According to the World Bank Report (2018), Kenya has a poverty rate of 29.2% which translates to 14.2 million people living below US$ 1.90 per day. The report indicated that high levels of poverty are experienced in the rural areas due to lack of employment and poor rainfall. Four of the five counties where we work are resource poor – referred to as Arid and Semi-Arid Land (ASAL). These are Makueni, Kajiado, Kitui and part of Machakos counties.
The rural population in Kenya is mostly dependent on agriculture for sustenance. In the ASAL areas, people must wait four to five years for a good harvest. It is not uncommon for a rural household to survive on one meal per day. As a result different vices become attractive to a people that are seeking to survive. In most of the rural areas where we work, young adults and middle aged men have migrated to Nairobi in search of an income given that their farm land is no longer productive. As a result most households consist of women, children and the aged. For those with no son or kin in Nairobi, it becomes even more difficult to put food on the table.
In general, rural populations have little or no access to traditional banking services due to distance and the small amounts of money involved but access to savings and small loans is essential for healthcare, education, improved housing and the creation of small businesses.
To date, Village Savings and Loans (VSL) has been, by far, our most sustainable and life transforming project. Once trained in basic financial principles and given a way to save and access small loans, VSL members and their families experience significant improvement in their lives within the first year. We also see VSL members being generous, giving to social causes and churches in their communities. The amazing thing is that, once people learn about VSL, they continue to save even during the difficult drought seasons.
Growing crops in the drought stricken plains of Kenya with traditional methods leads to poverty, but improving agriculture through drought resistant methods offers great promise. Even those that have moved to the cities might be persuaded to come back home!
Our new 2020 initiative is to train communities in Conservation Agriculture. This is a farming system that encourages maintenance of a permanent soil cover with minimum or no tillage and planting different types of crops in order to keep the soil fertile. We are looking for resources to help roll out this important intervention.
Rural Kenyans have a resilient spirit. Every year they plant, look to the clouds expectantly, and a few drops of rain later they are still hoping the full rains will come. This happens every year. It is like playing the lottery; sometimes they win, sometimes they do not. That resilience can be used to improve the farming methods in rural Kenya to give the people better, more sustainable harvests.