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Turkana women abandon pastoralism for agriculture

Written by Malachi Motano

Malachi Motano tells the story of how women in Turkana County are today embracing simple solutions to the hunger situation.

Meet Selina Ekipor, 47, a mother of four boys and 2 girls. She is shaking a tin filled with pebbles to produce a sound that scares away birds from eating sorghum at her farm, after she worked hard to bring them to maturity and is now waiting for them to dry so that she could harvest. 

“Before we thought of growing crops, we depended on livestock for our livelihood. We also ate wild fruits to supplement the meat and milk from our livestock. But this has been a dry area for very long and rain is scarce.

Frequent drought left our animals emaciated and many times they die.


The World Food Program (WFP) has been giving us relief food for a long time and now we are proud that we are learning how to grow our own food.

We grow sorghum, cowpeas, green grams and maize. Life is better now that we are farming,” says Selina.
Nangor Lobongia is also among several smallholder farmers who have been able to harvest a reasonable crop of sorghum and maize.

“I sing for joy as I harvest my crop,” says Nangor, a widowed mother of seven. “The last three years were very difficult, and for the first time, my family does not depend on aid. I thank God that WFP helped us to rehabilitate our project and we can grow food again,” she is a member of the Morulem Irrigation Scheme in Turkana East.

With the help of WFP, the Government and other partners, Selina, Nangor and other women in their community are learning simple rain water harvesting technologies such as digging water pans, construction of bunds—which are dyke like structures that help retain the water—as well as simple irrigation methods, through Cash/ Food for Assets (C/FFA) programs.

They use the water for domestic use, for their livestock and for growing crops. This has helped to improve their food security.

“The water that is collected in the bunds is able to grow a fast maturing crop such as sorghum and this has greatly improved the food security of the Turkana community,” says James Kipkan of the Turkana Rehabilitation Project.


The work of digging out the clogged irrigation channels and mending other infrastructure was carried out by local farmers through the Turkana Rehabilitation Program.

WFP then lent a crucial hand through its Food-for-Assets (FFA) program.

Through Food/Cash for Assets programs, WFP provides emergency food assistance to communities while at the same time working with the people to build their capacity to improve their food security through simple technologies. But now, WFP is gradually shifting from relief assistance to more sustainable hunger solutions.

It is also working with communities to improve their resilience to cope with the negative impact of the climate change and also helps them build assets aimed at improving their food security.

The project is focusing on rain water harvesting, micro-irrigation, and soil and water conservation activities.

At Kalobeyei in Turkana West, former pastoralist, Sara Ekwuam, is hosting several of her pastoralist relatives who have temporarily moved in with her after they heard she had a good harvest.

“Previously my family depended on pastoralism but over time the rains became less and less, and we were unable to find pasture and water for our livestock. As a result we were forced to depend on relief food and supplies,” says Ekwuam.


Today Sara and other farmers in Kalobeyei have constructed soil ‘bunds’ – artificial ponds that hold rainwater and keep crops growing even when there is little rainfall.

“Although we did not get a lot of rain, the water in the bunds was enough to grow this sorghum crop to maturity. I harvested 10 bags. I will sell five of them to buy other things that I need and keep the balance.”


This article was originally published in the Reject Newspaper Issue 96

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