Diakonia - People change the world
John Muthui and Maureen Museo Mwanza are farmers using new methods. John Muthui and Maureen Museo Mwanza refill the rainwater in their simple irrigation apparatus. They are part of the project supported by Diakonia and have inspired hundreds of farmers to start growing produce more intelligently and thus avoid going hungry. Photo: Alex Pritz

Intelligent farming wipes out hunger

For many years the farmers in Kwa-Vonza were dependent on emergency relief in order to survive. Thanks to an agricultural project supported by Diakonia, they now grow their own food. They are no longer hungry.

The village of Kwa-Vonza is in arid Kitui county, Kenya. Despite this farmers have traditionally not watered their crops. They have relied on the small amount of rain that falls. As soon as there is no rain, the result is crop failure and a lack of food. Climate change has left the people there extremely vulnerable.

Dependent on food assistance

Most farmers in Kwa-Vonza have survived thanks to food assistance from outside. As soon as a delivery of emergency relief arrived, there were long queues. This has been the case for many years.

The situation was particularly critical in 2011, when the area was hit by severe drought. At around the same time Diakonia and its partner organization NCCK launched their long-term water and agricultural project here. Fifty farmers were given the chance to learn to make use of rainwater and build reservoirs and planting pits. (These are shallow, square pits that are filled with manure and dried grass to help prevent evaporation. Crops are then planted in these.) Each of the fifty farmers has subsequently passed on their knowledge to at least three of their neighbours, and many of them have taught significantly larger numbers. In this way the effects of the project have increased exponentially.

Strong people, sizeable harvests

The results are striking. The growth is intense and the harvests plentiful. Not a single farmer who uses the intelligent, water-conserving methods has gone hungry. The long queues for food assistance have disappeared.
“The most fantastic thing is to see how it affects people’s self-esteem – to see an entire community change,” says Purity Kagendo at Diakonia’s office in Kenya.
“The project hasn’t only led to farmers growing their own food. They have a greater sense of pride. Previously, they sat and waited for help. Now they’re farming the land and building their own future.”

No straight path to success

Farmers receive further training through the project, including learning how to grow seedlings from seed and create simple irrigation systems, along with access to seed specially adapted to the dry conditions.
“The results have been excellent, but this doesn’t mean that we haven’t experienced setbacks,” says Purity Kagendo.
Few projects get by without any problems at all. In this case the decision of the farmers to grow onions in 2013 proved to be a poor one. The harvests were scant. Sorghum didn’t take either – the birds ate the seeds. In 2015 the farmers have focused on tomatoes, with good results.

John Muthui and Maureen Museo Mwanza use new farming methods.

Diakonia here to stay

The project has made emergency food deliveries unnecessary. This is a fantastic result. Many donors would perhaps be satisfied with this. But Diakonia takes a long-term approach and is therefore staying in the area. We will be there when the harvests fail and we will be there to celebrate the successes.
The challenge now is to ensure that the farmers can grow produce to sell at market and thus earn money.  
“The people here are now planning for the future,” says Purity Kagendo. “You can feel how the air is vibrating with hope. There is a tomorrow. That’s not how it was before. When hunger reigns, no-one can think about tomorrow.”
People’s attitude to life has changed, according to Purity Kagendo. They see themselves as participants able to make decisions about their own lives.
“The new methods make me feel secure. I know that I will be able to harvest my crops. We haven’t been without food for a single day since we started growing things in this way,” says Jackson Mbaki, one of those taking part in the project.

Security and faith in the future

Justus Pius, who is also part of the project, says:
“Previously, my first thought each morning was, ‘What are we going to eat today? How will I get hold of some money?’ Today, I can see the food growing in my fields. My heart feels calm. I’m not weighed down by problems as I was before. I can see my life improving the more I work. The kids are doing well. The money I used to use to buy food is money I can now use for school fees and clothes. All the family is doing well. We feel secure.”