Concern and Potential Highlighted by “Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika” and FRB’s West Pokot Food Security Program

July 28, 2017

Nathan Magrath, Alliance to End Hunger

Far to the northwest of Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi lies a region that is facing increasing climate stresses, which are leading to fundamental changes in livelihoods.  West Pokot County is currently facing a ‘crisis’ level of food insecurity according to the Famine Early Warning System. Typical rains between March and May proved to be significantly less than expected, adding to a prolonged drought that is adversely affecting farmers and pastoralists alike. Food insecurity is leading to additional nutrition gaps, according to UNICEF, which could potentially lead to long-term consequences.

Philipine “Pini” Kidulah (left) and Jackline Chemutai (right) of the organization “Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika.” (Courtesy: Foods Resource Bank)

It is in this context that the Alliance to End Hunger hosted two experts working with Foods Resource Bank’s West Pokot Food Security Program, which is funded through FRB’s Community Growing Projects.  Philipine “Pini” Kidulah and Jackline Chemutai lead programs aimed at improving food security in West Pokot through an organization called “Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika.” JWW’s mission is “To improve sustainable food security in the semi-arid regions of Kenya, by empowering marginalized women to access, own and sustainably manage productive assets and participate in the peace building process in their communities.” It pursues its mission through four programs: Food Security, Water Security, Income Security, and Peace Building.

Pini Kidulah is one of the founders of JWW, and explained the situation to the group gathered at the Alliance: “We are finding ourselves in a drought situation that cannot be reversed. Families from the [more drought-prone] lowlands are moving to the [less drought-prone] highlands, causing worrying environmental stress.” She went on to explain that in the changing environment, protecting arable land and promoting water conservation are paramount to the resilience of the people of West Pokot.

With this increasingly dry region in Kenya facing increasing uncertainty, JWW is working on new approaches to bolster food security in West Pokot. Jackline Chemutai is the Food Security Program Coordinator for JWW, and explained that “you can no longer train farmers in only one product or value chain. If one product fails, as we are seeing, then there needs to be a backup.”  Chemutai gave the simple example of teaching women to raise chickens. Not only are chickens more resilient to drought than other types of livestock, she explained, but they are also more likely to be managed by women, lending more financial equality – and a certain amount of decision-making power – between men and women within households.

West Pokot, Kenya (Courtesy: Foods Resource Bank)

Chemutai also stressed the need for conservation agriculture practices and other land preservation approaches, such as tree planting and intercropping.  The two women additionally shared their deep concern for water conservation.  In the past, the digging of boreholes (wells) had been a primary activity to increase water availability. But as rains become scarcer, and water tables drop, there is a need for practices that improve collection and preservation of scarce seasonal water through rainfall and seasonal rivers.

This led the two leaders from Jitokeze Wamama Wafrika to provided messages for the relief and development community as a whole. “Ultimately, a focus on food aid needs to stop,” stated Kidulah. “All the money that is being spent reactively on aid in our community right now should have been spent proactively on development a long time ago.” She continued to explain that with this more far-sighted focus, issues of conservation, production, and even the threat of conflict over limited resources would be mitigated.

Pini Kidulah and Jackline Chemutai are now taking their messages to numerous communities across the United States with their Foods Resource Bank Regional Director Eric Mattson – sharing program success stories with FRB volunteers, farmers, churches, communities, legislators, donors, and the media. Their ultimate destination is FRB’s board and annual meeting in Yakima, WA. To learn more about FRB’s food security programs, visit www.FoodsResourceBank.org.