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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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Pomegranate fruit and tree

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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.

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Yummy….oranges a good source of Vitamin C   Watermelon

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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!


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