A visit to remote Itivanzou location in Mwingi North constituency paints a different picture as opposed to the usual headlines of a place full of hunger and whose residents are in desperate need of relief.
A group of farmers are reaping huge returns from horticulture, thanks to the Cash for Assets initiative developed through a partnership between the community and ActionAid Kenya.
Like other residents of the larger Kitui county, members of Kathitu self help group, never considered agriculture as a viable activity due to the sporadic rainfall. The group’s secretary, Ms Rita Mwaniki, 42, says locals had no skills in farming and would only get farm produce like vegetables from distant markets at exorbitant prices.
“We hardly enjoyed well balanced diets and malnutrition was common among our children,” says Ms Mwaniki, a mother of seven.
Many of them relied on small businesses whose proceeds were not enough to provide for the most basic needs, let alone paying school fees.
When ActionAid began to implement a cash for assets programme in the area in 2013, many locals were able to acquire skills in agricultural production as they would work on their own farms in groups and in return receive basic food stuffs like cooking oil, maize, beans and sorghum.
ActionAid also arranged for workshops on better farming practices enabling them to sharpen their skills and better appreciate agriculture as an economic activity.
Two years down the line, the locals have mobilized themselves into a group and are engaged in full time horticulture which ensures they not only get food for their families but are able to sell the produce for extra income.
The 29-member group, comprising 22 women and seven men, was formed in 2014 and grows spinach, sukuma wiki (kales), tomatoes, onions, carrots, green grams and pepper on a piece of land given out by a member.
“Vegetables were a rare commodity in this area because of the high prices but now even if I don’t have money I can take sukuma wiki and tomatoes from the farm on credit and pay later. Our nutrition has changed for the better and children are now healthy,” a member says.
The group plans to increase the area under agricultural production and venture into value addition to boost profits.
“We want to get into value addition so that we can maximize returns from the farm. We were taught how we can add value to produce such as potatoes which can be used to bake cakes during a seminar organized by ActionAid and with equipment we can do more,” added Kaite a member of the self-help. The farm has become a demonstration field where residents from neighboring villages and students visit to learn about farming.