Kenya: Natiira Ateni - Greening The Desert in Turkana County

1 July 2020
interview

Nairobi — Natiira Ateni Self Help group is located at Natira village, Turkana west sub county, Turkana county along Lodwar- Lokichogio highway which is about 150 kilometres away from Lodwar town. Young people are often dismissed from leadership positions where they could meaningfully contribute because of their lack of many years experience. The members of Natiira Ateni Self Help group changed this approach and have put their trust in 22-year-old Augustine Adapal as their enterprise manager.

AllAfrica's Nancy Onyango caught up with Augustine Adapal, for a chat about how the farming project he manages is quickly transforming his community.

What inspired the launch of Natiira  self help group in 2014?

Before we started the farming project in 2014 the members of Natiira Ateni self-help group were initially pure pastoralists who were mainly depending on selling their livestock as their only source of income. Turkana is prone to drought and famine due to hot and harsh climatic conditions in the entire county. Some of the members were conducting raids, especially men as a source of livelihood. These raids made them lose their livestock to the raiders from the neighbouring countries of South Sudan and Uganda who came on a revenge mission leaving them without any livestock.

What inspired you to take up the leadership role in the community, and what has been your experience as a young project manager?

I grew up and went to school  in Turkana county and I have seen the raving impact of drought and raiding of livestock to my community. I have also seen many of my peers leave Natiira for other towns in search for better opportunities. This mass exodus of the youthful generation has created a skills gap for my community which also has high school dropout rate and high illiteracy levels.

USADF's mission of  creating pathways to prosperity for marginalized populations and underserved communities such as Natiira  has  seen transformation of my community which had no regular income.  When the apprenticeship opportunity at Natiira Ateni came up, I put myself forward due to my agency to sharpen my technical and soft skills

I worked under Emily, the founding  enterprise manager and built my skills in leadership, project management and bookkeeping. I have also received mentorship support from CEZAM and additional skills in monitoring and evaluation. The community members have been very supportive during the journey.

The USADF partnership - how it has helped the project?

USADF has contributed 100% success to Natiira Ateni self-help group. In 2017, Natiira Ateni was awarded a grant of  95,386 USD towards drilling and equipping a borehole for serving a  two acre farm which previously depended on rain fed agriculture.

In the farm, we grow perennial and annual crops such as legumes, cowpeas, groundnuts, green pepper, spinach  kales and  tomatoes. USADF  has also connected  with us  agronomy experts who have provided us with certified seeds and also  sharpened our skills in crop farming using drip irrigation.

With the USADF grant we set up an office and have purchased office equipment and furniture that  has increased the group's management and communication capabilities. Through the support, an enterprise manager, an assistant and two apprentices.

In partnership with CEZAM, we have built capacity on how to monitor the project and have new capabilities to sustainably manage the operations of the farm. The farming project has transformed the life of my community and we now do not rely on relief food and handouts.  The members consume 20 percent of the harvest and the rest is sold to the neighbouring community which no longer has to rely on vegetable supplies from Kitale  which is over 500 kilometres away. On a monthly basis the group sells over 5,000 USD worth of produce to Natiira town and neighboiring towns such as  Lokichogio and Kakuma refugee camp.

How much sales is generated from selling the fresh produce?

So far our operations have been profitable as we raise 5,000- 8,000 USD quarterly from the sale of  legumes and vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, kales and onions to neighbouring markets in Lokichogio and Kakuma. Before the farming project, most of the members had no source of income. The only option that we had as a community was to rear livestock which was not profitable due to the harsh climatic conditions which resulted in death of livestock or theft from the raiders.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the business environment?

In our farm, day to day activities have been affected. This is because of the dangers  associated with mass gathering.  The big gatherings of our members  during harvesting, wedding and planting pose a  health hazard to our members. Due to the  Kenyan government's directive of practising social distancing measures, we have now resorted to having half the members participate in the farming activities on a rotational basis.

Our operational costs have also  increased as we have to buy personal protective gears such as masks, face shields and sanitisers for our members. We also have installed various hand-washing stations at the farm.

We are now selling more vegetables to our local market and if the travel restrictions persist we will be unable to meet the local demand. We have also seen increased interest from other community members who are not part of the group.

In June 2020, huge swarms of hopper bands desert locusts have been seen hovering over the skies in Turkana County have you put any measures in place to deal with the pests?

Yes. We have been on the lookout for desert locusts that have  recently been spotted in neighbouring Lodwar town. We  worried that they might attack and decimate the Natiira farm.

The locusts are a  big threat to our food security.  Research has shown that a swarm of locusts 1km wide can eat the same amount of food in one day as a 35,000 people. This is a big worry to our community who have just  recovered from a long drought that was recently followed by damaging floods this April when river Turkwell which empties to the world's largest desert lake, Lake Turkana burst its banks and caused fatalities and destruction as it swept away homes and infrastructure during the April short rain season.

The government  and other non governmental organisations have put in place measures such as conducting patrols to monitor the spread and  aerial spraying  to eradicate the pests.

What does the future hold for Natiira Ateni Self Help group?

We hope to enroll more members in the group and to expand the project from our current  two acre farm to a ten acre farm. Due to the bad state of our roads in Turkana county, the transportation costs are very high. For example, transporting three sacs of spinach worth 100-150 USD to a market that is 30 km away costs us about 50-70 USD return fare.

With more sales revenues and additional support from partners, we have planned to buy an autorickshaw (Tuktuk) or a motorbike to aid in the delivery of fresh farm produce to the market.

We are also planning to have workshops and training forums to educate more community members who are still practising pastoralism in  arid zone on how agriculture can be profitable.

Lastly, we hope to have a more vibrant town that will  attract the many young people who have moved away to other towns and counties in Kenya to return and  invest in various businesses which can provide additional employment to the community.

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