Isiolo — "After the 2009 drought, I almost went crazy because I had nothing," said Halima Issak, who has five children to support.
"The drought was so severe. I had 10 head of cattle and they all died."
Today, Issak stands beside a field of healthy maize alongside a sparkling canal - an unusual sight in northern Kenya, a region plagued by drought, hunger, aid dependency and despair.
After the 2009 drought, Isaak and some 1,200 members of her village signed up to revive a government irrigation scheme that had been abandoned in 1980.
As part of the programme run by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), the Kenyan government and ActionAid, the villagers planted a 10-acre farm growing maize, onions and tomatoes using a nearby spring that provides water all year round.
The project was designed to show the villagers with little or no farming knowledge how to row crops in an area where most people depend on food aid to survive.
"The younger generation had not seen a crop growing. They did not believe it was possible," said Josephine Muli, head of WFP's Isiolo office.
Aid dependency is a serious problem in northern Kenya, a neglected part of the country with few roads, an erratic mobile phone network and low levels of education.
Repeated droughts have wiped out the livestock upon which pastoral communities, like Issak's, traditionally depend. Alternative sources of income are hard to come by.
The villagers, who currently receive three-quarters of their usual food aid rations, work on the farm three days a week and are expected to spend another two days a week working on their own plots.
The aim is to get every family to till an acre of land so that they are able to feed themselves. In the first three years of the project, 40 percent of participants started their own farms.
"We are trying to stress to them that they have to replicate these same technologies," Muli told AlertNet.
"We are hoping in the next phase that there are households that will be able to produce their own food ... as an example to others in the arid and semi-arid lands that it is possible."
In 2011, during a severe drought, the group harvested 640 kg of onions, 240 kg of maize, 86 kg of cowpeas and 164 kg of mung beans.
"This is what we are trying to do the world over whenever we find communities that do not have enough to eat," the United Nations' deputy emergency relief coordinator Catherine Bragg told a group of women farmers on a recent trip to Isiolo.
"Not just going in to give general food distribution but moving into being able to develop the assets for the community so that you can produce your own food."
In Isiolo County, almost a quarter of food aid beneficiaries, some 29,000 people, are involved in 15 such projects, known as Food For Assets.
Others involve rainwater harvesting, as underground water sources are scarce in Isiolo, and the planting of pasture, which is dried and kept to feed livestock during the dry season.
"We plan to continue shifting our assistance programmes almost entirely to this kind of asset-creation work in the coming years," said Challiss McDonough, WFP's regional spokeswoman.