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Improving Vihiga County communities' livelihoods through kitchen gardens and poultry keeping

Amos, head of the Itumbu group, presents the communal kitchen garden. Credit: Bioversity International/I. Otieno
Amos, head of the Itumbu group, presents the communal kitchen garden. Credit: Bioversity International/I. Otieno

Julia Boedecker, Associate Scientist, Bioversity International, reports from Vihiga County, Kenya, about research aimed at empowering communities to better use available crop diversity to improve nutrition all year round. In her third blog, the people of Vihiga County themselves describe the progress of their agriculture-for-nutrition activities 6 months into the process.

Julia Boedecker, Associate Scientist, Bioversity International, writes her latest blog from Vihiga County, Kenya, about research aimed at empowering communities to better use available crop diversity to improve nutrition all year round. In her third blog (find the previous reports at the end of this blog post), the people of Vihiga County themselves describe the progress of their agriculture-for-nutrition activities 6 months into the process.

“With some guidance from you [Bioversity International], you have instilled confidence in us. We never thought that one day we would come together and think of solutions to our eating problems. But now, I have the capacity to address the challenges we face in regard to food. Among the interventions we chose in the workshops, I am glad that the kitchen gardening and poultry keeping are now taking shape. We can also show others what we have learned as we implement these projects,” says Amos, head of the group in Itumbu, one of the five project sites in Vihiga County (pictured on the left).

In the past 6 months, each sub-location (there are about 30 participants per sub-location) established kitchen gardens and poultry units to diversify diets in their communities. To enable the best possible implementation of those two agricultural measures, the groups were linked up to WeRATE: Western Region Agricultural Technology Evaluation, a local NGO, and the local Ministry of Agriculture that provided regular training sessions.

Each sub-location decided to have one communal kitchen garden and one communal poultry unit for demonstration purposes. Also, as part of the project, a number of individual kitchen gardens and poultry units were established.

Training in kitchen gardening at the Essunza sub-location. Credit: Bioversity International/I. Otieno

“Our daily visits to the market to buy vegetables have remarkably reduced. We can trade our vegetables within the group and sell some to our neighbors. Money that we would have spent on transport to market is now being used as part of household food expenditure,” says Mary Kwena (below), one of the participants of the Itumbu group. She adds: “We harvested our kale a week ago. We gave each member kale worth 60 Kenyan Shillings (about €0.52 and US$0.59) for consumption and sold the remainder to other community members. The money that we got was taken back to the project treasury. The way we use our local vegetables is being admired by the community. Some are starting kitchen gardens of their own.”

Evans (pictured below), a young man from Itumbu tells us: “From the poultry unit I can consume eggs and meat to increase my protein intake. I can sell a portion of my eggs and use the money to purchase other foods. I can also use chicken droppings to enrich the soil of my kitchen gardens. It is easy to expand and sustain these projects both at group and individual level. It is becoming a source of livelihood to us. We are able to run them at minimal or no cost once we get the seeds and a few chicken to start us off. Cases of insecurities have gone down since youth can now involve themselves in agricultural activities as a means of income generating.”

Mary Kwena, participant of the Itumbu group is presenting the communal poultry shelter. Credit: Bioversity International/I. OtienoIt was impressive to see that most sub-locations have developed their own constitution, defining the group’s objective, values, activities, sources of income and management. At the Mambai sub-location, John Atonga officially registered his group as a community-based organization (CBO) with the Kiswahili name ‘Mambai Liche Bora Bioversity CBO’, meaning: Mambai Balanced Diet Bioversity CBO. John explains: “With the introduction of the poultry and vegetable interventions early this year, members of the ‘Mambai Liche Bora Bioversity’ CBO are seeing an increase in the growth and use of local vegetables and production of eggs. Other community members are now eager to participate in the program. Along the way there have also been challenges, for instance, due to heavy rains, our vegetable gardens realized poor germination and some of our poultry was lost due to poor weather and airborne diseases. However, we are trying our best to combat these challenges.”

Bioversity International also continued efforts in nutrition education. Community Health Volunteers were trained in door-to-door nutrition education – a method practiced by the local Ministry of Health – that involves a nutrition expert coming to a household and explaining topics such as nutrition contents and the importance of diversifying diets. Every month, around 400 households were reached through this method.

Evans, Youth representative of Itumbu sub-location in front of the communal chicken shelter, Itumbu sub-location. Credit: Bioversity International/I. OtienoAfter our visit of the five sub-locations, training in kitchen gardening and poultry keeping as well as the door-to-door nutrition education has continued. As mentioned by the participants, healthy foods have now become increasingly available through the interventions. In addition, the communities have improved their nutrition knowledge.

Combining these achievements, the project will now focus on cooking sessions that will show how existing recipes can be enriched by locally-available foods (e.g. from the kitchen gardens and poultry units) to make them more nutritious. These cooking sessions will be described in the next blog.

For more information, contact Julia Boedecker.

This research is being carried out in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, and the CGIAR Research Program on Humidtropics, and as part of our ‘Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems’ Initiative.

First image: Amos, head of the Itumbu group, presents the communal kitchen garden. Credit: Bioversity International/I. Otieno

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