In June I visited the Mwingi district of Eastern Kenya, piloting the first Midomo water purifiers with Red Button Design. Mwingi is a few hours drive East of Nairobi on the dusty road to Garissa, it’s a small town of 10,000 people that serves as a service stop for the Somali truckers who race khat harvests from farms in western Kenya over the border to sell fresh in Somalia.
Typical of much of Eastern Kenya, Mwingi district is a semi-arid rural area with a high level of poverty. Many people rely on agriculture for both sustenance and a daily wage, which often leaves families vulnerable to a climate that grows increasingly unpredictable. A recent study of communities in the district found that 80% of people do not use an improved source of potable water and the same proportion do not have adequate sanitation facilities.
Farmers in Mwingi are used to dry conditions, however in recent years rainfall has become even more scarce. Looking out over a depleted watering hole made by damming a small stream with earth, a local farmer told me that the April rains – which usually bring a month of daily downpours – this year lasted just two days. But in Mwingi, despite the ongoing drought crops are still grown with surprising success, farmers have moved from growing the maize (made popular by Western diets) to drought-resistant crops such as green grams, cow peas, sorghum and millet. 6,000 farmers in Mwingi are part of a agricultural resilience programme being run by FARM Africa, which teaches techniques for increasing water efficiency and growing a range of drought-resistant crops along with supporting pastoralists by supplying seeds and equipment.
FARM-Africa is a British NGO founded in 1985 and now working across eastern Africa. It promises to be an extremely good partner for RDB in terms of their approach to the development of rural independence. They recognize that while 80% of Africans survive on the produce of their own smallholdings, it is here – in small, often isolated rural communities – that agricultural development is best directed. Working with smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and forest communities, FARM-Africa aims to develop the skills and resources within rural communities that will enable them to grow more food, keep their livestock healthy, and manage their natural resources in a sustainable way. The dryland farming projects that they are facilitating in Mwingi – including the introduction of drip-irrigation systems and water-saving techniques such as the zai pit – are increasingly important as the climate in eastern Africa becomes ever more unreliable.