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North­east­ern women farmers earn independence from fodder farming

training APFS kenya fodder pastoralists pasture grassFramers in­spect­ing their fod­der grass fam. Photo cour­tesy.

Women from North­east­ern Kenya are un­leash­ing their po­ten­tial in the pro­duc­tion, stor­age and sales of fod­der grass and slowly earn­ing them eco­nomic in­de­pend­ence and key po­s­i­tion in fight­ing food in­sec­ur­ity among pas­tor­al­ist com­munity in the re­gion.

Ini­tially these women who were not part of com­munity de­cision-mak­ing and were left be­hind in food pro­duc­tion pro­cess are so far able to sell hay bales and are, there­fore, no longer de­pend­ent on men for most of their up­keep thanks to train­ing on pas­ture grass pro­duc­tion by the United Na­tions Food and Ag­ri­cul­ture Or­gan­iz­a­tion (FAO).

In this train­ing men, women and youth form groups of 20 to 30 people where pro­du­cing, man­aging and util­iz­ing fod­der are taught in a ‘school without walls’ through ex­per­i­en­tial and par­ti­cip­at­ory ses­sions.

“For pas­tor­al­ist fam­il­ies, food se­cur­ity is im­proved and in­comes are higher. Mean­ing, com­munit­ies have be­come a lot more re­si­li­ent,” said Khalif Ibrahim Bar­row, FAO/IGAD Part­ner­ship Pro­gramme.

The train­ing tar­gets Mandera County which is com­posed of arid and semi-arid areas and forms part of a cross-bor­der re­gion between Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia where pas­tor­al­ist com­munit­ies are highly vul­ner­able to re­cur­rent droughts that de­grade ran­ge­lands and re­duce ac­cess to tra­di­tional graz­ing areas.

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As part of a part­ner­ship pro­gramme on drought re­si­li­ence, FAO, the In­ter­gov­ern­mental Au­thor­ity on De­vel­op­ment (IGAD) and oth­ers have formed a total of ten Agro Pas­toral Field Schools (APFS) across five pro­ject sites.

At the field schools, par­ti­cipants study each stage of feed pro­duc­tion and pre­ser­va­tion from pre­par­ing the land to plant­ing seeds and whether to water by rain or ir­rig­a­tion right up to har­vest­ing, and pre­serving and stor­ing pas­ture seeds and hay bales.

“Like any other crop, pas­ture can be grown, nur­tured and stored for use in times of need, al­low­ing for a great rate of re­cov­ery of de­graded land when res­ted,” said Paul Opio, FAO live­stock and pas­tor­al­ism ex­pert.

The learn­ing cycle takes four months to com­plete and is offered twice a year, match­ing the rainy sea­sons. Farm­ers are also taught the best ways to re­move in­vas­ive weeds, not­ably “Prosopis spp,” which is ac­cel­er­at­ing the rate of de­grad­a­tion of ran­ge­land eco­sys­tems.

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The field schools use com­par­at­ive ex­per­i­ment­a­tion as a key learn­ing method. For ex­ample, par­ti­cipants ob­serve how two sim­il­arly planted plots treated in dif­fer­ent ways de­velop over vari­ous stages. They also ana­lyze and dis­cuss in­nov­at­ive prob­lem-solv­ing tech­niques and ex­plore new meth­ods to im­prove breed­ing and an­imal hus­bandry prac­tices.

“As a res­ult of the APFS, we are see­ing im­proved pas­ture avail­ab­il­ity and res­tor­a­tion of de­graded lands, while live­stock body con­di­tions have im­proved and mor­tal­ity has been re­duced,” Khalif Ibrahim Bar­row, a focal point for the Mandera County FAO/IGAD Part­ner­ship Pro­gramme, summed up the schools’ be­ne­fits.

Pas­tor­al­ists in the north­east­ern Kenya face chronic an­nual drought prob­lems and most of the time they de­pend on the gov­ern­ment ini­ti­at­ives for help.

In Feb­ru­ary this year the Min­istry of Ag­ri­cul­ture was forced to re­lease Sh538m for live­stock buy­ing due to drought which saw farm­ers lose their an­im­als. The an­im­als were trans­por­ted to Kenya Meat Com­mis­sioner (KMC) for slaughter­ing be­fore they could all suc­cumb to drought.

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Feb­ru­ary is nor­mally the peak of drought sea­son in Kenya while Novem­ber is the peak month for the short-rains sea­son, ac­cord­ing to the Kenya Met­eor­o­lo­gical De­part­ment.

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