Women’s group in West Pokot changes subsistence farming to lucrative venture


Betty Cheyech (right), a Nutrition Programme Officer from Action Against Hunger organisation, joins members of Morombus, a mother-to-mother support group in West Pokot County, in a jig during a meeting on October 15, 2019. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA

When a group of women in the semi-arid West Pokot County pooled resources to invest in irrigated agri-pastoralism and poultry rearing to tackle the high malnutrition rate among their children, little did they know that the deal would turn into a giant enterprise which has today transformed their socio-economic livelihoods.

But almost 10 years down the line, the venture has become life changing for the 40 members of Morombus Mother-to-Mother support group, winning the hearts of the county government and scores of humanitarian agencies operating in the region.

They realise steady source of income and balanced diet for children by cultivating short-term crops like sorghum, finger millet, beans and vegetables alongside pastoralism, which is the main source of livelihood for most households in the region.

“For many years our children suffered malnutrition due to poor diets, mainly tea without milk. Lack of steady income made it impossible for us to buy alternative food to improve their health status considering that fathers and husbands are sole decision makers when it comes to selling family property,” Dorcas Ngaliman Wishan, the group leader said.

Driven by the high poverty rate, the women pulled Sh500 each-Sh20,000 as start capital and purchased variety of drought-resistant vegetable seed and 20 chicken.

“One of our members donated a five-acre demonstration land close to River Muruny for steady source of water where we planted some vegetable and the returns were never disappointing. We earned reasonable profit which empowered us to start similar project on our own farms on a small-scale level,” Mrs Wishan disclosed.

The group received a major boost after a non-governmental organisation — Action Against Hunger — donated 384 water pipes and a 5,000-litre water tank to empower them to extend supply of piped water to more members for domestic and agricultural purposes.

This has enabled them to increase acreage under cultivation of the crops and generate more income.

“We no longer depend much on our husbands for money to buy balanced diet food for our children and meet such basic needs like clothing since we have our own income. Our members can now comfortably cultivate such vegetables like sukuma wiki (kales) spinach, amaranth, tissue cultured bananas, cassava, carrots among others which draws attractive prices in the local markets,” Sylvia Mesunja, one of the group officials said.

Among the main markets for commodities produced by the group is Makutano and Lodwar, in Turkana county.

“The traders from as far as Lodwar purchase the commodities at farm-gate level or from Chepareria market with a sack of sukuma wiki going as high as Sh3,000, carrots Sh6,000 per bag and onions Sh850 per net,” Julia Lusili, one of the members said.

Chepararia area is ideal for carrot and onion production positioning the women support group to benefit from collective bargaining strategy to earn better returns.

“Apart from generating steady income from the investment, we have prioritised balanced diet for our children. Decent diet including plenty of fruits will keep diseases away from our children allowing time to expand the project and earn more money,” Irene Pserur, another member said.

According to Sylvester Kyuli, Action Against Hunger Head of Western Kenya, the strategy is to empower women economically in arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) counties to access quality food to tackle malnutrition and improve livelihoods.

“Our aim is to empower mothers and other caregivers to screen children for acute malnutrition at household level apart from endowing them economically,” Mr Kyuli said.

In West Pokot, the humanitarian agency supports women in Nyanga’ita and Chepkondol in Sigor constituency.

“We want to increase detection and coverage for treatment of malnutrition which can be effectively achieved by empowering women economically through such projects,” Mr Kyuli explained.

The West Pokot County has a malnutrition rate of 45.9 percent, one of the highest in the country. But the undernourishment is set to decline as more women invest in steady sources of income to improve livelihoods.

“Some of our members have diversified to poultry rearing and making of decorated traditional bead necklaces, earning them good money,” Joyce Chepkiach, who has rears more than 30 chicken, said.

She earns an average of Sh1,500 per week from the poultry business and additional Sh1,200 from the decorated necklaces. One necklace goes for between Sh200 and Sh500.

The group are managing table banking scheme where they advance loan to its members at low interest rates to sustain their operations. They have opened an account at the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) Makutano branch where they have deposited almost Sh0.5 million, empowering them to access financial credit to advance their investment.

“Access to financial credit remains our main challenge since it is our wish that more women join the group or form similar associations to empower them economically and overcome socio-economic challenges at family level,” Mrs Chepkiach explained. They plan to operate outlet businesses in Chepareria and Makutano Township to empower them to be solid entrepreneurs in the region.