For the two thirds of people in Kenya who rely on the food they grow and animals they keep, increasing drought has left many struggling to produce enough food to feed their families.
In recent years Kitui County, which is part of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, has suffered from significant variations in climate, seriously impacting agricultural production and reducing food security in the south east part of the country.
Sabina, a 43-year-old mother of 5, is just one of thousands of farmers in Kitui who Farm Africa is working with to build their long-term financial resilience to the impact of increasingly frequent droughts. This includes diversifying their income streams, growing drought-tolerant crops using high-quality seeds and adopting water conservation techniques.
Sabina shares what it feels like when the rains fail and how her new chicken business is giving her renewed hope:
“In recent years we have had lots of crop fail because the rains have been poor. I always hope when I plant that I will be able to get a good harvest but there comes a time when all hopes are lost. If the rains don’t arrive I keep praying but it is frustrating because I cannot make it happen. I feel very bad when I think of the money I am going to lose from the cost of the seeds, of the labour that has been used to tend the land, and knowing that next season I will have to do it all again.
“When the crops fail your only alternative is to buy food and you have to sell your livestock to get money. It is painful but sometimes you have to make hard decisions, you sell just to make sure that you can feed your children. To me, it is painful to see them go without food so even if I have to borrow from my neighbours, it is better than my children missing a meal.
“I found out about Farm Africa from one of my relatives and decided to set up a farmers group so we could receive training to help us improve our situation. We now have 21 members and are all women. Farm Africa has taught us lots of things and what I have learnt about poultry farming has made me see things in a different light. Now I understand that by diversifying between farming crops and keeping livestock I can spread the risk because I am not reliant on a good harvest for my only source of income.
“I have learned from Farm Africa about how to run things as a business, and about practical issues like what feed to give. Chickens have a short production cycle which means you don’t have to wait too long to make a profit because within three months a chick will have grown big enough to sell. Chickens are also easy to manage as once you have given them food you can leave them in their house while you attend to other business.
“I have been keeping chickens for two seasons. In the first season I built a chicken coop. Before that the chickens used to lay the eggs anywhere and some were eaten by the dogs, now with the good housing we can easily collect all the eggs and the chicks are safe.
“In the second season I bought six hens. Some of their eggs have hatched so now I have 38 chicks, and I have separated four of the hens so they can lay more eggs. I am planning to rear the chicks to maturity to sell and meanwhile I will produce more chicks to keep the cycle going.
“In addition to selling some of the eggs, I have also been able to use them for home consumption. Before I could not afford to buy eggs but now they are part of our diet and are contributing to the health of my family.
“Farm Africa has been able to deliver our farmers group from the darkness by showing us how to farm better and have united us through training. Now we know that poultry farming is a good way to make money – chickens equal wealth!”
For more information about how Farm Africa works with women smallholder farmers please visit www.farmafrica.org or follow @FarmAfrica on Twitter.