According to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), the farmers, most of whom have surplus produce, have so far donated more than 500 bags of potatoes and several truckloads of cabbages, carrots and butternuts, which were delivered to northern Kenya’s East Pokot District.
“What use will it be for me to feed cabbages to my livestock, which already have enough pasture, while other Kenyans are starving?” asked Peter Kamau, a farmer in Dundori, Nyandarua County.
Kamau, 47, does not have a television set, nor does he read newspapers; he heard about starving Kenyans through a local radio station. More than 3.6 million Kenyans need emergency food assistance.
“I was touched, but I had no money to send through my mobile phone as a donation as announced through the radio,” he said.
Donations to a nationwide food drive, the Kenyans for Kenya initiative, are made primarily through mobile phone cash transfers.
When local leaders announced that KRCS would be collecting fresh produce, Kamau and his family harvested two bags of cabbages and a bag of potatoes.
“Some of the farmers who donate food do not necessarily have excess harvest, they just sacrifice to support drought-stricken Kenyans; a mother could donate two or three cabbages just to participate in feeding other hungry Kenyans,” said KRCS South Rift Regional Manager Patrick Nyongesa.
Like Kamau, Jane Nyakairu had a hard time managing her bumper harvest of cabbages, carrots and potatoes. “I wished I could fly the produce to starving people in northern Kenya, but I could not help.”
Nyakairu, a farmer from Mirangi-ini in Nyandarua, says it came as a relief that she was granted a chance to donate her produce. “I wish I [had gone] with KRCS, I would have talked to hungry Kenyans, telling them that they are loved, and those with food are ready to donate it, even if we do not have money,” she added.
During a food delivery at Nyaunyau village in East Pokot, in the northern Rift Valley Province, one could be forgiven for mistaking a school field for a market in a more productive part of Kenya. Cabbages and bags of potatoes filled the field as bags and bags were offloaded from a lorry belonging to the General Service Unit.
“I cannot imagine this produce was harvested at a farm in the same Kenya I live [in], yet I [have] never harvested anything for the last three years,” said Akapel Lakaukon, a resident of Nyaunyau.
A mother of five, Lakaukon says the donations mean her children will eat at least two meals a day for a few days.
The delivery saw 150 bags of Irish potatoes and 37 sacks of cabbages distributed to 250 homesteads from eight villages in the area.
The donations happened despite scepticism from Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi, who recently told IRIN it would not be possible to transport fresh produce to northern Kenya due to the long distance and highly perishable nature of fresh food.
He noted that the fresh produce gave food beneficiaries a break from the traditional donations of beans, maize and cooking oil.
“It was hectic going from farm to farm to collect half a bag of potatoes; farmers should… take produce to areas that are accessible as most of the places [where] we are getting donations [it has] rained heavily, yet infrastructure is very poor,” he said.
While Sammy Lopwon, another Nyaunyau resident, is grateful for the assistance, he hopes the government will implement programmes that reduce the area’s dependence on food aid.
“If only the government was this generous, we would be irrigating our land and feeding other people, but now we are always being fed,” the 60-year-old said. “I wish I had such an opportunity, I would also send bags and bags of food to hungry people, but only irrigation can save us.”