For people in central Kenya who are trying to live off the land, the challenges are many as the region is not known for its agriculture-friendly conditions.
But, thanks to the work of an organization working to spread innovative farming techniques, that could be changing -- and women are at the forefront of the quiet revolution.
As the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported in a story last month, the Kenyan arm of GROOTS (Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood) is working to help women take up sack farming in order to both provide for their families and generate income by growing crops like kale, spinach and beets in a way that is less susceptible to the region’s erratic conditions.
In order to create a sack farm, bags must be filled with soil, manure and some pebbles, with plants grown both on top of the mix and out of holes in the sides of the bags. According to Thomson Reuters, it is preferable to other farming techniques because it requires little land and uses less water -- which is scarce there -- than traditional farming.
One farmer having particular success with the technique is Jane Kairuthi Kathurima, who has gone on to advise other farmers in the Nturukama region how to adapt their methods of farming to their local climates in a way that helps them battle the effects of climate change.
The work has even captured the attention of Kenyan government officials who have come to the region to see how it works, according to GROOTS’ Facebook page. The “farm-in-a-sack” technique is also being employed, with a similar impact, in the Nakuru region as a result of training from GROOTS members. The systems is also cropping up in the slums of Nairobi, thanks to a project of Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), an Italian organization.
Sack farming is also having an impact beyond Kenya’s borders. GROOTS Kenya member Helen Kamiri presented the technique at a United Nations event in Nairobi last year. The practice is also taking root in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The sack farming initiative is just one part of GROOTS’ work in Kenya. The objective of the network of women-led community organizations in the East African nation, according to its website, is to “ensure that grassroots women are masters of their own destiny through their direct participation in decision making processes.” GROOTS works to achieve that by offering a platform for grassroots organizers to share their ideas, network and connect with resources that help them to address the problems facing the communities where they live.
Other initiatives of the organization include caring for and training Kenyan communities on HIV/AIDS, increasing the awareness of issues connected to property-owning and inheritance for women and encouraging women to pursue leadership roles by providing training and mentorship to help them toward their goals.