In a remote village, located in Siaya County, Kenya, a group of women have taken up vegetable farming as a means to fight against the Covid-19 induced food insecurity. Rosemary Atieno reports.

This is the thirty-seventh in the series of stories from Voices from the Frontline initiative by ICCCAD and CDKN.

Nyabera is a small village located in Siaya County, Kenya. The village lies along the shores of Lake Victoria where fishing is the key source of livelihoods. Most women wake up in the morning, ride on motorcycles to get to the lake and get fish for sale from the fishermen. The rainfall is not very reliable for farming so they farm once a year. Such water crises lead women to walk long distances to get water, hence there is little or no time left for women to take part in productive activities.

Linnet Obonyo, aged 35, is a community health volunteer in Nyabera village. Linnet couldn’t complete her education as she was married off at a very early age and now she is a mother of four boys. She also works as a church leader and a volunteer in a local NGO called “COMPE”. Linnet is also a student in a local school.

When the first few Covid-19 cases were identified in Nairobi, the national government implemented lockdown and other precautionary measures such as social distancing, wearing of face masks, and hand washing. Those were vital safety measures, but they effectively put Linnet out of school and hampered her day-to-day activities as a community leader and health volunteer.

While trying to shield her four children from the virus, she was worried about how to feed them and wondered how her neighbors were going to cope. “Families soon ran out of food as people were losing jobs due to the pandemic,” she says.

As the pandemic continued to lock doors for families, she decided to plant a few sack gardens in her backyard (meaning, bags of compost, where seeds or seedlings are planted). She had no idea it would result in a full garden. Soon her neighbours started joining her. “Healthy food will be harder to come by as the pandemic brings widespread loss of income and ongoing disruptions in food supply,” she adds.

Two months into the pandemic, Linnet decided to begin serious work on a small garden project by setting up a vegetable nursery with kale, spinach, spring onions, coriander and assorted traditional vegetables in small bags and plastic containers.

Like many women in her village, Linnet has always played a lead role in times of crisis. Faced with this new threat, she quickly put her wealth of experience toward a new purpose and started working with women in local churches and through her NGO. Seeing the yield from her vegetable garden, she decided to train the women on kitchen gardening as a way of combating loss of food and household income amid the pandemic.

”I decided to repurpose my skills so I approached the local organisation where I volunteer and asked for support in getting some kale seeds and traditional vegetable seeds, which were granted. Then Ï started visiting the women at their homes and trained them on how to set up the gardens. In this way, we kept ourselves safe, making good use of our time. I think this would help turn the glaring food crisis into a strength during this time and an opportunity after the Covid is over,” she proudly shares.

Since then, she has been able to train over 40 women in her local church. Each of them now has a garden in their homes and a few have sack gardens. Linnet has been able to manage 15 Jerry cans which she has distributed among other women.

“Before receiving the training, I would spend 100 Kenyan shillings daily on vegetables for the whole family. But now, I spend only 20 shillings daily on tomatoes and onions. The vegetables are more than enough for me so sometimes I sell those to neighbors for them to eat healthy organic vegetables,” says Mama Dorcila, one of the trained women farmers.

Real­is­ing that the gardens are gain­ing pop­ular­ity, Linnet is now con­fid­ent that she and the women should be able to sell their ve­get­ables for profit in the near fu­ture. In the meantime, she is trans­ition­ing from using small sacks to larger recommended sacks as they leave more room for better yields. She is now fo­cus­ing on encouraging community members to grow­ more kale and spin­ach as she has noticed there is an increasing de­mand for them from neighbours. This is also in full alignment with her fu­ture busi­ness am­bi­tions after Covid-19.

Interviewer’s perspective

Since the first case of the pandemic reported in Kenya, families have continued to lose livelihoods through loss of jobs etc. making the communities food insecure. Covid-19 has presented a chance for communities to change attitude, be more practical and inventive to tackle the numerous challenges it has caused. Among these challenges are food security, climate change impacts like drought and floods just to mention a few. As the pandemic continues to strike challenges, women like Linnet in their communities have brought new perspectives to life. Women in this community used to believe that vegetable farming is not possible due to the weather conditions and therefore rely on buying vegetables. This initiative has proven successful and needs to be supported by local organisations and other like minded teams to create a difference in the lives of women and society at household level as an avenue to agribusiness.


About the Interviewer

Rosemary Atieno is a trained agriculture officer and community development worker. She is also the founder of a local NGO named “Community Mobilization for Positive Empowerment (COMPE)” in Kenya. She has vast experience working with rural grassroots communities in Kenya in livelihood support programs, community engagement, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), reproductive health, food security and women’s leadership. Rosemary specialises in community engagement through participatory approaches that encourage self-reliance and reduce donor dependency. In her work, she specifically emphasises agricultural technologies that conserve water and help preserve the environment. Such technologies include bio-intensive farming, zero tillage energy saving devices and tree planting. She is passionate about empowering communities to take control of their lives.

About the interviewee

Linnet Obonyo, aged 35, lives in Nyabera village, West Uyoma, located in Rarieda sub county . Linnet has participated in ‘Bio intensive training’ run by the Women Climate Centers International (WCCI). Given her passion for community work, she is a Trainer of Trainers at COMPE, a local NGO where she volunteers. She is also a Community Health Worker (CHW) with the Siaya county government and a church leader. Linnet did not have an opportunity to complete school due to early marriage and is determined to rise to the occasion. She is currently a student at Nyabera secondary school.

Dorcila Adoyo, aged 48, lives in Nyabera village. She is a widow and mother of 4 and 2 grandchildren. Dorcilla is a peasant farmer struggling to fend for her family. She is a community innovator ready to learn new things and a risk taker. She is passionate about farming and always wants to learn new technology. She is a climate change accelerator in her community always fighting to save the environment.

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