After a rough three hour drive on a rocky road on a blistering afternoon, I arrive at Suguta Marmar primary school, along the Samburu-Laikipia border, where I find groups of uniformed children tending neat vegetable gardens surrounded by mango and orange trees.
“These farms were not like this when I first got here nine years ago,” Father Albert Letaon tells me as he welcomes me to the public school, within the Catholic Church compound in Suguta Marmar parish in Samburu West constituency.
“This is a very rocky area and after clearing all the rocks, we had to bring red soil from sopili area in Laikipia west to enable us introduce vegetable farming to pastoralists,” he said.
In Samburu County, horticulture is not widely practiced, given the nomadic lifestyle of the people which also influences their diet.
But Fr. Letaon says that they are changing the attitude towards vegetable farming, and the need of a balanced diet through engaging pupils in practical gardens, so that they can impact on society.
Letaon says that in order to achieve the attitude change, practical farming lessons are introduced to all pupils from class four to class eight, where each class is allocated a garden and guided through the vegetable planting process.
“We have a borehole which serves the church and the school, and since this is a semi-arid area, we use the water for irrigation rather that depending on rain fed irrigation,” he said.
Yvonne Safari, a class eight pupil said that she has realised the importance of irrigation since she was introduced to vegetable farming four years ago.
Safari said that she transfers her knowledge from school to her vegetable garden at home, where she teaches her parents and siblings about the importance of eating a healthy diet.
“I have even taught some of my neighbours how to grow kales, spinach and onions for family consumption, it is easy since they take only two to three months to maturity,” Safari said.
Nanel Lenyapian, a standard six pupil, narrated how her family lost all their livestock due to the drought that rocked the county in 2017.
“My father’s animals succumbed to drought, leaving us with no source of livelihood, but if we embrace farming, women and children will be in a position to add on to the family basket,” she said.
Burton Wefwafwa, a teacher at the school said that once the kales are ready, they are prepared during lunch and supper, and served to the pupils to improve on their diet.
He added that the surplus is chopped and dried under the sun and stored for future consumption.
When we harvest surplus kales, we take them to a common place and wash them, then soak the vegetables in warm water, mixed with vinegar for preservation, then they are grated to small pieces.
The grated product is then dried in the sun and takes 3 to 5 days to dry depending on the water content of the vegetable.
“Dried kales have a shelf life of up to three months and when preparing them, just soak the kales in water for five minutes, then cook, it’s that easy. You can even mix them with a few fresh ones and you can’t tell the difference,” he said.
Wefwafwa said that if they have enough in storage, surplus of fresh kales are sold to institutions and to vegetable vendors in the nearby Suguta Marmar trading center, hence, generating revenue for the school.
The teacher said they are now in the process of adding carrots, bitrutes and cabbages in the school garden, and it will expose the pupils to a wider variety of horticulture.
Experts say women and children are the most affected by climate change in many developing countries, and are more vulnerable to natural calamities, such as floods and drought.
Isiah Lekesike, the Director for Food and Nutrition at Caritas, said that the introduction of farming in Suguta consolata primary school is a way of empowering girls since men in pastoralist communities control the main source of income-livestock.
He said that after succeeding in Suguta, such projects will be introduced to other schools in Samburu County, to ensure that vegetable farming is embraced not only for nutritional value, but also for economic gains at family level.
The school also keeps dairy cows for milk production and chicken for eggs to supplement their diet.
By Robert Githu