Wang’ Chieng’ village sees the eye of the sun on food security
Tucked deep inside the sleepy villages in Karachuonyo Constituency in Homa Bay County, Wang’ Chieng’ village stands out as a beacon of hope of the surety that the sun will rise and brightly shine on the face of the earth, regardless of how dark and cold it has been.
Loosely translated as the “eye of the sun” the long, winding murram road, off the Kendu Bay-Kisumu road, leading to Wang’ Chieng’ village cleverly camouflages the impressive farming taking place in an area known for very little rainfall and perennial food insecurity.
We are met by Mama Ruth Auma Okoth and her husband Elisha Okoth at the entrance of their three-acre farm. The farm is divided into three areas; an orchard, a greenhouse and a kitchen garden, that carefully spread out around the expansive farm. Mama Ruth, supported by her husband, is part of a programme run by the Rheal Solutions, the host organization for the Food and Nutrition Security Network.
Though her farm lies on a slope at the foot of a hill, Mama Ruth is not bothered by the possible erosion as rainwater is wont to sweep away topsoil down the slope. She practices soil protection techniques that have seen her have one of the most fertile and productive farms. At the edge of the farm lie a number of sweet potato varieties. “I use the sweet potatoes as cover crops to prevent soil from being eroded down the slope,” she explains as she takes us through a tour of the vast farm.
Apart from the sweet potatoes covering the topsoil, a micro-catchment water harvesting system is in place to retain all the rainwater within the farm. Improved cassava varieties, assorted fruits like oranges, mangoes and others, as well as different types of vegetables in various stages of germination, adorn the farm giving it an aesthetic look and a sense of a community that has more than enough to feed on.
Although the issue of food security as a constitutional right is a strange concept here, Mama Ruth and her community are only happy that they are able to feed themselves and still have the surplus to take to the markets and make some extra coins. While Article 43 of the Constitution of Kenya dictates that the government should ensure that her citizens are food secure, many Kenyans are ignorant of this provision.
From her quarter-acre sweet potato farm, Ruth harvests up to 25 bags of potatoes per season. “As a family, we can consume about 5 bags then sell the rest,” she says. “Each bag would fetch about Ks. 7,000, translating to about Ks. 140,000 for the 20 bags we take to the market” she adds.
Next to the potatoes are several mango trees that equally fetch the much-needed money. Ruth harvests her mangoes twice in a year with each tree giving her 7 bags for the two harvests. “Most of our mangoes are sold in Kisumu where each mango is sold at Ks. 50 and each bag usually contains about 70 mangoes,” she says.
Route to Food Initiative Project Lead Layla Liebetrau opines: “Kenyans need to learn that the Human Right to Food is a constitutional provision and therefore protected by law.” This right is billed as an Economic and Social right under Article, 43 (1) (c) and it states: “Every person has the right to be free from hunger, and to have adequate food of acceptable quality.”
Ms Liebetrau made these remarks recently at a media workshop in Kisumu where she called upon the journalists to bring out the rights-based approach to matters hunger and famine in Kenya.
Although this provision has been violated adversely as many Kenyans suffer both chronic and transitory food insecurity, Kenyans like Ruth oblivious of her constitutional right to food works hard in Wang’ Chieng’ village to ensure that her family and community have access to quality food. In most cases, both the people who suffer food insecurity and those who are secure remain ignorant of what the law says.
“Article 43 (1) (c) has the three pillars of adequacy, accessibility and availability and as Route to Food we are focused to let people know and understand these provisions,” adds Layla.
Ruth, who practices exclusive organic farming, says she considers herself highly food secure and that what she does at her farm is replicated in neighbouring farms in the village even though in small-scale compared to hers. From the droppings of the animals in her farm, Ruth produces both organic manure and organic pesticides that she uses to keep away crop diseases. Asked why she prefers her homemade organic manure and pesticides, she says “We live with children in this neighbourhood and it would be dangerous to spray fruits with lethal pesticides as the children may consume the fruits. Secondly, commercial fertilizers and pesticides are very expensive, what would happen when I need to spray and yet I have no money?”
“Through Rheal Solutions, we do what is called cluster farming in Wang’ Chieng’ village,” she says. In this particular cluster where Mama Ruth serves as the Lead Farmer, they have 30 farmers who have managed to replicate what she does. She prepares all the organic manure and pesticides she needs at her farm.
According to Caroline Alang’o, Rheal Solutions program director, every time the program has a new crop variety or a new idea to implement, they get the farmers together in a cluster where the implementation takes place.
“We let the farmers elect their Lead Farmer, just like we have Ruth here. And through them, the implementation is cascaded in their entire village,” she explains. “We are proud that Mama Ruth has succeeded alongside her cluster to ensure that an entire village is food secure, with a surplus to take to the market.”
The Route to Food Initiative is out to enhance awareness to Kenyans on their right to food as enshrined in law.
By John Riaga, a Kisumu-based journalist who recently participated in a media capacity building workshop organised by the Route to Food Initiative. The journalists were equipped with the skills to analyse future budgetary allocations from a Right to Food perspective and will be able to query national and county budgetary allocations to food and nutritional security – given that this sector is one of the pillars under the government’s Big Four agenda.
The two-day event included a field visit which gave the journalists an opportunity to see, in practice, innovative approaches to farming as well as a practical example for them to make the connection on the effect of county budgeting to farmers and therefore, why journalists have a role to play in accountability reporting.