'No more malnutrition': The women farmers rewriting Turkana narrative

Mary Amekwi admires green grams on her farm in Katilu ward, Turkana South, on March 3, 2024. Empowered women farmers are tackling malnutrition in Turkana by growing vegetables that give them nutritious foods.

Photo credit: Sammy Lutta I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A type of mesquite known locally as Mathenge weed had invaded grazing fields and farmlands, causing residents untold suffering.
  • However, today, along the Turkwel River are nutritious crops at different stages of growth.

In Turkana County, a type of mesquite known locally as Mathenge weed had invaded grazing fields and farmlands, causing residents untold suffering.

However, today, in the midst of shrubs on hundreds of acres of arable land along the Turkwel River are crops at different stages of growth.

As we get to Katilu ward, Turkana South, Mary Amekwi is already on her one-acre farm, weeding a portion where she planted amaranth.

The farm has other crops that provide nutritious food. They include spinach, collard greens, watermelons, capsicum, butternuts, black nightshade, cowpeas and green grams.

“Five years ago, I used to rely on relief food to feed my family. I would not tell when the next relief food cycle would be and what type of food I would get.

"On my luckiest day, I would get maize, salt and cooking oil, no proteins or vitamins for my children,” Mary recalls.

However, luck smiled at her when the Buyer Fund, through PanAfricare Kenya, funded the Improved Approach to Community-Based Nutrition in Turkana (Impact). She became one of the beneficiaries.

Joint efforts

The mother of seven says she joined hands with other women to clear the invasive shrub in readiness for crop farming. The other women, too, have their portions.

They have named the farm Israel. It has changed their story, she says.

The programme was aimed at significantly improving nutrition outcomes for expectant and lactating mothers, infants, and young children (under-fives) in Turkana County, where acute malnutrition prevalence is currently 27 per cent, higher than the WHO-recommended threshold of less than 15 per cent. 

“My family is currently accessing a balanced diet after I fully embraced farming. I received training in good agricultural practices, post-harvest handling, seedbed preparation and village savings and loans associations. I have also been sharing the information with new farmers who are embracing the programme.”

Mary says they tend their farms daily as their families are assured of nutritious meals and extra household incomes. “The extra income comes in handy, especially when there is a need to pay hospital bills and school fees.”

A canal being prepared to direct water from the Turkwel River in Turkana County to farms in Nadapal villages, where women grow vegetables to tackle malnutrition

Photo credit: Sammy Lutta I Nation Media Group

In Loima is Nadapal farm. One of the farmers here is Sipinyu Ekala. She says that in 2020, PanAfricare Kenya helped residents to clear thickets and build an irrigation canal that now supplies water from the Turkwel River.

“Besides vegetables, I have grown watermelons that I sell to buy cereals and fruits for my children. With the programme, we have rejuvenated once-abandoned land due to water scarcity and overgrown Mathenge,” Sipinyu says.

For years, thousands of residents, especially in remote areas of Turkana South, Turkana North and Loima, have been grappling with hunger and malnutrition. 

Women in the predominantly pastoral region bear the brunt of these problems because men usually migrate during drought in search of water and pasture for their livestock. Women are responsible for food production, household nutrition, and the overall wellbeing of their families.

Turkana Deputy Governor John Erus observes that empowering women to tackle hunger and malnutrition is crucial for sustainable development and improved livelihoods.


When Dr Erus hosted French Ambassador Arnaud Suquet and WFP Country Director Lauren Landis in his office on Wednesday, he acknowledged strategic collaboration efforts in ensuring sustainable development.

The purpose of the visit was to discuss and witness the impact of the Blanket Supplementary Feeding Programme supported by the French government.

“Investing in women and children is key. This is why we use an integrated approach and take advantage of technology to address a number of issues in our ongoing projects such as the borehole at Lodwar County Referral Hospital, One Health Initiative, education and agriculture that are key to realising nutrition stability in Turkana County,” he said.

Mr Suquet said his government, in partnership with WFP, is championing nutrition and school feeding programmes for a healthy living.

“Our ongoing Blanket Supplementary Feeding Programme, an emergency intervention in Turkana North and Turkana South, is a promising success focusing on 48,685 children, pregnant women and lactating mothers as direct beneficiaries of this approach,” the envoy said.