Currently, 20 million people desperately need food assistance across four countries: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria. Famine in South Sudan alone has left 100,000 people on the verge of starvation and almost 5 million people, more than 40% of the country's population, in need of urgent assistance.
On 10th February 2017, the government of Kenya declared a national drought emergency with 2.7 million people facing starvation and 357,285 children and pregnant and lactating mothers acutely malnourished.
Most small scale farmers have over-dependence on maize and beans to meet their household needs and with unpredictable weather patterns and prolonged dry periods, they are the most affected. Although many drought resistant crops such as cassava, cowpeas, pigeon peas, millet and sorghum exist, many families in Kenya still struggle due to lack of information, poor access to inputs, lack of conservation agriculture know-how and failure to let go of old practices.
School populations are especially low in arid and semi-arid areas and incentives such as school feeding programmes have been shown to increase the number of school going children especially leading to more girls going to school.
In North Eastern Kenya, one of the country's driest regions, a girl is 15 times more likely to be out of school than a girl in Nairobi the country’s capital. The primary education net enrolment rate is 36.3% compared to 93% the national average while the girls completion rates in primary school is 25% compared to 75% the national average. The secondary education net attendance is 2.2% compared to 12.5% the national average.
School based learning gardens provide the opportunity for children to learn how to grow drought resistant crops through conservation agriculture techniques such as minimal tillage, minimal water consumption and crop rotation. Preparation of these foods will then be taught in school kitchens and students will have the opportunity to taste them during school feeding programs aiming to change traditional diet preferences that favour crops which fail in droughts.
This model will ensure that communities not only benefit from nutritious meals during emergency response periods but instead, organic and fresh food will be available for consumption throughout the year. As these foods are drought resistant, they will be cheaper and easier for schools to maintain. Currently, many schools especially in arid and semi-arid areas are not connected to consistent water sources and therefore do not invest in gardens or any form of agriculture for food or income generation.
We envision that these are practices will be replicated by the whole community by giving samples and lessons to parents on how to grow drought resistant crops through the learning gardens. This will ensure sustainability and expand our reach.