Farmers in West Pokot along Kenya’s rift valley are shifting focus to the cultivation of fruits.
This follows an advice from government and aid agencies to the pastoralist population to consider growing crops as a supplement to their livestock so as to improve their nutrition.
The people in this area have for years relied solely on livestock.
“The reason why FAO brought this project in West Pokot is because the reports from the ministry of health indicated that the percentage of underweight children was at 38 percent and the stunting was at 45 percent. This is because most farmers here are depended on maize, meat and milk. So the project intended to introduce the aspect of fruits and vegetables so that they can be able to improve the nutritional status,” FAO Agronomist, Agneta Aleo, said.
Pokot is one of the poorest parts of Kenya but has a favourable climate for the cultivation of fruits.
The Maradol paw-paw, a high yielding variety recently introduced by the FAO has been embraced by the farmers.
In eight months, it yields about 30 fruits.
Over 3,000 paw-paw seedlings have been planted in this area since last year.
“I have come here to buy paw-paw seedlings, because I have seen my friends benefiting from the fruit. They have planted it and their children are healthy and that is why I have also come to buy some to get food for my children and if the yield is good, I will also sell some to make money,” one of the farmers said.
The close to 200 farmers concerned have formed 11 groups.
Apart from paw-paws, they grow bananas, water melons and vegetables like egg plant and okra.
According to FAO officials the malnutrition rate has reduced by 5 percent since the project started.
The fruit farmers are now looking forward to put up a processing plant.