Contributor: Yael Nagar
Yesterday, USAID Administrator Mark Green announced the selection of 12 target countries for the next phase in Feed the Future, America's global hunger and food security initiative. This announcement comes one year after the historic passage of the U.S. Global Food Security Act of 2016, an important step in affirming America’s commitment to ending global hunger, poverty and malnutrition.
The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF), one of Feed the Future's 11 participating U.S. Government partners, addresses food insecurity by focusing at the grassroots, giving farmers a voice and a choice in their economic development priorities. USADF seed capital assists hundreds of agricultural cooperatives to develop better enterprise management skills, improve production and distribution capabilities to access larger markets.
Nowhere is this more true than in northern Kenya, where USADF is investing in underserved communities to move beyond food aid to self-sufficiency through enterprise development.
Kenya’s national economy has seen remarkable growth in recent years, with its GDP rising from 40 billion in 2010 to 70.5 billion in 2016 . However, as Kenya’s GDP continues to grow, those living in harsh climatic conditions still struggle in the face of food insecurity, drought, and shocks. Especially vulnerable is Turkana county, Kenya’s poorest county, where 87%  of people are living below the poverty line and as many as 82% have never attended school. The region is semi-arid and is prone to frequent droughts, all of which threaten food security. The current drought in Turkana, ongoing since early 2016, has left nearly 300,000 people in critical need of food assistance to survive . Over the years, Turkana county has been subject to numerous droughts and the international community has responded with critical humanitarian assistance each time. However, without long-term solutions, the Turkana remain at risk.
In five years in Turkana, Kenya, USADF has invested $5 million and generated new revenues of $16 million, reaching over 50,000 people to strengthen local food security.
USADF’s work in Turkana county challenges the notion that food aid is the only solution in times of severe drought. We believe that by empowering the Turkana to become self-sufficient in food production, they can not only end their own dependence on food aid, but can also be key producers of food for their fellow neighbors. USADF’s plan in Turkana county aligns with the Global Food Security Strategy’s focus areas of horticulture and livestock, in addition to supporting fishing and microcredit sectors. Our approach is to provide seed capital to catalyze the self-stated needs of local community groups-- we work to strengthen local enterprises and help them grow, with the goal of increasing incomes, expanding food production, and achieving food security in their communities.
Before my first trip out to Turkana with USADF, I was warned that it was among the toughest places to work. And this is largely true—Turkana County is dry, remote, and poor, with low rates of literacy. But it is also true that the Turkana people are entrepreneurial and bold, willing to try new ways of improving their livelihoods and supporting their communities.
USADF provides these emerging enterprise organizations with the tools necessary to sustainably grow a business. We have trained over 1,000 members of our farmer organizations in areas such as good governance, financial management, agronomy, fishing and livestock marketing. Because of this training, these enterprises have successfully been audited and, with a proven track record, many of them have been able to access follow-on financing.
Youth from our groups are trained as apprentices and empowered to take over managing the enterprise once the funding ends, so crucial knowledge gains are not lost. USADF-supported enterprises gain not just the physical goods, but also the knowledge and ability to make large purchases, write contracts, negotiate with vendors—in short, they become real players in formal markets for the first time. For example, with USADF support, Neema Women’s Poultry Enterprise has successfully become the largest egg producer in Turkana County.
Other emerging enterprises have used irrigation techniques to grow vegetables in the harsh Turkana climate. Achukule Agro-Forestry Tree Nursery installed drip irrigation pipes and quadrupled their vegetable production. So far, they have brought greenery and vegetation to an extremely arid landscape. Visit Lokichar and you’ll find that Achukule is now one of the town’s major suppliers of vegetables, a source of nutrition that is severely lacking in Turkana county.
By supporting small-scale food producers and enterprises, we can empower communities to reduce the reliance on food aid in Turkana County, while at the same time improving nutritional diversity. These emerging enterprises show that with the right kinds of investments, we can make sustainable strides towards food security and self-sufficiency in even the most difficult to reach places.
Yael Nagar is the Program Analyst for Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.