By Caroline Wambui
Central Kenya's Nturukuma region is not kind to farmers - its erratic rainfall, desert vegetation and drying riverbeds push most people into making a living through trade rather than agriculture.
Jane Kairuthi Kathurima toiled for years as an animal herder in the semi-arid conditions of Laikipia County, but struggled to feed her family – until she discovered sack farming, which has transformed her life and those of her children.
“Being in an environment where food was scarce and lacking in nutrition, I had to find an alternative way to survive,” said Kathurima, who is HIV-positive. "If I sat doing nothing I would die, so I had no choice but to embrace farming in whatever manner I could.”
|Kathurima cuts kale from her sack farm. TRF/Caroline Wambui|
Sack farming involves filling a series of bags with soil, manure, and pebbles for drainage, and growing plants on the top and in holes in the sides. The sacks allow people to grow food in places with limited access to arable land and water.
Two years after setting up her sack farm, Kathurima now grows enough vegetables - including spinach, lettuce, beet, and arugula - to feed her family and sell the surplus to the community.
By bucking tradition and learning a new way to cultivate crops in Nturukuma's harsh conditions, she has become a successful, well-respected farmer. Now she is supporting other food-insecure farmers by encouraging them to think differently.
The group behind sack farming in Kenya is GROOTS (Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood), a global network of women-led groups which help women solve problems in their communities by changing the way they do things.
Rahab Ngima Githaiga, vice chairman of one of the GROOTS member organisations, says sack farming has empowered women and changed lives by improving family nutrition and enabling children to go to school.
After Kathurima joined Likii Home Base Care, a group that supports people with life-threatening illnesses, she received training in becoming financially secure and eating well. She was also introduced to a variety of farming methods.
Read the full story at Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED).