Four years ago, 42-year-old Annet Wangari worked as a farm labourer, earning Sh150 per day.
However, her life has drastically changed, thanks to an irrigation project initiated by Trocaire in collaboration with Ishiara Catholic Parish in Ishiara area, Embu county.
"We used to survive on relief food, working as labourers at Kanyuambora farms, which is 10km away from Ishiara. The Sh150 I was paid was not enough to feed my family and take my children to secondary school,” says the mother of seven.
Wangari now sells at least 300kg of pawpaw weekly at a cost of Sh25 per kg. From a casual labourer, she is now an employer, paying her farmhands Sh300 per day.
She also sells mangoes and green maize from her two-acre plot. Her clients come from as far as Nairobi.
Jospeter Njeru, 62, who was also a casual labourer, is another beneficiary of the project.
In 2000, Njeru relocated to Embu town. He was looking for opportunities to feed and educate his children and opted to go into farming.
“Year after year, I watched helplessly as the drought ravaged my crops,” he said.
He says the irrigation project was godsend. “I now grow various crops and have enough water for my livestock,” Njeru said.
He has planted more than 200 pawpaw stems and maize that he sells to individual buyers from Embu and Nairobi towns. "This season alone I was able to sell green maize worth Sh50,000 from my half-acre piece of land, which I could not make before as plants dried one month after planting,” Njeru said.
He has also increased the number of his livestock because access to water has enabled him to practise zero grazing.
"I used to travel at least 10km to River Thuthi that borders Embu and Tharaka-Nthi counties to fetch water for my livestock. That forced me to limit the number of animals I could keep,” he said.
With income from mixed farming, Njeru can comfortably provide for his family.
Ishiara Catholic Parish programme officer Catherine Mururi says up to 80 per cent of the families in the area do not have enough food and income to educate their children.
"When crops fail, people sell their animals and the few assets they have to buy food. Eventually they are forced to look for employment because they have nothing else to sell,” Mururi said.
She said the project has enhanced food security and boosted famiy incomes.
The project, which was launched in 2012, has benefitted more than 700 households so far. It aims to provide a lasting solution to the perpetual water and food problems in the area, forcing residents to depend on relief food.
Mururi says before the project was started, each household used to get four kilogrammes of maize, 13 kilogrammes of maize, and two kilogrammes of cooking oil monthly.
"Getting an education beyond primary school was a problem for those without a sustainable source of income. Ishiara Catholic Parish, in collaboration with Trocaire, had been providing relief food to the families to reduce their suffering,” said Mururi.
Trocaire Arid and Semi-Arid Land Resilience senior programme officer Francis Emoru said the initiative is an answer to the perennial food problem in the area. “We initiated a livelihood project by buying five goats for most vulnerable households and chicken to people living with HIV/Aids,” he said.
"To support the reach and impact of the livelihood project, Trocaire introduced comprehensive training on crop resilience and alternative livelihoods — entrepreneurial training and loans for the youth and women — to improve the income of vulnerable households,” he said.
Emoru said through the partnership with the Augustinian Missionaries in Ishiara Catholic Parish, the project now focuses on building social, economic, and environmental resilience through adoption of climate sensitive agriculture, ecological conservations, access to market, and advocacy, particularly on water resources.
“The overall objective of the project is to provide people in Ishiara area with alternative sources of food and income when crops fail as they can sell goats, chicken and survive on income from their businesses.