Weather-beaten terrain that is characterized by wilting grass and shrubs dots the landscape in Wajir County.
Thorn trees and fading grass cover the area as cattle and goats try their luck on whatever they can browse from a dry ground.
But, as one crosses the dry landscape into a nearby gully, a lush green vegetation with what looks like pumpkins, well arranged on an open field appears in the horizon.
A lone lady in black clothes walks a hore in one hand and a panga in the other. She carefully inspects the fruits that appear to have been arranged in a single file.
From a distance, one would easily confuse the farm with pumpkins, yet, a closer look, reveals a different and fascinating story.
The farm is sandwiched between grass, lemons and pawpaw, fully covered with watermelons.
Welcome to Zeinab Ali’s farm, a 45-year farmer in Wajir County eking a living through agribusiness in an area that is predominately known for nomadic pastoralism.
In Wajir, livestock keeping accounts for 85 per cent of the County’s household income with nomadic pastoralism being more prominent and defines the lifestyle of most of the county’s inhabitants.
The soft-spoken Ali walks you around as she narrates the circumstances that made her venture into a different path from almost all other women in the region.
Data shows that the County has a food poverty rate of 72 per cent and majority of its inhabitants depend primarily on relief food because the acreage under food and cash crops is negligible.
This struggle has brought a new shift in paradigm as residents of Wajir, including Ali, are forced to abandon their normal way of livelihood – from livestock to farming in order to increase their household food supplies and also educate their children.
Ali says that she had to change and embrace agribusiness as an alternative source of income in order to provide and educate her children.
When The Frontier Post visited her three acre-piece of land, the mother of seven was busy tending to her farm where she grows grass, spinach, lemons, water melons and pawpaw.
She says that despite the extreme weather conditions, she is able to grow her crops using water from a borehole within her farm.
“With the use of solar panels, I am able to pump water from the borehole, and water the crops. I get good harvests that allows me to sell and also store for family use,” says Zeinab.
In a good day, Zeinab is able to sell grass worth Sh3000, pawpaw, watermelons and lemons worth Sh1500.
The proceeds from the sales enables her to buy farm equipment and also pay school
fees for her children.
“It’s a life changing for me and my children. We were used to walking for long distances in search of water and pasture but for now, farming has tremendously changed our life for the better,” says Zeinab.
However, she regretted that despite the efforts, adaptive capacity of farmers in Wajir is still very low, attributing the challenge to high poverty and illiteracy levels among the women and youth in the County.
Data shows that there are over one thousand farms within Wajir County, and with the help the County Government and world vision organization, farmers have benefited from green houses to protect their crops from extreme heat and solar panels which enhance drip irrigation.
Wajir County Executive Committee (CEC) Yussuf Gedi says that the collaboration with World Bank offer training to the farmers and equip them with skills on how to tackle pests and diseases in their farms.
“The farming is a new venture to them as most of them have been pastoralists all their lives. We have educated the farmers with skills on how to increase their farm produce as well protect pests and diseases,” said Gedi.
A spot check at Wajir market reveals that the centre is awash with various with farm produce, pointing to a clear picture of demand of the commodities by residents.
The government’s effort in upscaling the available of water is still not sufficient if the County is to realize a stable supply of farm crops.
However, according to the County, access to safe, clean and portable water has immensely improved since the inception of the devolution with the drilling of approximately 300 boreholes.
According to Gedi, Wajir County mobilized Sh5 billion from world banks and 70M water sector Trust Funds under water and sanitation development to support programs in order to increase the percentage of local population with access to safe water and improved sanitation to 80 percent by 2022.
Despite, these efforts, residents still point to lack or weak county-specific policies, capacity to coordinate, implement interventions that would see the County’s 3,823 hectares, which is under food crop production, is put to its optimal use.