Wider variety of vegetables good news for women’s groups in Kenya

sarah muthee

Enhanced kitchen gardens are improving the diet diversity of women and families in Naari

by Sarah Muthee

Communities in Kenya are faced with different challenges. However, food insecurity and nutrition deficiencies have, over the years, been the most common problems affecting women and children in rural areas. Food insecurity exists when an individual or family lack access to sufficient quantities of safe and nutritious foods to be healthy and achieve their full potential.  A lack of dietary variety, which is also common in the Naari area where we are working, often results in inadequate intakes of essential nutrients like iron, vitamin A, and zinc by women and children putting them at risk of poor health.

C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\20170515_084746.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\20170515_084618.jpg

From left: Mixed beans, Mpempe (whole maize) maize and Muthikore (polished maize)

Kenya, like many other developing countries, has made slow progress in mitigating the effects of global warming, water scarcity and poverty, which are significant contributors to food insecurity and a lack of dietary diversity.  Currently, the country is experiencing extreme climatic conditions. The prolonged dry spell has resulted in crop failures and escalating food prices especially that of Mpempe maize/corn which is the main staple. In particular, Naari area has received very little rain this spring, with similar trends in many parts of the country.


Ugali the main staple in Kenya (made from Mpempe maize/corn)

Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF), a non-governmental organization based in Prince Edward Island, has recognised the need to improve food security and has in the past thirty years partnered with  different Women Self-help Groups  in rural Kenya in order to improve their livelihoods. Currently, the organization is working with the Joy and Upendo Women Self-help Group’s in the Naari area in Meru County. The organization has provided water tanks drip pipes, quality vegetable seeds, as well as training on gardening, compost manure preparation, and pest control.

Despite the effects of global warming, water scarcity and high food prices in the country, families in Naari continue to thrive because of the assistance they have received from FHF.  More women are now becoming proficient in vegetable and fruit production.   This has in a great way empowered women smallholder farmers in this area to improve their families’ diets and overall livelihoods.

C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\4 IMG_20170512_103515.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\3 IMG_20170523_142704.jpg

Baby……carrots                                  Tomatoes

The provision of the enhanced kitchen gardens by FHF has made it possible for women smallholder farmers to provide a variety of healthy and nutritious vegetables to their families which add important diversity to the local starchy diets, which consist of dried maize and beans (with a higher ratio of maize), ugali (made from maize flour and water), rice and Irish potatoes.

C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\20170509_135243.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\8 6_1495576849008.jpeg

Red Onion Bulb                                                          Zucchini

A year after the introduction of drip irrigation to this area, a great deal has certainly changed in the women’s diets and it is clearly reflected by what the women are now planting in their gardens as well in their shambas (farms).  There have been three major changes that I have noted over the course of the past year.

C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\IMG_20170512_102921.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\IMG_20170512_103242.jpg

A very well kept kitchen garden (from left kale, spinach, cabbage and carrots)

First, more women in the community are now more engaged in the gardening of vegetables and fruits than before. The periodic visits by the FHF horticulturist, Stephen Mwenda, have increased their yields.  Most women are now planning on how they can expand their garden sizes to double their production (below are some yummy vegetables and fruits that are doing so well in this area).

C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Kenya folder 2017\Photos Summer 2017\Shamba and Home Interviews\orca-image-1496750514325.jpg_1496750514576.jpeg C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Kenya folder 2017\Photos Summer 2017\Shamba and Home Interviews\orca-image-1496749788766.jpg_1496749789049.jpeg

Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP)               Pili pili hoho (Capsicum)

Second, the drip irrigation technology provided by FHF has reduced over-dependence on rain fed agricultural production thereby enabling women smallholder farmers to produce a wide range of healthy and nutritious vegetables for their families all year round. The initiation of drip irrigation and horticultural training into this area, has made it possible to introduce a variety of new nutritious drought resistant crops in this area. A good example of this is the orange fleshed sweet potatoes (a good source of Vitamin A).

C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\New folder\20170518_100204.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\20170509_135237.jpg

From left Orange Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP) a rich source of vitamin A, and OFSP vines

The third change that I have seen in the past weeks as a result of drip irrigation technology is that the women’s diet diversity has increased correspondingly with the greater crop variety in their shambas. I have been assessing food security and dietary diversity among Upendo and Joy Women’s group members and these encounters have been full of surprises. I continue to discover new varieties of nutritious vegetables and fruits in the women’s diets.  More families are growing and consuming a wider range of highly nutritious green and orange vegetables and fruits than they did before they had the drip irrigation technology or the enhanced kitchen gardens. Examples of these new crops/dishes are squash, carrots, tomatoes, kale, spinach, pumpkin leaves, and stinging nettle among others.

C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\IMG_20170523_103245.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\IMG_20170523_103046.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Documents\Summer 2017\Summer 2017\IMG_20170523_102922.jpg

Pomegranate fruit and tree

C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\6 IMG_20170511_150149.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\7 IMG_20170523_102625.jpg

Michaela enjoying the shade from an Avocado tree Apples

According to Stephen Mwenda (a horticulturist working for FHF), the combined training in gardening and appropriate food preparation techniques have also made women more aware of the importance of integrated agriculture, as well as the nutritional value of different crops in their gardens. As a result of the acquired agricultural skills and nutritional knowledge, more women are now to attend agricultural field days, agricultural fair, and other agricultural symposiums than in the past. It is during these events that they get sprouted fruit seedlings which they then plant in their farms. This has promoted the consumption of different varieties of fruits and vegetables in this area. Examples of these fruits include guavas, oranges, apples, watermelons, and pomegranates which are now widely grown in this area.

C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\8 IMG_20170523_102451.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\9 12_1496008765620.jpeg

Yummy….oranges a good source of Vitamin C   Watermelon

C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\10 IMG_20170523_104250.jpg C:\Users\Sarah\Desktop\11 IMG_20170523_103955.jpg

Guava tree Mango tree

This increase in crop diversity in Naari clearly shows what women can grow when they have access to water all year round!


Day for Girls kits

kits 1

By: Natalia Agon

The highlight of my week was handing out re-usable female hygiene kits to Karaguririo Primary School in Mukerweini District.

Farmers Helping Farmers works with Wakulima Dairy there as well as supporting the twining of Canadian and Kenyan schools.

These amazing kits are made by a women’s group in Guelph, Ontario through the NGO Days for Girls.

The kits contain panties, washcloths and multiple pads and liners that the girls can reuse every month.

This program allows the girls to not miss school or any other activities because of their period.

We gave the students a girl empowerment talk that had an emphasis on hygiene and the value of women, the girls were so attentive and had a ton of amazing questions. Their eyes were bright with excitement when it was finally time to get the bags.


kits 2

kits 4


kits 3







Food and nutrition security in Kenya 2017

FHF colleen 1

Natalia and Pricilla during an on-farm family nutrition interview

by Colleen Walton

Our nutrition mission in Murkerwe-ini, within the area of the Wakulima Dairy, is to interview women, community leaders and health professionals to better understand nutrition issues in the area and to assess whether earlier nutrition education messages had long term impact on family diets. The biggest issue however is the recent drought.

Maize has not been harvested for almost a year as the October 2016 rains failed. There are shortages of maize at a household level and also at a national level. At times we have not found maize flour in the stores.  Maize is the centre point of most Kenyan meals and we are finding that people are eating foods that they do not like to eat, such as mashed green bananas. In many cases they are eating smaller meals and skipping meals as their resources are limited to buy the available foods. Admittedly, many of the interviews of women in their homes have been very difficult. They are grateful for the wheat or maize flour and Vesey`s Flash Collard seeds that we provide as a token of appreciation for their time. However, these gifts seem so trivial given the precarious situations we have encountered.

Fortunately, there have been rains and the maize and bean plants are looking healthy and the cows are being fed better so milk production should be going up soon.

Another bit of good news is that the Kenyan government recently made fortification of maize and wheat flour mandatory. This practice will replace many vitamins and minerals lost in refining the flours and will to help reduce iron and vitamin A deficiencies that are not uncommon in Kenya. The government also made a move to import maize to help address the maize shortage and, for a short time, provided fortified maize flour at almost 50% off the regular price. Not surprisingly, the newspapers were critical of this move in light of the upcoming elections and unfortunately the maize flour bounty was short lived.

To complete our program we have conducted a `training of trainers` in nutrition. Volunteers from women`s groups were trained on seven key messages to provide a balanced diet for their families. They have been challenged to train their groups, and others. If implemented, the messages provide people with a practical ways to improve their diets, even in small ways with their limited resources.


FHF colleen 2

Pricilla and Natalia climbing from interviewing a woman at her farm

FHF colleen 3

My Kenyan work station with the handsome rooster

I was excited to see that maize flour is now fortified with vitamins and minerals although we continue to promote the use of whole grain flour made from farmers own crop as “the best”.


FHF colleen 5

Lush green in the Murkerwe-ini area – hoping for a good maize crop in August

FHF colleen 6

Pricilla and Natalia finishing up an interview










Joy, Love and Grace: Working with women’s groups in Kenya

FHF grace 4

Interactions with Joy and Upendo Women’s self-help groups

I am Grace Wanjohi, a Masters of Education student who is part of the 2017 nutrition team. It has been a great pleasure visiting women from both Joy and Upendo (‘love’) women’s self-help groups. Just as the names of the groups suggest, I have experienced amazing joy and love radiating from each woman I have visited. I have also seen the determination, hard work, self-sacrifice and resilience of an African woman through these women. Despite differences in age, socio-economic statuses, and education levels, just to mention but a few, the women in the two self-help groups are closely knit and admirably harmonious. Since my experiences with the women are so many to compress in one blog post, I highlight just a few of these encounters here.

The bumpy Naari roads led us to the homes of each woman from Upendo self-help group that we visited during the first week of fieldwork where we were assessing food security, diet quality, and nutrition knowledge, attitudes, and practices. These interviews are important to determine whether our nutrition and agricultural programming is working. I enjoyed Jen’s company during this week; I learnt a lot from her through her constant input during and after the interviews, as well as listened and laughed at her never-ending yet interesting stories. All women whom we visited welcomed us so warmly such that there was no problem building rapport with them. The warm welcome made the interview sessions run smoothly. One woman in particular (see photo below) would roll with laughter as we asked certain questions – her laughter seemed to be contagious.

FHF grace 1Photo: From right Mary (Upendo translator), Judith (a hilarious Upendo Women’s Group member), Michaela and I.

The home visits culminated in the peer-led nutrition education and cooking or ‘champs’ session. The food preparation team was enormous. It comprised of the thirty (30) women from the group, the nutrition team, Kenyatta University faculty as well as the Veterinarians without Borders. The morning session was characterized by a buzz of activities that yielded delicious and mouth-watering super uji (porridge enriched with milk and orange fleshed sweet potatoes), super githeri (maize and beans enriched with greens and carrots), and super mukimo (maize and beans mashed with irish potatoes, butternut, and stinging nettle)! The cooking session was a perfect way to practically demonstrating some nutrition messages such as increasing vegetable consumption by adding and green leafy vegetables and orange vegetables to local meals. Then came the dancing session that was irresistible to both young and old.

FHF grace 2Photo: super githeri

FHF grace super mukimo

Photo: super mukimo

FHF grace 3Photo: The great team comprising of Kenyatta University faculty members, QES Scholars, and Vets without Borders during the Upendo nutrition education and cooking session. Jennifer Taylor took the picture!


Like women from Upendo, women from Joy were equally so warm and welcoming. After every interview, each woman had something to offer us that we had to take home, despite our attempts to refuse to do so in some instances. The presents ranged from fruits, vegetables, eggs, tea, sugarcane, and live chickens, among many others.

FHF grace 5

From left, Charity (translator from Joy), and Mireyne posing with sugarcane

Other than the presents, we ate quite a number of delicious meals prepared by the women, mainly githeri and mukimo.

FHF grace salome

Photo: Salome (member of Joy women’s group) besides her specially prepared githeri, which has more beans to increase protein and carrots and green leafy vegetables to increase β-carotene or vitamin A, folate and iron.

After the home-visits, we had a similar Champs nutrition session with the Joy Women’s group. We decided to ask the six Champs from the group to choose the meals to prepare for the peer-led session. Surprisingly, they choose the exact same meals that women from Upendo women had earlier prepared. They harmoniously shared out the various cooking tasks, which they performed swiftly and perfectly. We began by enjoying super uji prepared from two grains (mpempe and millet) with added milk and grated carrots. After an hour or so, the super githeri and mukimo was ready for serving. The meals was so delicious (In Kimeru they would say, ‘bithongi muno’) and nutritious.  After the meals, we had the peer-led education session and then, song and dance followed.

fhf-grace-7.jpgPhoto: Women from Joy Women’s group enjoying super githeri and super mukimo that they prepared.

FHF grace 8Photo: Michaela, Mireyne, and I posing for a photo with champs from Joy women’s group after presenting them with certificates of appreciation and lessos, a fabric used as a skirt or apron.

It has been great meeting and working with these two incredible women’s groups!


Mireyne MacMillan Week 3 highlights!

FHF miryene 3Hi- this is Mireyne MacMillan again from the nutrition team in Naari, Kenya. It is mind boggling to think that it has almost been one month since arriving to Kenya! My experiences so far have been nothing but positive as our nutrition team continues to work with the incredible Naari community. Last week, we completed our first assessment of the school meal at Muruguma Primary School, which is very close to the house that we live in. This school recently received a water tank and drip irrigation from Farmers Helping Farmers to support a garden to grow healthy vegetables for the children! We assessed their preparation of uji, which is similar to a porridge/cream of wheat, and githeri, which is a corn and bean based dish, to determine if there are any recommendations we can make to improve these dishes. In between our assessments of the breakfast and lunch meals, we had the opportunity to visit classes ranging from nursery class to standard 8 (grade 8).

When we first entered the classes, the students were timid and unsure of what to think of the ‘Mzungu’ (white/traveller) visitors. We broke the ice by attempting to use the little Kimeru we have learned for our introductions. The students then showed us some of the English activities they had been working on, which was incredibly impressive. We also gave the students the chance to ask us anything about Canada. The topics ranged from Canadian agriculture, seasons, to our federal voting system.

Curious students checking out my ponytail.

 Although the students were shy upon our first meeting, they quickly warmed up to us when we were able to join them outside on their break. We were soon surrounded by these curious students who wanted to get to know us better. The students taught us how to play traditional Kenyan games, showed off some dance moves and sang us some favourite songs as well. We were told our laughter and singing was clearly heard by distant neighbours. The afternoon spent with these energetic, joyful and bright young individuals was one of the best times I’ve ever had, which made it so difficult to leave. It was great to have the UPEI veterinary students  Ren Chamberlain and Julia Kenny along for our school visit so they can see what the nutrition team does.

The nutrition team (front row right to left: myself, Grace, Michaela; back row right: Sarah)  and vet students Ren and Julia (back row, left) sitting in on some English classes.

 Last week we also held our peer led teaching session with the Upendo women’s group. The purpose was to teach nutrition messages and cook traditional dishes to show the how they can be made to increase their nutritional value and still taste delicious!  We reviewed some messages from 2016, including using mpempe (whole grain) maize and soaking it to improve digestibility and nutrition) and adding dark green vegetables near the end of cooking time (“on the top”). This year, we added new messages: use equal amounts of maize and beans in the githeri to increase protein; add one orange and one green vegetable to githeri to increase β-carotene (or pre-vitamin A). With these teachings, we are aiming for a ‘healthy pot’: a githeri that has less starch, more protein and lots of vitamins. Also new this year was a message about the importance of deworming their children to ensure children can fully benefit from their meals.

The teaching was led by six members, who are called ‘champs’. These women were selected in 2016 because they demonstrated genuine interest in learning about the nutrition messages and teaching them to the 25 other members. We started the day early (8:30) in order to ensure the dishes would be prepared on time. We selected three dishes: super-uji, super-githeri and super-mukimo. These dishes were labeled ‘super’ because the recipe modifications would benefit the women and their families. The added ingredients were selected based on what the women were most likely to grow in their kitchen gardens and to be consistent with our nutrition messages. The women agreed to use whole grain mpempe maize in the githeri (and whole grain maize flour in the uji), add lots of carrots, orange fleshed sweet potatoes and leafy green pumpkin leaves, kale and even thaa, or stinging nettle.  Since thaa can cause a painful rash, the women carefully washed it with wooden spoons and then transferred it with the spoons to the pot of mukimo for cooking. It was fascinating to see how they have learned to use this prickly plant which grows wild but is very nutritious. The talented women went on to lead the cooking process, and we tried our best to keep up!

Anne showing us how to cut kale without cutting boards (and cutting fingers!).

 While the food cooked, the champs began the teaching sessions. They did such an amazing job teaching these messages in the Kimeru language and answering any questions the ladies had. There were great discussions created after the teaching session for further clarification. Afterwards, we were able to try the super meals! Based on the smiles on everyone’s face and the lack of leftovers, the dishes were a big hit!

 And of course, the teaching session was not finished until we were all dancing and singing afterwards!

Nutrition work begins

FHF natalia 3

Dr. Colleen Walton and I at the School of Applied Human Science (Department of Foods and Nutrition) of Kenyatta University

Welcome to my little bit of Kenya.

My Name is Natalia Agon and I am 4th year Foods and Nutrition student at the University of Prince Edward Island. Like the other nutrition students, and alongside with my supervisor Dr. Colleen Walton, we are doing data collection of nutrition knowledge, food intake an food insecurity in the Murkerwe-ini area (about 2 ½ hours from Naari where the other UPEI students are located). Alongside this data, we are doing formative research about the Nutrition Transition in this area of rural Kenya. Our goal is to have clear understanding of the current food and nutrition knowledge as well as social barriers and prevalence of non-communicable chronic disease to create a proper subsequent nutrition intervention in to form of education.

In the past week, we have had very informative focus group meeting with various stakeholders that have shaped and guided our plans going forward. The primary data that we have collected has been crucial to determine our target population and the specific needs of the community.

I spent the month of May working with a Registered Dietitian in PEI who, among other roles, educates newly diagnosed diabetics on medication and lifestyle changes to manage their disease. And here I am, 13,600 kilometres away from home, amazed by the prevalence of Diabetes in a country that has suffered and continues to suffer so much poverty.

After long days of work, we try to get some exercise in by exploring the beautiful valleys and different crops in the shambas (farms) of Central Kenya.

FHF natalia 1Handsome Kenyan goat gracing away.

FHF natalia 2

Endless arrowroot plantations




“Keeping many balls in the air”

FHF jj3

 Managing a multi-disciplinary veterinary and nutrition program in Kenya – an overview for May 2017

Blog by John VanLeeuwen and Jennifer Taylor (AKA Papa John and Mama Jen to the students!)

Our recent trip to Kenya in May was our busiest QES trip to Kenya ever, with many moving parts (many people going in different directions) and many projects on the go.  One morning, we had 6 vehicles leaving from the Naari house with people involved in different parts of the overall Queen Elizabeth Scholar (QES) program.  Most of our students are funded through the QES program, which provides support for six Kenyan students to attend UPEI to complete their Master’s (4 students) or PhD degrees (2 students).  After completing required course work in Canada over the past two years, the Kenyan graduate students, along with two veterinary and two nutrition undergraduate UPEI students, travelled to Kenya in May 2017 to provide training and resources and to collect information necessary to complete their theses. It is important to note that their work complements the efforts of Farmers Helping Farmers (FHF) to improve milk production, food security and nutrition, and overall livelihoods of Kenyan farm families in Naari.   We sometimes found it hard to keep the different projects straight while we were in Naari, so in this blog, we figured it would be good to describe the various projects and roles of people involved, to help the blog-readers with the big picture, and give a brief update on each.

  1. Dennis Makau and Joan Muraya, Kenyan PhD students, continue monthly visits to train and conduct research on cow nutrition and cow reproduction on 100 dairy farms, respectively. With the drought that occurred last year and continued until March (good rains for the last 2 months), even farmers following recommended practices have run out of good quality stored feeds for their cows. However, the high-protein shrub seedlings that were distributed to farmers in early 2016 are doing well on most farms receiving them, helping to keep cattle protein intakes at a reasonable level. Milk collections at the Naari Dairy have remained at the 4000 L per day, despite the drought, and should go up substantially with the recent rains. Unfortunately, reproduction is the first thing to get hit with droughts, and it has suffered during the last year, with fewer cows showing heat, being bred, and conceiving, despite efforts to enhance uterine health and ovarian cycling. Again, breeding success should improve with the recent rains as body condition scores improve with better feeding. Monthly data collection and advice on improving nutrition and reproduction should quantify on-going costs and benefits of the training and resources provided.

FHF jj2

Photo: Joan Muraya and a high protein calliandra shrub

  1. Emily Kathambi, a Kenyan MSc student, initiated her training and research project on cow comfort on 100 dairy farms. Emily will be going to each farm 4 times. On the first visit, Emily gets baseline information on cow comfort, including stall design features and management, and attaching accelerometers to the cows’ legs for 3-5 days to get lying down times. On the second visit, she removes the accelerometers and gives specific oral and written advice on how to improve cow comfort with low cost changes in design and management. A month later, on the third visit, she will reassess stall design features and management and re-attach accelerometers. A few days later, on the final visit, she will remove the accelerometers and address stall changes left undone. One farmer started hammering some boards while we were washing our boots which was very gratifying and demonstrates the desire these farmers have to improve their farms.

FHF jj2 aPhoto: Emily Kathambi with Joan Muray, Ren Chamberlain and Julia Kenny

  1. Also a Kenyan MSc student, Sarah Muthee’s training and research project will be assessing the impact of a combined nutrition education and agriculture intervention on food security and diet diversity. The nutrition intervention involves  teaching the women key nutrition messages regarding using whole grain maize for more nutrients, more beans to increase protein, and incorporating dark green and orange vegetables into their githeri,  a staple food (vegetable stew), among other messages. The agricultural interventions include water tanks and drip irrigation for home gardens, as well as horticulture support.  Sarah is interviewing 29 women in the Upendo Women’s Group and will compare findings with those collected from the same women in 2016, which was within one month of the first teaching sessions.  She will also assess differences between the Upendo Women’s group who received the combined intervention and a comparison group (n=20) which received no intervention. In both 2016 and 2017, the “Champs” programming (training the trainers) has been implemented to much fanfare and music  – the women continue to amaze us with their welcoming nature and interest in improving nutrition for themselves and their families.

FHF women's groupPhoto: Mary, the Upendo chairwoman, helps the group plan what they will prepare for the Upendo Women’s Group training session

  1. Grace Wanjohi (a Kenyan MEd student) has initiated  a research project which builds on Sarah’s project: she will assess whether sending ‘booster’ nutrition messages via cell phone to the women will increase their nutrition knowledge and make it more likely that they adopt recommended practices.  The Upendo Women’s Group will receive the usual face-to-face intervention led by the women “champs” while the Joy Women’s Group (n=24) will be sent two ‘reminder’ messages a week for 5 weeks .  Grace will have completed her pre-intervention assessments by the end of May and will start sending booster text messages in June. Her post-intervention assessments will take place in July. If this intervention is successful, cell phone messaging could spread the training to large populations rather than just the small populations reached through in-person training.

FHF grace birthdayPhoto: Grace Wanjohi and Ren Chamberlain on their birthday

  1. Anne Shileche (a Kenyan MSc student) has a program evaluation project which aims to investigate the impact of this multi-disciplinary project on empowerment and civic engagement among 3 groups of women within Naari: 1) from 20 dairy farms getting cow nutrition and reproduction training and resources (Dennis and Joan’s project); 2) from 20 farms belonging to members of the Upendo Women’s Group who are receiving both a human nutrition and agricultural intervention (Sarah and Grace’s project); and 3) from 20 farms not involved in any part of the project, as a control group.  Anne has begun collecting information on the farms and will complete her data collection by the end of August. This research is important since it will document the non-veterinary/non-nutritional impacts of the project activities for women and whether  they feel more empowered and confident to improve their homes, farms and communities. Anne is also interested in whether women extend this confidence and become more involved in civic engagement in their neighbourhoods and communities.

FHF jj1 aPhoto: Anne Shileche and Lucy Kathuri conducting a survey

  1. Julia Kenny and Ren Chamberlain, the 2017 veterinary interns, are helping with the veterinary projects above and they are also involved in a training and research project around silage. They are collecting information on farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices around making and feeding silage. FHF has been promoting and facilitating silage-making so farmers have good quality feed even during the dry season, and in this part of Kenya, it is primarily corn silage. Very few farmers were actually feeding silage currently because of the light rains during the last year prior to March 2017 (having exhausted their silage stores), and because of the good rains now (so they have lots of fresh feed to give now). However, many farms now have some silage or are making silage for the up-coming dry season. Therefore, as the summer unfolds, the interns will be able to assess silage quality and on-going feeding practices. These interns will also be providing advice to these farmers on silage making and feeding, along with other health management recommendations appropriate for the farm.

FHF silage

Photo: A silage pit with Stephen Mutua on his farm

  1. Mireyne MacMillan and Michaela Rowan, the 2017 nutrition interns, are working closely with Sarah and Grace on the nutrition projects above, as well as a number of other initiatives. They will tabulate information collected from all schools and will document the learnings from the “Champs” in terms of their experience, and how we can make things even more effective. They will also tabulate what the women do in terms of excess vegetables that are produced in the kitchen gardens (do they give it away or sell it to neighbours/a local market?). They will also assess whether women are growing the orange fleshy sweet potatoes which are being promoted by FHF for their good nutritional value (rich in vitamin A). The “M&Ms”, as we call them, will also be involved in assessing the quality of school meals for 9 Kenyan schools that are twinned with PEI schools. They will provide detailed feedback reports to schools in an effort to improve the nutritional quality of the morning porridge (uji) and the lunch time vegetable stew (githeri) for students, such as incorporating more vegetables from the new school gardens into these student meals so that they will have more vitamins and minerals to improve growth, reduce sickness and increase academic performance. For the first time this year, students will work with graduate students to deliver educational seminars to parents and teachers – often 100-200 at a time!  These activities will keep them busy for their summer internships. The extended drought until March 2017 had an effect on the farm gardens and school gardens as well, but again, with the recent rains, there is optimism again that these gardens are improving. Regardless, Naari women are eager to learn and will apply this knowledge when the nutritious crops are available.

FHF survey 2Photo: Frida (Upendo woman) and Mireyne MacMillan share a smile!


Just to make things a little more complicated, since clearly things are not complicated enough yet (sic), there were 7 more groups of people involved in the above projects in the past 3 weeks, either directly or indirectly.

  1. A group of 3 student interns, sponsored by Vets without Borders-Canada (Alina Gardiner, Kelly Hammond and Megan White), worked with our project for the final week of the three weeks so that John could help with their in-country orientation. The three students, from Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, learned about all aspects of our program and were introduced to Kenyan farming, culture, and life in Naari. They fit in very well with our Naari family, and some nights we had a baker’s dozen for dinner!  John also traveled with them to Mukurwe-ini during his last couple of days in Kenya to introduce them to people at the Mukurwe-ini Wakulima Dairy Ltd. where they would be volunteering for the rest of the summer. John also introduced them to the Kenyan people who would be providing them with daily security, supervision and taxi services, and laundry and cooking services when needed. Dr. Shauna Richards has also provided them with orientation and will also be providing supervision during the summer.

FHF students cowPhoto: Kelly Hammond, Alina Gardiner and Megan White sampling a cow’s udder

  1. A group of two professors, Drs. Lucy Kathuri and Joan Muriithi from Kenyatta University (KU), came to Naari for a 3 day trip to provide some direct supervision and input for their respective supervisory committee roles on their projects with Anne and Grace. Dr. Irene Ogada, working with Sarah, could not join them because she recently had a new baby. The timing of the trip was excellent because Lucy was able to help trouble-shoot Anne’s questionnaire one last time, and join Anne for her first two interviews, leading to some last minute wording changes that enhanced the understanding of the questions.

FHF jj4Photo: Kenyatta University professors with VWB gals and the nutrition team

  1. Drs. George Gitau and Victor Tsuma, professors from Nairobi University and supervisory committee members, were unable to join us in Naari initially, but George will join the team in Naari in June when he has time. Fortunately, we met in Nairobi the day after landing in Kenya to discuss some logistics for the respective veterinary projects, which was helpful for fine-tuning plans for the upcoming weeks in Naari.
  2. FHF is one of the five official partners involved in the QES program, and they play an integral role in many of the program activities in the Naari area. Teresa and Ken Mellish (and other FHF people) were not in Kenya with us in the past 3 weeks but their input and suggestions from years of experience in Kenya were frequently utilized by the team.  Stephen Mwenda and Salome Ntinyari, Kenyan employees of FHF, were able to join the team in Naari for some farm and school visits, in addition to providing other valuable logistical support for local needs. Jennifer Murogocho, a dear friend of FHF, also provided immense logistical support to the team regarding security, housing, and transportation.

FHF mwenda guitarPhoto: Stephen Mwenda (FHF staff) on guitar

  1. UPEI Supervisory committee members for the Kenyan graduate students also provided invaluable input in Canada in preparation for the Naari activities. Some of them have already been mentioned above;  others include: Drs. Colleen Walton, Charlene VanLeeuwen, Carolyn Peach Brown, Shawn McKenna, Jeff Wichtel, Crawford Revie, Bronwyn Crane, Collins Kamunde, and Tim Goddard.
  2. Support personnel are sometimes forgotten, but we would like to acknowledge them here as well. The cooks, drivers and security guards make it possible for us to be well fed, productive, safe and secure while in Naari and Mukurwe-ini. And Henry Macharia, Susan and the excellent drivers at Sportsmens’ Safaris ensured that we had safe long distance transportation while in Kenya.

Last, but certainly not least, the farmers, womens’ groups, and schools in the Naari area, along with the Naari Dairy Cooperative Society, have been nothing short of phenomenal in their partnership for the program activities. They have always been welcoming, helpful, and very hospitable. Special mention should go out to Geoffrey Imathiu (Chair of the Naari Dairy), Bernard Ndegwa (vet tech at Naari Dairy), and Mary Karimi Ndubi (Chair of the Upendo Women’s Group).

FHF jj 1Photo: Geoffrey Imathiu with Leah Karioki (FHF staff)

We would like to thank all of these people (and anyone we may have forgotten) for making the first 3 weeks of the summer 2017 activities in Kenya very successful, and we hope that the momentum created by these three weeks continues throughout the summer.

Of warmth and generosity on a farm visit

by Julia KennyFHF julia cow

I think I am becoming accustomed to life here in Kenya.  This is the first full week we have spent here in Naari without our professors and with our full complement of students.  We have settled into a dynamic domestic bliss here in our house and have already begun to create some wonderful memories together.

Today was another typical day for the vet team.  We left the house early and visited ten farms in the Naari area throughout the day.  One farm visit today was particularly special because of the people we spent time with there.  It was a relatively small farm set at the foot of a green hill with a large field of corn stretching below it.  The house was made of dark wooden boards with small windows lined by lace curtains.  There was a pen behind the house for the two cows that was also made of unfinished wood as are most pens.  The cows were chewing contently as we approached.  The first cow was amenable but the second cow seemed quite annoyed at having her peace disturbed and expressed her indignation with several swift kicks.  The farmer thankfully offered to help us milk her.  He promptly soothed the cow’s wounded feelings and coaxed several liters of fresh milk from her.  He gave the milk to his young wife who had just appeared in the doorway with her four month old daughter wrapped in a bright red blanket that was much too big for her.  She smiled at us and asked us to come inside for a glass of fresh warm milk and cream.  We thanked her and gladly accepted.

We finished examining the cows, washed up and proceeded into the house.  We were shown into the living room and seated on two faded green couches that were carefully covered with lovely white lace tapestry.  The wife came in with a large tray of white bread and a thermos of milk and cream.  She filled each of our glasses and encouraged us to help ourselves to as much bread as we would like.  The milk was warm, sweet and creamy and almost seemed to thicken in the mouth.  It filled one’s stomach as well as a full meal.  The bread was also delicious and complemented the richness of the milk.  The wife smiled at our obvious satisfaction with the fare she had served and then hastened into the other room.  She returned shortly with her husband and their child.

The baby girl looked about the room until her large brown eyes rested upon the strangers in her home.  She stared curiously at us and seemed unable to decide whether our presence was a good thing or not.  She was a very quiet child and seemed to take in her surroundings with an openness that was beautiful to behold.  She captured our hearts immediately.  For the next half an hour or so, the vet team took turns holding and playing with the little girl.  Despite the language barrier between us and this Kenyan family, we all laughed together and it did not seem to matter if one did not understand exactly what the other was saying.  We were all enjoying our simple meal of bread and milk and were unanimous in our admiration for the little girl we held that gazed silently at the strange creatures that had descended upon her living room.

We would have liked to remain in that cozy little room for the rest of the afternoon but still had a few more farms to visit.  We said goodbye and climbed back into our jeep.  As we drove away, I could not help but reflect on the joy and generosity of the family that we had just left.  We carried the warmth of their kindness with us for the rest of the day and I do not think that I shall ever forget this particular farm visit.