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It has not rained for months in Cheptuyis, a village in West Pokot County, Kenya. The unforgiving sun has baked the ground. There are no vegetables in the local market, but that doesn’t worry Sarah Kwambai.
Even in this drought, she has green vegetables. Sarah belongs to her local mother-to-mother support group, a space supported by Action Against Hunger for women to share and learn about motherhood, children, health, nutrition, and family.
The mothers’ group in Cheptuyis maintains a Kitchen Garden where they use local innovations to grow vegetables for their families. Action Against Hunger works with the Ministry of Health to teach the women how to preserve the vegetables for when scarcity bites. When we sat down with them, the women had gathered to harvest a variety of vegetables on the farm: kale, carrots, onions, cabbages, coriander, and tomatoes. Together, they cook the vegetables and sell the surplus to the community.
Cheptuyis, like many parts of West Pokot, is arid. The weather, which is destructive to local agriculture, is partly why the county records the highest levels of malnutrition in Kenya. Here, 35% of all children under the age of five are malnourished. The other reason? A lack of educational resources on how to maintain a healthy diet.
Action Against Hunger works with the mother-to-mother support groups to share this knowledge. But education is not enough – community members need access to healthy foods. That’s where the Kitchen Gardens play a role – they use solutions drawn from many disciplines throughout the county.
Through the group, Sarah and her fellow mothers learned that feeding their children properly with nutritious meals can eliminate or reduce the number of visits to the local hospital for malnutrition and other illnesses. A well-nourished child has a stronger immune system and is less likely to fall sick. The women strive to improve their children’s diets, but also discussed the challenges they face in turning the lessons they’ve learned into reality with our teams.
“I would need to spend more than KSh200 ($1.82) for vegetables to feed my entire family just one meal, and that is not money I could make every week. When I did not have it, there was no meal,” Sarah said.
Salome Tsindori, Action Against Hunger’s program manager in West Pokot, shared that there was a resource still untapped – the land itself. The Ministry of Agriculture sent an expert in small gardens, Michael Wamalwa, to teach the women to grow nutrient-rich crops.
“There is a lack of vegetables when there is no rain. That is why I am keen to ensure that each community has a Kitchen Garden that supplies enough vegetables in addition to a surplus they can sell for other nutrition needs,” Michael shared.
When it was time to plant, Action Against Hunger provided seedlings for the mothers and a tank that collects and stores what little rainwater exists to irrigate the gardens. They were then shown how to build vertical gardens – multi-tiered growing systems ideal for the dry climate. These innovations, combined with new fertilization techniques, allow the women to grow nutritious crops in places that would otherwise be too difficult.
Rosina Kiralem, a member of the mother-to-mother support group in a neighboring village, says she learned more than she had expected: from starting a nursery to creating her own compost from garden waste and goat excrement.
When the vegetables are ready for harvest, the women preserve the vegetables using newly learned techniques.
“After preserving, the vegetables have a shelf life of up to six months,” Michael said. Action Against Hunger closely collaborates with local communities and government authorities on this project.
"I do not know where Action Against Hunger comes from, but I would like them to know that ‘thank you’ is not enough for what they have helped us achieve in Cheptuyis."
“Various factors cause malnutrition. That is why Action Against Hunger projects cut across many departments, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Health, to ensure that mothers can get food that they need,” Salome said.
Apart from growing enough nutritious food for their families, the group has saved money. For that, Sarah is grateful.