Refugees and local community come together to satisfy Turkana food needs

A refugee tends her vegetable farm in Turkana.
A refugee tends her vegetable farm in Turkana. Refugees and the local community are collaborating to nutrition and agribusiness. PHOTO | STANLEY KIMUGE 

A few minutes before sunrise, 53-year-old Sinzobakwira Riziki is already at the gate of a fenced and gated 30 million litre capacity water pan at Village 1 in Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement ready to check on various crops she has put under sunken bed farming.

Ms Riziki, a refugee from Burundi, is a passionate farmer envied by both refugees and host Turkana locals because of her outstanding sunken beds with healthy crops.

Once the gate is opened, the mother of nine children who is already armed with two watering cans, heads directly to the water pan fetches water and later moves to her garden to sprinkle water on her crops before she leaves them at the mercy of the sweltering heat that sometimes rises to more than 35 degrees celsius.

She waters her vegetables twice in the morning and twice in the evening each day. When she is engaged her children take over the routine.

Ms Riziki explains that for arid climates, sunken beds offer several advantages to raised beds and ground-level beds.


"This sunken beds are designed to retain moisture after I have sprinkled so they dry out less quickly, keep roots cooler and are able to withstand the hot climate," she adds.

As she admires maturing eggplants, she observes that seeing her crops — including sukumawiki (collard greens), okra, spinach, amaranth, pumpkin, cowpeas, onions and sweet potatoes thrive and get frequent orders from my neighbours and customers who include both Kenyans and refugees to supply them with fresh vegetables — has kept her busy and made her forget the suffering she encountered in her country before eventually seeking refuge in Kenya in 2016.

She adds that since she was successfully selected as a beneficiary once the water pan was constructed by the World Food Programme in April this year and a month later fully filled with water, she has reaped big from her first crops.

"Besides acting as nutritious food for my family, I make at least Sh4,500 in profit per week with eggplant being the most valuable crop on my farm." she notes.

Just like other women who have adopted crop farming, she currently supplement the relief food support her family is entitled to that mainly consists of cereals. Her gets fresh and nutritious vegetables and she is also financially able to buy any other food for her family.

"I can also buy good clothes for my children as well as medicines in case of a medical emergency," she adds.

Asked why she she did not venture into crop production immediately she came to Kakuma Refugee Camp, she said that low and unpredictable rainfall cannot favour farming.

Next to her is a Magaret Muta, a South Sudanese refugee and a mother of six who said she has friends from Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda thanks to the farm projects.

The friends visit to inquire on critical information like the best high value crops, pesticides and how to identify customers.

Mr Josphat Ekai, a Turkana herder from Kalobeyei village, said that before the farm project was established most of the vegetables including sukuma wiki (collard greens) and tomatoes could take more than a week from Kitale in Trans Nzoia to reach Kakuma for them to buy. "I even did not have an idea of how to plant the sukuma wiki. I can now plant and manage more than six different crops of vegetables that my family relies on," Mr Ekai says.

Through integration, my wife is now able to cook the vegetables after being taught by her friends from different nationalities.

He is quick to note that since Kakuma Refugee camp was established 27 years ago, just like most locals, his perception has been that refugees were being well taken care off in terms of access to schools, healthcare and business opportunities.

”Whenever there is drought or water challenges, refugees used to be given the first priority. This perception is still in the minds of many locals who have not integrated with the refugees,” Mr Ekai says.

He said that the water pan and greenhouse project that United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is partnering with the World Food Programme and the Turkana County government — being implemented to facilitate production of high-value vegetables for both refugees and the host community — is a good example of how integration can make them self-reliant as opposed to endless quarrels over who is being favoured in terms of relief support.

Mr Samal Lokuno, Kakuma-based WFP Programmes policy officer, says the European Union-funded farming project will see 150 refugees and 150 Turkana locals allocated a 10 metres by 10 meters plot in the greenhouse to venture into horticulture faming.

Mr Lukono said that the WFP was also working on two more water pans after many farmers from host communities and refugees developed interest.

“We provide relevant agronomic or agricultural best practices to enable them fully reap from the venture. FAO will help identify the high-value crops that will be planted, train farmers and supply them with seeds,” says Dr Daniel Irura, a senior FAO official.

Besides seeds, hand tools, bio- pesticides as well as water management and conflict mitigation skills are to be provided.

The crops will be banked on to tackle malnutrition because they will be rich in nutrients. Dr Irura said they will also provide market linkages to ensure the farmers are motivated to plant and later attract more residents to develop interest in the venture.

Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement was established in 2015 after the host community donated 1500 hectares to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as part of the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio Economic Development (KISEDP) plan in Turkana West sub county.

Phase one of the KISEDP that has on course since last year was rolled out after a roundtable meeting in 2014 that brought together UNHCR, the county government of Turkana, then national government, development and humanitarian partners.

Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok said that even the refugees living in Kakuma camps had also expressed frustrations regarding to limitations placed on their freedom of movement, which prevented their participation in the socio-economic aspects of the country that had welcomed them.

He said that some of the studies carried out on the existence of refugees in Turkana included those by the International Finance Corporation- a member of the World Bank Group that established that from a market point of view, Kakuma Refugee Camp and its adjacent settlements has an annual economic weight of USD 56 million annually.

“The five year Programme was launched in April this year will make refugees and integral part of in the economic development of the proposed Kakuma/Kalobeyei Municipality through integration to ensure self-reliance and poverty reduction.” The county boss said.

According to Nanok, the programme is expected to cost Sh. 50 billion and will focus on eight components; education, health, food security, private sector and entrepreneurship, sustainable energy solutions as well as agriculture, livestock and natural resource management.

According to the latest statistics Turkana West Sub County is hosting 191, 500 refugees and asylum seekers.

Through integration projects like horticulture farming, the host community is expected to have acquired relevant skills including farming so that they will be ready to manage farms in case all refugees go back to their home countries.