From dryland Kenya :: 2011.10.13 11:46

'Agriculture must, literally, return to its roots by rediscovering the importance of healthy soil, drawing on natural sources of plant nutrition, and using mineral fertilizer wisely' - FAO. 2011. Save and Grow © Youjin Brigitte Chung


During August-September, I spent several weeks in Kenya and Bangladesh for a workshop on climate resilient sustainable agriculture. Visiting fields in both areas exposed me to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the people's lives and livelihoods in developing countries.

There was a huge contrast between the areas I visited in Kenya and Bangladesh - the former was drought-prone and the latter was flood-prone to begin with. There were stark differences in soil quality, water availability and access, structure and condition of river beds, land ownership, women's participation, mobility and access to markets, gendered division of labour government extension services, access to credit, group formation, type of crops grown, livestock rearing patterns, types of seeds used and preserved, and types of income-generating activities.

At times of water scarcity, women have to walk as far as 14 km each day to fetch water © Youjin Brigitte Chung


In Mwingi, Kenya, I still can't forget how all three communities we visited were predominantly composed of women and the elderly, and how their lives have been changing due to climate change and its attendant environmental and socio-economic consequences: 

"Over the past six years, we have had poor, erratic and unpredictable rain. Added by untimely government seed distribution, increasing water salinity and soil erosion, we had several crop failures. Men and youth in our community have left to urban areas to find jobs and cash income. Few receive remittances or hear back from them. We bear the added burden of ensuring food security for our families. Since there are no men, women are left to do degrading jobs, such as burning charcoal, making concrete, and even selling our bodies. We also have to walk long distances to fetch water. We sometimes have to walk 7 km each way – this takes 8 hours. This is difficult and dangerous for those who are pregnant and lactating." - Chairwoman of the Kasiluni Earth Dam Project


Despite the difficulties, however, they are engaged in various soil and water conservation activities (as part of the Food for Assets Programme), such as building earth dams, terraces (fanya-jui) and semi-circular bunds. But the dams, at the time of my visit, were either empty or depleting (with only cloudy and saline water remaining) -  the communities were waiting for the rainy season (Sep-Oct) and hopefully enough rainfall to meet the needs of 121 households for four months. I will have to follow up for the latest developments here.

women and girls are responsible for collecting water

terracing techniques © Youjin Brigitte Chung


These women, despite being farmers in their own right, have had to depend on food aid since 2004.

Inadequate food aid © Youjin Brigitte Chung


What outraged me however, was the quality of food aid they received in return for their time and efforts in these projects. In all communities I visited, all were fuming over the poor and unacceptable quality of food aid (maize and beans) from the World Food Programme (WFP), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the European Commission Humanitarin Office (ECHO). This is a complex situation where the right  to food, human dignity and health are compromised, the relationship and trust between donors and beneficiaries become sour, transaction and transportation costs soar from having to return the goods, and the whole project becomes unviable and unsustainable.


More to follow on Bangladesh later...