South Sudan and Burundi refugees unlock the potential of vegetable farming in arid Turkana County

By ISAIAH ESIPISU

It is playtime at Kalobeyei Settlement Primary School near the Kakuma refugee camps.

With 5,547 pupils, most of them refugees, the school is bursting with activities.

In one corner of the compound is another group of students that calls itself “farmers”. They are busy working on their gardens despite the drought conditions in Turkana.

“This is the latest approach where we assist refugees grow their own food,” said Zippy Mbati, an official with the World Food Programme.

“More than 1,000 refugee households in Kalobeyei are now producing enough vegetables for consumption and income generation.”

The European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the UN World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Turkana county government have begun transferring extreme water efficient agriculture techniques to residents and refugees.

According to Kalobeyei Settlement Primary School head Lilian Cherotich, the 55 students, who are members of Junior Farmers Field School, have started selling their vegetables.

“We encourage them to sell and use the money wisely with the guidance of their parents but generally, we ask them to take the vegetables home, given that greens are rare in this part of the country,” Ms Cherotich told Seeds Of Gold.

With water from a borehole, the students use a simple technology to grow amaranth, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cowpeas, kales, okre and other crops.

“We have been given water efficient farming techniques such as sunken beds, wick gardens, sack gardening, and we even grow vegetables in jericans,” said Elizabeth Queen, a South Sudanese.

Outside the school, Burundian Immaculate Miburo said the introduction of kitchen gardening in the camp has been a blessing to her and her 10 children.

“Burundians are farmers. When kitchen gardening was introduced, I was excited. I can now produce enough vegetables for my family,” she said.

About one third of all officially registered refugees in Kenya are hosted in Turkana County, specifically in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

FAO representative in Kenya, Gabriel Rugalema, says: “Letting them to engage in socio-economic activities promotes cohesion.”

This is the first time refugees have been given a chance to farm and integrate with the host community, and Rugalema says such an approach gives them access to life skills and at the same time allowing them to live with dignity.

1,500 hectares of land in Kalobeyei was set aside for a refugee camp. Later, the national and county governments and UN agencies later agreed to use the land to develop a settlement that would promote self-reliance of refugees and host communities by providing them with better livelihood opportunities and integrated services.

The kitchen gardening is one of the approaches being used to turn this vision into a reality.

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