Greenhouses provide a lifeline against drought in Kenya

Published: 26 August 2013 11:38 CET

By Rebecca Lefort, British Red Cross

When the rains didn’t come, the people of Gandini used to start praying. It was a specific prayer, which involved sacrificing a chicken or a goat under a tree. The rains would follow in a few days. However, the villagers, who live near Kenya’s beautiful coast began to lose faith in their prayers when the rains did not come.

Crops did not grow and people went hungry. In 2011, when Kenya suffered a devastating drought, Gandini, which lies in the district of Malindi, was not alone in seeing people die as a result of a lack of food.

So when the Kenya Red Cross Society erected three large greenhouses, built an irrigation system, and supplied people with seeds, tools and training to grow fruit and vegetables, it finally felt like Gandini’s prayers had been answered.

“Everything has been transformed!” says Faini Kadenge, an 80-year-old village elder who has lived in Gandini all his life.

“We have never seen things grow like this before. In the past few years, regardless of what we did, nothing seemed to come to life, so we have never had enough food. We were always scared about drought and the future. Now the Red Cross has put up the greenhouses, helped us clear the land, and is supporting us to grow our own food.”

As part of the project, hundreds of pipes were laid, creating an irrigation system that transports water from the nearby Sabaki River. A nine-foot well was also built to collect rain water which can also be used in the greenhouses, where river water would be too dirty.

The greenhouses are communally owned and run, and villagers can also pay for a plot of now fertile land to cultivate, growing anything from watermelon and bananas to maize and beans. And it’s not just in Gandini where greenhouses are transforming lives.

In the nearby coastal town of Malindi, an innovative project is giving hope to female prisoners. A large greenhouse has been built in the grounds of the low-security GK Women’s prison, giving the 40 inmates who live there a chance to gain new skills that can help them get a job once they are released; skills that will help them look after their family’s health and nutrition.

Mapenzi Yaah, 24, has already served one year of a five-year sentence for drug possession. Last year, the mother of one was given the task of caring for the greenhouse, cultivating a bumper tomato crop which produced 1,000 kilos of tomatoes in three months.

“I’m happy that I am looking after the greenhouses because I’m gaining the skills that I will later use to help myself once I am out,” she said. “Someone may let me look after their greenhouse, as I now know how to care for the plants, and how to use pesticides. Plus, I love eating the tomatoes!”

Both projects are helping to reduce food insecurity and build communities which are resilient to drought, so in the event of another drought, families and communities will be better able to respond and cope.