Case Study: Sabina Onyango
Sabina Onyango is a member of a highly motivated HIV support group in Western Kenya. With a particular curiosity around nutrition for People Living with HIV, Sabina’s group requested access to DIG’s program on sustainable agriculture for small-holder farmers. She became increasingly excited about what she was learning and almost immediately started implementing new techniques in her home garden. Sabina and her husband support 4 children (three of which are their own).
Admiring his wife’s efforts and enthusiasm, her husband, Jeremiah, soon enlisted as a member of the group as well. Together, they attended weekly DIG Training for 5 months. Jeremiah particularly appreciated learning about double-dug beds and raised enriched beds, understanding how these techniques make planting and attending to crops easier. He started using available resources he had once overlooked, such as animal manure and kitchen and yard waste for compost. Even with the small portion of their land committed to vegetable gardening (1/8 acre), these new ideas quickly and dramatically increased their yields.
It is unusual in this part of Kenya to see men and women working together in this way, and DIG was encouraged to see Sabina admired and being treated as a respected and valued member of her family.
Assisted by DIG’s Seed Cost-Share Support Program, Sabina grows kales, carrots, beets, bulb onions, green pepper and other vegetables, both new and locally familiar. “They have incredible crop diversity which is making a big impact on her and her husband’s health,” says DIG’s Regional Coordinator, Olivia Nyaidho. Studies have shown that dietary diversity is one of the best indicators of nutritional health and it has even greater importance for people living with HIV.
Part of the DIG training incorporates financial planning, record keeping and farm business management. Sabina keeps excellent, detailed records on her month-to-month expenses and profitability. She started harvesting and selling her excess produce in May 2015. She averages $40/month in sales, with spikes in July ($45) and August ($67).
Actively referring to her records in order to make informed decisions on garden planning, Sabina says her farm records keep her motivated. The money she earns from her garden is used to pay school fees and purchase necessary household items from the market. Jeremiah not only now supports his wife’s efforts, he praises, assists, and is personally encouraged by them.
Based on their garden’s success, Sabina and Jeremiah decided to expand the land they use for vegetable cultivation, and plan to increase the land dedicated to vegetable gardening by 1-2 acres by reducing their sugar cane production (a crop with little to no nutritional value, high nutrient and water demands, as well as an over-18-month harvest schedule). Together, they believe this shift will both help them meet their household nutritional needs and increase their income.
“What is most compelling is to me is seeing a woman become a leader, recognized in her family and her community. To watch as she discovers her potential and exercise her gifts to create real, lasting change in her life and the lives she’s responsible for. That encourages me every day,” says DIG founder, Sarah Koch. “It’s about so much more than just what grows from the dirt, though that is the foundation of our work.”
Sabina Follow Up
Sabina was trained through DIG FFS in 2015 but we recently checked up on her this summer (2019) to see about the lasting impact of DIG’s farmer field. Our attempts to reach her on the phone to let her know we planned to visit did not succeed and so we just arrived for a surprise visit at her home at 9 a.m, two years since the last visit.
Her husband, Jeremiah, had just returned from the garden and was cleaning the farm tools. Their granddaughter was also returning from the farms. Jeremiah welcomed us to their home and then sent his granddaughter to call Sabina.
We asked Jeremiah about how they have been doing, how about their children and school. He told us they have been able to cover all of their children’s school fees through gardening and that the three who were in secondary school at the same time had all completed and he only has one daughter left in form two (senior). His daughters had moved to do technical courses in Nairobi while his son Victor had joined the local polytechnic school.
We explained the purpose of our visit; that we were following up to see the impact DIG training had on their lives a few years down the line; Jeremiah says “DIG made us great farmers!”
By this time Sabina arrives and is excited to meet with us. We could see that the family had moved great milestones since our last visit, apart from educating their children, the family had acquired new assets that they did not own when we visited them during and immediately after the training. There were a number of solar lamps hanging from their roof, one for each of their three rooms and another wire extended to the outside kitchen.
Sabina told me they had expanded their gardens, other than the ¼ acre they have close to their homestead; they had rented land close to a river in which they planted kales and cilantro. They make more from their vegetable enterprises because they have now mastered market trends. Sabina takes the produce alone to the market to sell to retailers. The family has continued to buy cilantro seeds from the nearest agro dealer and when they do not get the right seeds, they actually y travel 40 minutes to buy the seeds from the next dealer.
Sabina and her husband continued growing vegetables and got introduced to join the One Acre Farm program a year ago. They have also begun to benefit from the One Acre program and felt comfortable joining their program and taking out loans for farm inputs such as maize seeds, beans seeds, and fertilizers because they knew they could repay them with their vegetable sales every week ($60). Their 2018 short rains total loan in terms of inputs was Ksh. 15,000; they repaid all this in good time and qualified for 2019 long rains.
We then asked about the impact they felt from the project around food security; Sabina was quick to respond, ‘’we don’t buy food, we have maize and have a variety of vegetables in our garden, people actually buy vegetables from us.’’
Jeremiah had actually reactivated his NHIF card (National Health Insurance Fund), that he got when he was employed and stopped paying when he lost his job, his family can now have proper medical attention, they pay for the card every 4th day of a new month.
Both Sabina and her husband have continued with their village savings scheme separately, they mostly save money they got from the sale of vegetables. They have each taken loans from the savings scheme to help pay school fees for their children in colleges. The two make decisions together on their finances and asses the acquisition matters for their children.
We then thanked them for seeing us unannounced and Jeremiah said, “You are most welcome, I actually don’t have any place to go because this is my job, you trained my wife and now both of us have a job at home. Everything you trained us on has stuck in our minds, we still, do them.”