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KENYA: Growing self-esteem at farm schools

Photo: Kenneth Odiwuor/IRIN
Food security makes it easier to say "no" to unwanted sexual advances
BURNT FOREST, 19 May 2010 (PlusNews) - Rural Kenyans affected by the post-election violence in 2008 are among thousands of beneficiaries of a programme that aims to improve food security and incomes and reduce women's vulnerability to gender-based violence by teaching better farming techniques.

"Food insecurity and malnutrition are key issues in the spread of HIV and it is also common knowledge that when people are food-insecure, and mostly women and children, they become susceptible to sexual, gender-based violence," Godrick Khisa, the national coordinator of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) project, told IRIN/PlusNews.

"This programme aims to mitigate this [risk] by providing training and better farming methods to the most vulnerable to improve food production."

More than half a million Kenyans - most of them in the Rift Valley, with an HIV prevalence of 6.3 percent - were displaced during post-election violence in early 2008. While most have since left the camps, they have struggled to restore their livelihoods; a national food crisis in 2009 made things even tougher for them.


Using its Junior and adult Farmers Field and Life Schools model using funding from the Swedish International Development Agency, FAO's Regional Response to Food Insecurity, HIV and Gender Based Violence project provides training in farming and gives participants a forum to share experiences and learn from each other.

The targeted communities are given agricultural training such as post-harvest management, seed selection and soil management by government agricultural extension officers; they also get lessons in nutrition, gender relations and property rights. Beneficiaries are then provided with grants that go into purchasing farm inputs, and training and exchange visits.

In early 2008, Wanjiku Maina*, a mother of five, lost her only source of livelihood when marauding youths destroyed her shop during post-election violence in Burnt Forest, a town in Kenya's Rift Valley Province; Maina resisted the urge to turn to sex work to make ends meet, but saw many women do so.

"I was left with nothing to feed myself and my children; I just became a beggar and relied on handouts in the camps [for internally displaced persons]," said Maina, who is living with HIV. "I saw some people sell their bodies [to get food]... I almost did it too."

''I saw some people sell their bodies [to get food]... I almost did it too''
Following her resettlement from a camp for internally displaced persons, she received training from FAO and now grows Irish potatoes and rears chickens for sale. "I use my small shamba [farm] to take care of myself and my children... I can produce my food and I can sell some of it to make a little money," she said. "Now I don't take my ARVs on an empty stomach."

The project has supported more than 7,500 beneficiaries in four Kenyan districts; Busia, Bondo and Eldoret in western Kenya and Kwale on the east coast. The four districts experience high levels of HIV infection and food insecurity due to poverty and mobile communities including tourists, transport workers and fisher folk.


Peter Gitau, a coordinator with Neighbours in Action, which works with communities affected by the post-election violence in Burnt Forest, has witnessed the difference a small income can make in a woman's ability to refuse unwanted sexual advances.

"Those who were displaced during the violence are particularly vulnerable; integrating them back into the society must involve making them food-secure too," Gitau added. "People feel empowered when they can provide for themselves."

According to Douglas Mbugua, another beneficiary of the project, it has helped restore the self-esteem of many people living with HIV.

"People respect those who are [HIV] positive because they are seen to be as productive as anybody else; it gives hope to others that HIV is not the end," he said.

* Not her real name


Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, Children, Conflict, Education, Food Security, Gender Issues, Health & Nutrition, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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