the potential of kitchen gardening to promote family sustainability and community well-being.


"Soon, I will no longer depend on beading for my livelihood. The surplus I get from this project, I will sell to the community. I am confident this will help my family achieve sustainability," she said.


Besides Nkongoni's transition, Jackline Normeshuki sees a business opportunity. She contemplates expanding her business by incorporating vegetable meals sourced directly from her kitchen garden.


"I envision my business expanding. Currently, I sell tea at Nkorinkori market. With kitchen gardening, I foresee expanding my business to incorporate ugali with vegetables sourced from my kitchen garden into my tea business. PlantVillage has initiated this project at just the right time," she said.

Brian Sankei, PlantVillage's Narok moran practically instructing a pastoralist on how to plant a transplanted vegetable seedling. Photo credit: Dennis Avokoywa.


The project equips the community to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change on food security. This, in turn, will reduce the community's dependence on livestock and encourage agricultural practices suitable for the local climate.


PlantVillage's collective approach extends beyond kitchen gardening to encompass projects like the Attan and Ririma irrigation systems in Isiolo and Marsabit counties. This approach promotes sustainable agriculture and education on balanced diets, addressing malnutrition from multiple angles. These initiatives lay the foundation for healthier and more resilient communities in the face of climate change.

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