East Africa Update: Mary & Esther

Last month, we told you about Mary and Esther — how access to good vegetable seed and agricultural support from SPI’s partner, Seed Savers Network Kenya (SSNK), changed how they sustain their livelihoods.

Both women are gardening in Kenya, part of the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa has always included arid regions that are drought-prone. Droughts come and go with El Niño weather patterns; local people adapt and develop centuries-old strategies to persist through crisis. East Africans are survivors. But things are different now. The drought experienced in 2016 – 2017 is unprecedented. Those of us old enough to remember the 1984 – 1985 drought will recall it was the year’s biggest news story: We are the World was a #1 pop hit, people rallied to send support, and the media provided nonstop coverage. Today, news cycles are so short and information flow so overwhelming that only 15% of Americans are even aware that the impacts of this recent drought are still being felt.

With this in mind, we asked Elphas at SSNK how Mary and Esther are handling the new planting season. They reported that the recent drought has presented additional challenges for small-scale farmers in the region, making an already difficult livelihood even more difficult. Elphas says:

“This year we had a challenge of water due to a change in weather pattern. Drought was experienced till early July and Esther operated at a loss after planting her crops, which did not germinate due to drought. [Access to water] is a key problem for this family.

This year was also a challenge for Ms. Mary due to the severe drought. Keep in mind that the Gilgil sub-county is a semi-arid area. But she is better off than Esther because she has a water dam where her irrigation water is stored. Soil quality is a challenge for Mary’s garden. She was able to sell a few vegetables that were harvested, earning her some income.

We’re in the process of conducting regular soil testing. In fact, I did one today. We have also provided soil health, and organic fertilizer training with her.”

Esther and Mary don’t lack will or endurance — they just need access to water and good supplies. Like SSNK, another SPI partner, GrowEastAfrica, is modeling support for small-scale farmers by supporting drought-smart gardens that support community-led drought recovery in Ethiopia. You can see some of their work above. Each SPI partner approaches these challenges differently, but always in response to the specific needs of their communities.

Empowerment is important at every level of SPI partnerships, from investing in the local expertise and leadership of partners like SSNK to supporting enterprising and industrious women farmers who gain more control over their lives through networking and education.

Your purchase at Sweet Blossom Gifts helps provide that access through the Women’s Empowerment Initiative. From all of us: Thank you!

Smart Gardening with GrowEastAfrica: Protecting young plants from harsh sun and drought.

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