Under the blistering afternoon sun, Lucina Tongore walks through a tree nursery, watering seedlings.
She says, “Those mango seedlings at the corner have already been booked.” Mrs. Tongore leads a women’s self-help group. She says that ever since the group learned about farming potatoes, cassava, and disease-free planting materials for bananas, their households have become more food secure.
Kenya’s semi-arid West Pokot County is known for pastoralism. But many locals have lost their herds to cattle rustlers and prolonged drought.
The women’s group started growing crops last year, and their success has attracted interest from other residents.
Mrs. Tongore says, “Food security is a big challenge here. We decided to grow fruit trees and plant drought-resistant crops like cassava to boost our resilience.” The Ministry of Agriculture, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, and Anglican Development Services provided technical help.
The research organization provided sweet potato vines and cassava stems, which the group multiplied and distributed amongst its members.
The sweet potatoes include both yellow- and orange-fleshed varieties, which group members boil, roast, or use to make chips.
The group encourages each member to grow the crops on her own farm.
When other locals showed interest, the group set up the tree nursery and sold grafted mango, pawpaw, and banana seedlings.
Their main challenge was access to water for the nursery. But Bayer East Africa donated a nursery shade and a water tank, which solved that problem.
In Markit, another part of West Pokot, young men are growing cabbage and sukuma wiki, a leafy green vegetable.
The 14-member youth group grows a cabbage variety that does well in the region. They plant cabbage on a leased three-quarter acre farm that yields almost 20,000 heads of cabbage.
Joshua Ouko is a project coordinator at Anglican Development Services, one of the organizations working with the county government to promote agriculture in the region. He says that human encroachment on grazing fields, frequent drought, and cattle rustling have made pastoralism less attractive, and created a need for alternatives.
He adds, “We are looking at a number of activities such as horticulture, livestock husbandry, poultry, and fish farming as an alternative to pastoralism.” He says that fish farming is an emerging activity in the area that would boost nutrition and income for residents.
Jeffery Lepale is county executive for agriculture and irrigation. He says that as farming picks up, the county government is investing in cold storage to minimize post-harvest losses, especially because marketing is still a challenge for most farmers.
He adds, “We are putting up an onion store that can serve up to 1,000 onion farmers and a cold storage facility for potatoes.”
Mr. Lepale adds that the government plans to build a mini-processing plant to add value to the potatoes. Also, in some areas, they are giving out free coffee seedlings to encourage coffee farming.
This story was adapted from an article titled, “Women in Pokot embrace farming to ward off hunger,” published by Daily Nation. To read the original article, please see: https://www.nation.co.ke/health/Women-in-Pokot-embrace-farming-to-ward-off-hunger/3476990-4561104-ql1d9p/index.html 
Photo from Daily Nation