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An oasis in the desert: Greenhouses transform drought-stricken community in Kenya

21 March 2016

Turkana County is an arid area in north-west Kenya which has experienced significant drought in recent years due to climate change. A Trócaire programme is providing support for a community in establishing and running irrigated greenhouses to grow crops in the inhospitable region, report by Catherine M Waking’a, Trócaire East Africa.

Most of the people living there are pastoralists, relying on livestock for survival, who have to trek long distances in search of water and pasture. 

Following the devastating drought in East Africa in 2011, Trócaire established a recovery project with funding from Irish Aid, Caritas New Zealand and St Vincent de Paul in the areas of Turkwell and Turkana Central. 

The project aimed to reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the area, by increasing resilience to climate change and improving livelihoods. 

In Turkwell, five greenhouses were established, supporting 50 households. The target group was comprised of vulnerable pastoral and agro-pastoral community members whose livestock and livelihoods were severely affected by drought in 2011. 

Greenhouses in Turkana

The project has also provided communities with safe water for consumption, through the construction of shallow wells and safe water storage tanks. 

The water from the shallow wells is used for human consumption by households that used to travel long distances to collect water and at times had to consume unclean, unsafe water from the Turkwell River. 

The greenhouse project faced some initial challenges, with traditional communities learning completely new ways of farming and cooperative working. 

The Diocese of Lodwar, with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), conducted several complementary trainings on soil management, fertility, crop management, marketing and savings, seed distribution, and has supported farmers to manage the greenhouse committees in the most effective way. 

The greenhouse farmers now focus on growing high-value crops like spinach, tomatoes, capsicum, kales, eggplants and various vegetables consumed in homes across Turkwell. 

Some of the crops produced in the greenhouses are sold in nearby markets and these proceeds buy additional food for the community. 

Esther Aboi, a farmer in the project, says the greenhouses greatly contributed to improved livelihoods and says that community members now have food and consistent income.

She says: “We don’t go to sleep hungry and depend on wild fruits like we have done before”.

Esther Eboi and Napei Timat Longoli

Caption: Esther Eboi and Napei Timat Longoli tend to tomatoes in their greenhouse in Turkwell, Turkana County

The farmers are optimistic that with additional training on greenhouse farming they will continue to increase their crop yield. They are also working with the Diocese of Lodwar to improve their access to markets to sell their produce. 

Esther Aboi: “If we can access better markets and increase sales we will educate our children and change the face of Turkana County. We are encouraging more farmers to form groups and benefit from similar initiatives which help eradicate the culture of dependency.”

Now, the farmers are looking forward to exchange visits and study tours on greenhouse farming – to foster inter-community learning and motivation. 

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