Furrows in the Desert - Addressing the 4-Year Drought

Furrows in the Desert – A Practical Response to the Four-Year Drought

The four-hour drive from Lodwar to Lobur, close to the Kenya-Ethiopian border, will remain among the highlights of my career. The environment is harsh with blistering winds, rocky desert terrain with a few dry brushes, and many dry acacia trees in sight. Water is scarce. Turkanas of all ages are seen sporadically carrying old edible oil cans in search of water. The random nomad appears resting on a mini stool watching over dozens of goats grazing on the little signs of vegetation. A four-year drought has hit this area hard, and poverty is palpable everywhere.

Twenty-five years ago, Father Paco Andreo García arrived from Spain in Turkana to establish The Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle (MCSPA). Father "Paco," as he was known, believed agriculture was vital to addressing poverty in this region. He knew the long-term answer to alleviate poverty was not through perpetual humanitarian assistance but by creating farming operations so the people could feed themselves.

Ten years ago, Father Alberto Salvans, a member of MCSPA, visited Israel and returned to Lobur with the idea to establish the Furrows in the Desert (FiD) program. FiD seeks to provide sustainable arid agriculture training to pastoralists in the region. FiD has partnered with the Arava Institute of Israel for technology transfer and has counted on the support of dozens of young volunteers from Brit Olam, an Israeli non-profit. Rotary International contributes small farmer irrigation kits.

FiD has trained over 200 Turkanas, and today approximately 120 are active farmers. Retention rates have increased from 20% during the first two years to 70% in the last five years. FiD understands well the importance of constant monitoring and training. This ensures farmers do not quit and continue learning, e.g., flush pipes and clean their drips saturated with salt, good agronomic practices, etc. Training for most farmers costs the equivalent of two goats, or US$50, while NGO-sponsored farmers pay US$300 for five months of all-inclusive hands-on training. At graduation, farmers receive a water tank and a smallholder drip irrigation kit for a 500-square-meter area. MCSPA has built over 200 boreholes and dams in the area.

Driving with Maque Falgas, Head of Resource Mobilization at FiD, and Steven Munene, Lead Agronomist and one of FiD's two agronomists, we visited an incredible model farm that is testing and growing diverse crops like cowpeas, maize, melons, onions, tomatoes, and even grapes!. A proud Turkana woman named Ike manages the nursery, where she tests new crops like capsicum and eggplants. FiD has fenced seven hectares to develop local grasses and has planted hundreds of trees to improve soils and harvest water – the results are remarkable. FiD has also built water harvesting pans to capture water during the short rainy season.

We visited a cluster of about 20 farmers, mostly graduates. Most farmers succeed, while a few struggle. Many factors drive the difference, but three are key: soil, water, and farmer resilience. The region's soils are diverse; some are highly degraded with low organic matter. Underground water is salty and heavy in minerals. The first requirement to qualify is learning to compost and create humus to improve highly degraded soils. The farmers we visited were very proud of their rich piles of humus.

The average income per farmer is about US$60 per month. The average family has at least five+ members. Goat and cattle herding, the communities' primary source of income, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Maque acknowledges that to complete the cycle, FiD must support farmers showing great promise with financing to move them to commercial independence. FiD also needs to expand its training campus to double its capacity to meet the growing demand for its course. Monitoring and training continue to be critical components of FiD's future. We also discussed how data could significantly address productivity and climate change resilience for FiD farmers. FID understands the combination of soils and water needed to grow certain crops. They also know what crops can have a higher impact on incomes and livelihoods. The future is exciting.

Thanks, Maque, Leo, Munene, Father Joseph, and the FiD team. This was a fantastic experience, and seeing how FiD is testing agroforestry and regenerative agriculture in the harsh and dry environment of Northern Turkana is, without a doubt, a career highlight. We look forward to formalizing our partnership with FiD and bringing our climate adaptation technology, blended capital, and training to FiD and its network of farmers. See you soon!

German, Madleine, and Susan

For questions, write to:

MCSPA and FiD support thousands of Northern Turkanas. MCSPA has a primary school teaching 150+ children, providing daily meals, and a busy dispensary with nurses onsite. They promote Women Based Organizations and skills training for women and men. The training center and the model farms need expansion, new boreholes need to be developed, and older ones need maintenance. I genuinely believe this is a group with decades of experience in Kenya's and Ethiopia's ASAL regions that can have a significant impact across the drought-stricken area of East Africa. Any support is welcome. please write to Maque Falgas at:

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