Racheal Ngina with Turkana women. After a programme in Israel on dryland farming, she wanted to offer a solution to the Turkana people. 

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Woman of passion: I visited Israel and got a passion to save the Turkana through farming

In June 2019, armed with a backpack, Racheal Ngina embarked on a journey to Turkana County.

She landed at the Lodwar Airport and was received by a representative of the Furrows in the Desert, an organisation that seeks to alleviate hunger by training in desert farming.

On the seven hours' drive to Lobur Catholic Mission model farm, which is 250 km north of Lodwar, within the Elemi Triangle in Turkana County, the representative warned her of the harsh climate.

"It's very hot. Are you sure you can persevere?" the farm representative asked her. "If you change your mind and want to go back home, we will understand," she quickly added.

Racheal later learnt that many had come, surrendered, and requested to leave. Since the launch of the programme in 2012, Racheal was going to be the first Kenyan female to volunteer in the desert farm.

If there were people surviving there, she would too. She did and she has a story to tell.

I meet Racheal, a week after she posted on the Wanderlust diaries, Facebook Group in her viral post titled, "After going abroad, what did you bring back home.". She is 25, and she tells me that this is her first media interview.

"If Israelis could produce in such a harsh environment, why were our own Turkana people dying of hunger yet their climatic conditions were not as bad as compared to Israel," Racheal who had visited Israel through an agribusiness programme shared in the post liked by close to 40k followers.

Let's go back to where it all began. In 2018, Racheal, an agribusiness graduate from Egerton University was among nine students from Kenya who participated in the Arava Internship Programme offered by Arava International Centre for Agriculture Training in Israel.

"It's open for agriculture students. The sponsors pay for your accommodation and flight," Rachael says of the opportunity jointly offered by the Kenya and Israel governments.

A few months into the programme in Israel, news of famine and death in Turkana became widespread and her acquaintances would frequently talk to her about it.

"Is it true that Kenyans are dying of hunger? How does that happen?" they prodded. "I was really embarrassed and I blamed the dry weather in the northern frontier but they couldn't understand the relationship," Rachael says.

Her answer was ironic because they were based in Kibbutz Ketura, Southern Israel, one of the hottest places on earth, yet it produces a bountiful harvest.

"One time, I remember the temperature measured 40°C. Yet, they harvest onions, dates, melons, and vegetables in abundance," she explains.

The experience took her back to when she was growing up in Tala Machakos. Back then, as she grew under the care of her grandmother, she hated farming.

"We did so much work yet harvested very little. When selecting courses, agriculture was out of the question," Racheal says. Fate would have it that she would end up in Agribusiness as she did not meet the mark to pursue her passion in Bachelor of Commerce. "I settled on agribusiness because of the "business" in it. However, looking back, I am glad I pursued the course," she offers.

Back in Israel, Racheal mulled over the idea of going to Turkana to empower people with the skills and knowledge she had gained about desert farming. A friend connected her to the Furrows in the Desert. It is here that she worked for six months as a trainer.

"I was shocked to learn that some of the residents had never seen maize or beans growing. They had absolutely no idea how melons are planted or harvested," she offers.

Granted, most residents in this region are predominantly pastoralists who hold their livestock with high regard. "We had to convince them to leave their animals at the care of their relatives and stay in the centre for four months," she says.

"Remember that this is someone who hasn't farmed before. I had to make them see the benefits of farming from my perspective. See how you make a child understand, that's how I did it," she says.

"There's this woman, in particular. Her name is Agnes. She is a widow and she confided in me that leaving her children behind was one of the most difficult choices she had to make. Now she calls me and says, "Sisi tuko hapa nakata mboga, hakuna njaa tena (I'm chopping vegetables and we are no longer hungry). This gives me absolute joy and it partly fostered me to make that Facebook post because I wanted to start a conversation. We don't have to wait for change when we can be the change agents," she says.

After the four months stay at the centre, the trainees go home where they make compost and furrows then return to the centre for two more months. They are then supplied with irrigation kits and seeds and the journey of farming begins. "They plant kales, green grams, eggplants, hoho, watermelons, and more," Racheal shares.

Besides working with the farmers, Racheal would also volunteer her time to talk to children about farming and helped start a nursery in one of the missionary centres. "I want them to grow knowing where what they eat comes from and possibly adopt dryland farming," she offers.

Her expertise in agriculture is revered among her circles and she gets inquiries almost every day. "I train them on irrigation farming. My forte is in dryland farming," she says adding that she is also a farmer.

At the moment, she is looking for more growth opportunities in that sector because she wants to empower more people with farming skills. I ask my family and friends, "What is the use of having a skill that cannot solve a problem?"

"At Furrows in the Desert we don't give them food, we give them seeds," she remarked in her Facebook post.

"I want to offer solutions," she tells me.

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