On World Refugee Day, Allan Ochieng Odera, Resilience Coordinator for Danish Refugee Council (DRC), tells Farming First about DRC’s farming initiative in Kakuma camp, Kenya.
In northwest Kenya, 48-year-old Mariam from Somalia proudly tends her vegetable plot. Thanks to farming opportunities provided by an initiative at Kakuma refugee camp, she can now provide her family with fresh meals every day, as well as get money from the sales of vegetables to buy other household goods.
Mariam is not alone. On June 20, World Refugee Day will bring awareness around the world to the millions of people fleeing from conflict and suffering. The Kakuma refugee camp is just one of thousands of camps around the world that try and provide refugees with a new start after being uprooted from their homes.
Kakuma will mark its 26th birthday this year, and the beginning of its establishment as an important shelter for the south Sudanese fleeing from civil war. It has since become a base for hundreds from various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, currently hosting at least 185,589 refugees, providing shelter, food, medication and protection.
Before the Danish Refugee Council’s Community Floods Resilience Programme (COFREP) was started in Kakuma, Mariam had to wait for a monthly ration which rarely provided the required amount needed to feed her whole family. The DRC-led initiative is run in partnership with LOKADO and Norwegian Refugee Council and has received funding from the Global Resilience Partnership.
Responding to the challenge
Kakuma is situated in Turkana which, as one of Kenya’s largest counties, is home to around 855,399 residents over a land mass of 77,000 km2. The entire country ranges in condition from semi-arid to very arid, and due to a combination of recurrent bouts of flooding and droughts, coupled with a weak economy, many living in Turkana live in acute poverty and hunger. In Kakuma, food shortage is a regular worry and funding levels for food distribution have been reduced over the years. The Kenyan government’s attempts at resolving food insecurity through piecemeal food distribution is only successful as a temporary patch to a large-scale challenge.
Given Turkana’s minimal rainfall, techniques to harvest and conserve water for farming are essential, and this has been one of the major focuses of DRC’s work. DRC uses techniques which can be scaled out, such as the use of earth dams, earth works, and other unique designs that can harvest water and nutrients for plant growth, whilst also minimizing excess water absorption.
These technologies mean that flood water can be harvested for micro-irrigation during the dry season to grow high-value crops such as tomatoes and onions, increasing the incomes of refugees and host farmers. Appropriate farming methods are also taught to the farmers and refugees in order to maximise their yields. Drought-tolerant crops are prioritized, such as sorghum, cowpeas, pumpkins and watermelons.
Trees have also been planted to improve the nitrogen balance of the crops and provide shade. This has also helped to control soil erosion through breaking wind and keeping the soil firm. Farmers are also trained to manage pests through applying an integrated approach to their farming; growing different crops together to create interdependence, trapping and repelling pests that cause harm to the crops.
Measuring the impact
The life-changing COFREP initiative involves 400 farmers, 120 refugees, and 280 hosts, who are trained through a combination of on-site demonstrations and trial-by-error, learning from our mistakes and streamlining the project for the future. COFREP uses farmer-to-farmer training in groups of 30, and the skills learned through these training sessions can prove to be vital for creating longer-term job prospects for the farmers.
Aside from the professional aspects, the project has also helped diversify nutrition sources for the refugees and the farmers. In addition to the staple diet of meat, all the participants now have greater access to vegetables.
DRC has learned that there is huge potential for the refugees and the host community to be self-reliant in food if appropriate technologies of water harvesting and improved farming techniques are adapted and taught as everyday skills. The farming activities are also of an invaluable social benefit, creating peaceful co-existence between the host and the refugees. Not only does this improve their livelihoods, it will help them overturn the challenge of devastating drought and flash floods that cause disasters in to a food production opportunity, and build resilience to future uncertainty.
Learn more about DRC’s project in Kenya by visiting their website.