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Turkana women defy drought to produce vegetables, fruits

By Stephen Rutto
A group of resilient women are defying the harsh condition to produce vegetables and beans at Aragae farm located in Namorkinonok village Turkana County. The women tend to a variety of green vegetables including Sukuma Wiki, African night shade as well as cowpeas. 10-04-2019. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]

Two decades ago, a group of ten women ventured into vegetable farming in Turkana County. As parts of the county continue to rely on food aid, the group continues to supply vegetables, fruits and beans to most hotels and restaurants in Lodwar.

From the proceeds, the women have sustained their families and cushioned themselves against the vagaries of weather. 

The farm, known as Aragae is in Namorkinonok village barely five kilometres away from Lodwar town which has been its greatest advantage in terms of accessibility.  

When we visited the farm, we were welcomed by the women tending to a variety of vegetables including Sukuma Wiki, African night shade as well as cowpeas.

Under the scorching sun whose effects have spread across many homes in the region, you can’t miss Aragae farm from a distance. Apart from vegetables, they also grow butternuts and pawpaw.

Through drip irrigation, the women have been producing vegetables and fruits all year round for the last 20 years.

The water that keeps Aragae farm green and productive is sourced from a borehole in the farm. To water the crops, they have installed a solar-powered pump.

Pauline Lemlemichoi, chairperson of the group says it is made up of mostly widows left with no income when their husbands died.

Lemlemichoi says it all started as an experiment to establish whether farming was a sustainable venture in the drought prone area.

“We were weaving handbags initially but we opted to venture into farming after realising the soils here are fertile, and that we only needed water to produce vegetables. The women are now producing enough to feed their families and the neighbouring Lodwar town. We also earn good income that has enabled us to comfortably educate our children,” says Lemlemichoi.

One of their greatest challenges, Lemlemichoi says, is water and every time the country goes through drought, their production is affected significantly which means their income also goes down.

Lucy Lokenyen, the farm’s treasurer says they have also started growing coriander and water melon.

Rebecca Lokilai, one of the farmers, says thanks to the venture, she has been able to feed her family and conquer malnutrition in her family which she had been unable to deal with before.

The women’s technical advisor Lucia Lebasha, an agronomist working for Caritas Kenya, the development and humanitarian arm of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) lauds the women for venturing into vegetable farming saying from the farm they had been able to feed their families and also meet other personal needs.

According to Ms Lebasha, Turkana soils have an immense potential for crop production but there is need to educate the farmers on the gains that come with crop farming as the area is big on livestock keeping.

“With the agronomic support from both the county government, Turkana can produce more than enough food to feed its people,” she adds.

Lebasha also challenged other organisations operating in the county to gradually move away from distribution of relief food and start engaging in food production through investment technology-based farming.     

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