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Nutrition & Income Transformation in the Asal regions of Kenya

End of Hunger & Poverty in Arid & Semi-Arid Land (ASAL) regions, starting with Mbeere, Kenya using the nutritionally rich moringa oleifera

Photo of Haron Wachira
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

Akili Development Organisation

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

1. Akili Development Sacco, a cooperative whose membership is drawn from founders, investors, borrowers and groups of small-scale farmers in the region we are working in. 2. Akili Technologies (a for-profit entity) that manages collection, organisation and management of data for the group. 3. Akili Foods Ltd. (a for profit entity that processes leaves of the moringa oleifera plant, among others, by drying them and finding markets locally and internationally. 4. Applied Institute of Agriculture & Technology, a training institution that coordinates and delivers training on behalf of the Akili group of collaborating entities.

Website of Legally Registered Entity (shared by the entities that work together, developing agricultural value chains targeting small scale farmers)

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Akili Development group of organisations operate from Kutus, Kirinyaga, Kenya, targeting communities of small scale farmers around Mt Kenya.

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Mbeere, Embu County Kenya Mbeere region covers an area of approx 2,099.5 Km2 with an estimated population of 170,950 people

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Mbeere region, a sub-county of Embu County, is an example of a semi-arid area in Kenya. B In Kenya, drought is the single most critical natural hazard in terms of shattered livelihoods, hunger, deaths and nutrition-related diseases. (Kienyu, Njeri Emma). Mbeere people try to practice subsistence agriculture, growing maize, beans, millet, green grams and other food crops. But, frequent failures of the rain-fed agriculture (and therefore little or no harvest, season in season out) only exacerbates the problems of the population. Consequently the Mbeere people are defined by: - Malnutrition, especially in children under five years, estimated at 41.9% stunting, 7.3% wasting and 19.8 % underweight (KNBS and ICF Macro 2010) - High levels of poverty, with up to 60% of the population living below the poverty line of US$1 per day. Moringa oleifera, a highly nutritious plant (beats orange as a source of vitamin C; beats yoghurt as a source of calcium; beats banana as a source of vitamin K; beats carrot as a source of vitamin A), which is largely unknown in the area, would address both these challenges. The plant grows best in semi-arid areas. Akili Development Organisation has piloted the growing of moringa oleifera in the area. Planted intensively an acre accommodates 21,000 plants, each of which produces up to 2.5 kg of harvestable leaf per year. Families are taught to grow, harvest and eat and sell the excess. Akili helps in finding market outlets at a price of at least Shs 10 ($0.10) per kg. To minimise demand for water, Akili's protocol for growing moringa includes the use of diatomite, which holds in place and preserves water (for the plant) equivalent to 2.5 times its weight. Although poverty reduction is a complex process requiring a wider range of interventions, a moringa led initiative simplifies an intervention significantly because the plant is a nearly all-inclusive source of nutrition, grows very fast and, in processed form, fetches a good price

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

We selected Mbeere as our community of focus in view of its nutrition- and poverty-related challenges. The Mbeere people are part of the Bantu communities that live around Mt Kenya: the Kikuyu, the Meru, the Akamba and the Embu. Unlike all their neighbouring communities (except the Akamba), the Mbeere have remained relatively backward economically, owing to the adversity of the weather which, increasingly, is turning the area into a semi-desert. Droughts are common in Mbeere. So are hunger. The communities traditional food crops such as the maize, beans and vegetables do worse by the year. Grazing lands have not only become worse due to climate change; they are also becoming smaller due to population pressure and resulting in malnutrition and stuntedness. 70 to 80% of the Mbeere people still live in the rural areas, and the majority of them are poor, living below the poverty line of $1 per day. The transition from traditional life to to modernity, instead of improving livelihoods, have driven the Mbeere people into more poverty. Their plots of land are smaller; the weather is harsher; their herds, from where they got their protein are frequently decimated by drought; even the way they use grains now have changed for the worse - they sell the maize to millers who dehusk it and extract oil from the germ, then sell back to the community a milled form of the sifted maize meal that has only starch and no oil or protein or roughage. We already had an engagement with the Mbeere people, focusing on carbon-offset relating income sources. One of Akili's directors plays the role of project consultant for EcoAct, a player in Europe in the voluntary carbon market. Through the intervention, 60,000 energy efficient stoves have been distributed in Embu County, of which 24,000 have been distributed among the Mbeere. Akili is also training the Mbeere in Agriculture, supporting them to plant vegetables, with irrigation, for own use and for export. The training programme is funded by The MasterCard Foundation, through the Kenya Commercial Bank. To enhance this programme further, Akili would therefore be best placed to train and otherwise the Mbeere people to farm moringa oleifera, and to use it for their own nutrition and as an income source.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The nutritional challenges of the Mbeere people are multi-layered: 1. Climate change related: adversities of climate change means having to brave extended drought periods, for as long as several years. 2. Changing dietary patterns: modernity has introduced a previously unknown practice among the Mbeere - eating sifted maize meal, which lacks all nutrition. 3. The people of Mbeere, especially the elderly, continue to hold on traditional ways of life, eg trying to keep large herds of animals in spite of reduced pasture. Often they lose it all when drought strikes. They also maintain albeit secretly, reliance on witchdoctors for advice, to no improved effect.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

1. Promoting the planting of moringa oleifera, a superfood. Moringa contains nearly 33 micro nutrients and surpasses all the currently known sources of Vitamin A (carrot), Vitamin C (orange), Calcium (yoghurt), Potassium (banana) and nearly matches meat as a source of protein. 2. Using technology options to popularise irrigation and make it sustainable. By helping the Mbeere people to construct sand dams (a constraint established across a river bed on which river water flows from the upper zones -- Mt Kenya -- and only passes through Mbeere). A sand dam holds water in place, underneath the sand dam holds water in place after the flush flood and protects it from evaporation for long -- as long as 10 years -- underneath the sand. 3. By introducing the farmers to use diatomite as a water conservation agent. Diatomite is an effective amendment to improve water holding capacity of light textured soils. It holds water equivalent to 2.5 times its weight in place, at the base of a plant, for long periods, and protects it from evaporation. 4. By training the farmers in the use of moringa as a food eg by mashing it into their traditional food instead of other vegetables of lesser nutritional value. 5. By demonstrating the planting of moringa intensely, thereby realising harvest of at least 50 metric tons from an acre per year, with an income value of $5,000. Thus moringa oleifera, with technological innovations and training, simplifies and shortens the period of the otherwise complex interventions that would be needed to drive poverty out of an area and address nutritional challenges. If promotion of moringa oleifera as a food crop, animal feed input, soil conservation facilitator and as a cash crop succeeds in Mbeere, we will have a strong case to engage the Kenya government in adopting its promotion across other areas in Kenya that are ASAL in nature -- which make up 80% of country and affect more than 30 million of Kenya's population (total 52 million).

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

An improved dietary regime among the Mbeere will result in better livelihoods, reduced incidence of illnesses, better performance in school for children. Moringa, planted intensely, also serves the role of a soil cover layer, protecting the soil from wind-borne erosion. As a carbon sequestrating agent, moringa oleifera fares better crops coming in about 7th in ranking compared to other species that grow in semi arid areas such as the Acacia. Moringa sequestrates 1.47 ± 0.60 CO2 kg/year compared to no. 4 ranked Acacia nilotica's 5.04 ± 1.02 CO2 kg/year sequestration capacity. Moringa also ranks decently as a nitrogen fixing agent in the soil, at a rate of 0.031 ± 0.004 at a depth of 0-15 cm. Moringa leaves are also nutritious to animals. Planted intensely an acre of land is able to support a family of four with adequate food, nutrition and also help them maintain a high-yielding dairy cow or a herd of goats. Beyond the leaves of the moringa oleifera, the pods are also edible, and the seeds are useful in water treatment (one moringa seed purifies 1 liter of water to drinking standard). Lastly, Moringa's oil compares to olive oil in quality and pricing. Improved incomes from moringa leads to better education which in turn leads to better family planning capacities, All communities that have so far realised better education levels, such as the neighbouring Embu and Kikuyu, are also the best placed when it comes to planning their families.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Here is how moringa oleifera addresses the six interconnected themes: 1. Environment: Moringa is a great soil cover. During harvests, the overgrown leaf are dropped on the ground, creating a mulch. 2. Diets: Moringa is a great food source. In dry form it has almost no significant taste, therefore can be integrated into many foods including as a mash, for making soup, into maize and beans etc. 3. Economics: Moringa fetches a good price in the local and international markets. Through our associated company, Akili Foods Ltd, we are able to guarantee sale of all extra leaves and/or seeds that the growers can produce. At a price of $0.10 per kg, and with an acre producing as many as 50 tons from an intensively planted farm, moringa can generate adequate revenue for a family farming only one acre. Scaled, the entire area can become vibrant economically, with many buying centres established, drying facilities established, youth employed as clerks and shops stocked to sell diatomite, fertilizer and yellow traps for catching invading insects. 4. Culture: Moringa will blend into the culture once promoted, because it can be prepared in the same way as the Mbeere people deal with other vegetables. 5. Technology: The initiative will introduce two new technologies that have the capacity to dramatically change the lives of the Mbeere people. Sand dams will teach them how to preserve water from runoffs that currently pass through and end up in the sea, 400 km farther away. Diatomite will demonstrate how to minimise irrigation requirements not only for moringa but also for other crops. 6. Policy: Success in Mbeere will provide the basis and leverage for engaging government in adopting the policy of promoting moringa oleifera in other ASAL communities. It will also provide an example to be copied in other countries that face dietary and nutritional challenges.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • From the newsletter


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Photo of Julius Kariuki

Compelling idea. Please see our input "Bringing Traditional Grains Back to the Dinner Table" as there are overlaps in ideas especially about building superfoods

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