Defying odds: Turkana men take up women's role

Defying odds: Turkana men take up women's role

What you need to know:

  • Naperit Edukon is among few men in the Turkana community taking up farming to feed their families, which for many decades been a preserve for women.
  • Culturally, it is considered a woman's job to ensure the family has food.
  • In this community, men are known to ensure the family's wealth (livestock) gets pasture even if it means migrating to neighbouring countries like Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.
  • Governor Nanok encourages men to have a direct role in ensuring their families feed on nutritious food.

Naperit Edukon’s farm located in Nyangait village, Turkana County, is breath-taking. It is dotted with sorghum, amaranth, maize, cowpeas and other crops. He also rears a sizeable number of livestock.

The 53-year-old says he finds solace in his half-an-acre farm that enables him  feed his family.

"I have some livestock that remained following frequent banditry attacks and drought. But my goats and vegetables have raised my standards of living," he notes.

Mr Edukon observes that there is a ready market for his vegetables at Katilu Centre and his amaranth, commonly known as terere, and cowpeas, gives him good returns.  

Preserve of women

He is among few men in the Turkana community who are slowly taking up farming to feed their families, which for many decades been a preserve for  women.

“Culturally, it is considered a woman's job to ensure the family has food. That is why during drought, it is rare for men to struggle with women during a gathering to receive relief food rations,” he says.

In his community, men are known to ensure that the family's wealth (livestock) gets pasture even if it means migrating to neighbouring countries like Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia to access water and pasture.

“We are being forced to adapt to agriculture, which is a  new way of survival for us. Many men who are energetic, instead of assisting our women or individually learning the basic farming techniques, have  made farming a women’s role,” says Edukon.

Lactating mothers

Turkana County Government, in collaboration with Africare - a Non-Governmental Organization  -enrolled them to an Improved Approach to Community-Based Nutrition (Impact) program that targets 25,000 children, pregnant and lactating mothers at Turkwel and Katilu wards.

He regrets that  men who have lost all their livestock to floods or drought don't show commitment to venture into farming as the best and reliable alternative source of livelihood.

“I learnt that my wife had embraced farming to keep our children healthy where consumption of vegetables and fruits was one of the greatest secret to fight malnutrition which is common at our village,” says the farmer.

Despite high poverty levels, many men have remained adamant to embrace farming.

Naperit Edukon at his amaranth farm in Nyangait village in Katilu Ward. Men are taking the lead in farming to fight malnutrition and earn extra income.

Photo credit: Stanley Kimuge | Nation Media Group

“I realised it is time to change my perception and focus on my family. Through community barazas on health, we have been sensitised on how to ensure our children are healthy,” he observes.

Asked what fellow men think of him for engaging in farming, he says the money he gets from the farm is what keeps him focused.

He has, however managed to convince two men to join him at a pay. Key partners that were recommended for their efforts to tackle malnutrition included Africare, Amref, World Food Programme (WFP), Feed the Children, Concern Worldwide, GIZ, IRC, Kenya Red Cross, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, UKAid, Unicef, UNHCR, USAID, Afya Timiza, Welt Hilfe, World Vision and World Relief.

Turkwel Ward Agriculture Outreach official Jonnes Lopeyok, says the ongoing five-year Impact program funded by Bayer Fund at Sh500 million, is aimed at addressing immediate causes of malnutrition by improving access to quality health services and increase knowledge for prevention and treatment of malnutrition.

Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok says there  is need for behavioural change among residents to help tackle rising cases of acute malnutrition.

Nutritious food

He notes that all sub-counties in Turkana recorded unacceptable global malnutrition rates above the accepted 15 per cent for the past three consecutive years.

Mr Nanok encourages all men to have a direct role in ensuring that their families feed on nutritious food.

"Most men in Turkana have little knowledge regarding food availability at their household level. They have to take leadership role by supporting efforts by wives to access nutritious foods either by embracing farming or have commitment in purchasing food," says the governor.

He says  his administration is  working with partners like Activate to ensure food and water is easily accessible to locals to address vulnerability from agriculture.

He adds  that the county has regularly experienced high prevalence rates of acute malnutrition that exceeds emergency threshold, even when there are no obvious climate shocks.

Record malnutrition rates, erratic climate change and a disruption of traditional food sources, have led the World Health Organisation to classify Turkana County as an acute food and livelihood crisis area.

Mr Nanok recently launched a county nutrition action plan to guide implementation of nutrition interventions by government and its partners to tackle malnutrition in children.

He said  the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, invasion of desert locusts that has greatly destructed food crops and pasture for livestock and global warming, have exacerbated the food and nutrition sector reversing the recorded gains by both county and stakeholders.

Mr Nanok raised a concern that the nutrition levels in the county remain at a critical level with current Global Acute Malnutrition rate of 26.5 per cent. 

He said Turkana North Sub-county and southern part of the county reported higher levels of 30 per cent that superseded the WHO emergency threshold.

"The current nutrition situation indicates that one in every five children under five years of age in the county, is malnourished. This has a negative impact on the affected children productivity at a later stage in life with unchecked underweight, stunting and high mortality rates," the governor said.

Villages with huge potential for farming along River Turkwel are Nalemsekon, Nakuruchanait, Napak, Antuntun, Napeikar, Nabuin, Nadapal.

Turkana County Agriculture Executive Philip Aemun said farming was also offering men along the border of Turkana and West Pokot counties where banditry attacks used to be the order of day, a good alternative source of livelihood after guns went silent.

Mr Aemun said locals at Lopeipuke village in Turkana South Sub County are transforming a desolate land that was once a battle field into a productive sorghum farm by relying on trapezoidal bunds to impound rain water.

He was impressed that most of the farmers are reformed bandits who had voluntarily surrendered illegal firearms to the State.

 He said a section of the 200 acres of land prepared under National Agriculture and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) through funds from World Bank is expected to produce 1,600 bags of sorghum.

"Locals have already embraced farming and their efforts have attracted a Sh 97 million funding to boost both crop and pasture production." The county official said.

On engaging men in farming Mark Ekidor, a Lodwar resident, says men can't continue riding on pride while families back home survive on relief food, whose source and planting method they don’t know.

He observes that as residents they should bank on diversification of livelihoods and stop relying on livestock, which they even don't sell frequently. He adds that farming is the only way to eliminate, high levels of poverty, hunger and starvation.

“We have large tracks of arable land in county that once an agricultural project is commissioned in area, men and women must fully embrace it and even save funds to maintain and expand it. It is sad many villages along River Turkwel with such projects have abandoned them immediately an organization hands over to beneficiaries,” says Mr Ekidor.

Ms Regina Anyemete, one of the farmers, says that when men take part in farming projects it can boost food production.

“We we can produce more food that provides us nutrients for healthy living. Men should not mind what others say for engaging in a women's role,” she says.

She observes the need must support each other or else, they lose their children to disease that is avoidable with a proper diet.

“I challenge men to support us grow crops, especially vegetables by providing labour and even sourcing for seeds,” she explains.