In the Kalobeyei Settlement in northern Kenya, refugees are turning to urban farming to improve food security, nutrition, and self-sufficiency. Kitchen gardens, a project of the multi-agency Kalobeyei Integrated Socio and Economic Development Programme (KISEDP), supplement food distributed by humanitarian aid. The KISEDP program equips households with seeds, tools, and mentorship, helping enable families to set up vegetable gardens using dryland farming techniques.
Droughts and land-use changes in recent years challenge the livelihoods of both refugees and pastoralist communities in Kenya’s desert region. As a response, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme, and the Turkana County Government introduced the kitchen gardens in 2017 to combat food insecurity and provide an alternative source of livelihood to both hosts and refugees.
“Food can be a powerful force for social integration,” says Johanna Mendelson Forman, Adjunct Professor at the American University’s School of International Service. Mendelson Forman is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center’s Food Security Program. “You can [improve] food security with people that can grow their own food. They can also take the [surplus] product to a place where they can earn a little livelihood,” Mendelson Forman tells Food Tank.
More than 7,000 households participated in KISEDP’s kitchen garden project in 2018, says the FAO. The farmers, trained in water-efficient farming and rainwater harvesting, grew crops such as sweet potato, okra, and kale. To expand the effort, Kalobeyei’s spatial plan, developed with the U.N. Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), allocated 600 hectares of land (nearly one-third of the total site) to household farming.
The agricultural corridors, interspersed in and around the residential areas, can also open opportunities for improving the local environment. “Water scarcity is a huge problem [in Turkana County],” says Jonathan Weaver, former urban planning lead at UN-Habitat. “Through the plan, we piloted methods to [build] water pans for irrigation.” The farmland, Weaver tells Food Tank, also acts as a flood barrier along existing waterways as well as an ecological corridor.
Since opening in 2016, the Kalobeyei Settlement houses an estimated 40 thousand people, including refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 14-year program, led by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and The World Bank, offers a model for self-reliance and the integration of refugees with local residents. Weaver tells Food Tank “refugees want opportunities…to make their lives in this area.” Urban farming supported by professional training, infrastructure investments, and market creation, says Mendelson Forman, will be critical to creating economic opportunities and securing the livelihoods of Kalobeyei’s residents in the coming years.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Weaver.