A woman in eastern Kenya works under a screen around a garden. The structures are equipped with drip irrigation to provide the crops with access to water even during a drought and also provide protection from birds and other animals.
Forget the screen of a smartphone or a TV screen.
For women in eastern Kenya, a screen around their garden is helping to make life better.
For over a decade, the P.E.I. group Farmers Helping Farmers has worked with the communities of Kiirua and Marega to help grow and sell more nutritious, drought-resistant crops.
Situated in the arid Eastern Highlands of Kenya, these villages are subject to periods of drought, inadequate rainfalls and recurring crop failures.
That, in turn, leads to frequent food shortages. Women in Kenya perform much of the agricultural work and produce and market the vast majority of food.
They also are responsible for care of the children, farming, cooking and wood collection.
That made women the perfect partners for a collaboration between two women’s groups and Farmers Helping Farmers.
In 2011, with funding assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD) and support from the Andreas Baur Foundation as well as the Souris-based Village Feast, a three-year project was started to improve food security within these two communities.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) Students for Development Program provided support for senior nutrition, nursing, business and science students from UPEI, along with their professors, to work in these communities as well.
Kenyan horticulturists were hired and Canadian vegetable producers volunteered to work in Kenya during 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 to provide training and demonstrate how to grow more drought-tolerant crops and more diversified crops.
The women started to grow more appropriate varieties of maize and beans that matured in a shorter season and with less rain.
Farmers Helping Farmers also provided a number of women with access to an individual screen house or a shared greenhouse, shared by four women.
Screen houses and green houses are equipped with drip irrigation to provide the crops with access to water even during a drought.
The structures also provide protection from birds and other animals.
Having a screened garden has provided the women with a safe and secure location to grow cash crops such as tomatoes, onions and carrots.
Charlie van Kampen, an experienced P.E.I. greenhouse grower, went to Kenya and showed them how to produce tomatoes.
Now they have tomatoes to feed their families and to sell commercially.
There were also soil fertility problems, so Susan McKinnon and Roger Henry showed them how to make and use compost.
Winston Johnston worked with them to manage bacterial wilt in some of their greenhouses, and Margie Loo trained them how to rotate their crops in order to minimize disease problems.
Eddy Dykerman from Brookfield Gardens showed them how to seed and grow carrots with a small hand seeder supplied by Veseys Seeds.
Two Nova Scotia farmers, Patricia Bishop and John Lohr, helped with marketing.
The project results have been impressive. The number of women classified as severely food insecure over the three years was reduced by 50 per cent.
The number of households classified as food secure more than doubled.
But the biggest success rate was for the women who had a screen house or a green house.
The cash sales of crops grown in the screened gardens increased the monthly income of some families by $15 to $80 per month.
That money could then be used to supplement the family’s diet.
Another encouraging finding for Farmers Helping Farmers and UPEI researchers Jennifer Taylor, along with Colleen Walton, was the increase in the number of women consuming vitamin A-rich yellow and orange vegetables.
Orange sweet potatoes were introduced in the area by Farmers Helping Farmers in 2012.
The importance of the orange sweet potatoes or squash in family recipes for githeri (stew) and uji (cereal) was a key message in the nutrition sessions.
The women in the study were also consuming more kale and other African leafy greens.
And there were increases in vitamin C consumption, mainly more tomatoes.
“This project also benefited over 1,500 school children by establishing a school lunch program at six rural schools in the same communities,” said Carolyn Francis, president of Farmers Helping Farmers.
“The vegetables produced in the screened gardens at the schools combined with the maize and beans provided by the parents and cooked in the cookhouses funded by the Village Feast meant the students could concentrate more on their studies because they were not hungry.”
Now that this project is over, Farmers Helping Farmers is hoping to find new funding to allow further monitoring, to see if the positive results are sustainable.
And they’d like to see if the initiatives in Kiirua and Marega could work in other parts of Kenya.
“This project has transformed the areas of Kiirua and Marega from one where families struggled to provide water and basic food to one where they are growing diversified nutritious crops they are selling in the market,” said Teresa Mellish, co-ordinator of Farmers Helping Farmers.
“More funding could mean more screen houses and green houses, and more plentiful nutritious food for women and their families in eastern Kenya. That’s the kind of simple screen that can really make a difference.”
For more information, visit www.farmershelpingfarmers.ca.