Sabina Onyango has been a member of the Ny Karachuonyo HIV support group in Western Kenya for several years. She, like others in her group, are well versed in the important role nutrition plays in their otherwise compromised health. In 2015, seeking more feasible solutions to improve their nutrition, her highly motivated group sought out access to DIG’s nutrition sensitive agriculture training. Over the 5- month training, Sabina became increasingly excited about what she was learning and quickly began implementing newly learned techniques in her personal home garden.
After observing his wife’s enthusiasm and growing success through the program, her husband, Jeremiah, soon enlisted as a member of the group. Together, they attended DIG’s weekly trainings, encouraging their four children to help out in the farm. 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 locally available resources he had once overlooked, such as animal manure and kitchen and yard waste, as compost. Even with the small portion of their land committed to vegetable gardening, only 1/8th an acre, these new ideas quickly and dramatically increased their yields.
“It can be unusual in this part of Kenya to see men and women working together in this way,” said DIG’s East African Director, Olivia Nyaidho. “We were encouraged to see Sabina admired and being treated as a respected and valued member of her family.”
While participating in the program, Sabina took advantage of DIG’s Seed Cost-Share Support Program, accessing seeds at half the retail cost. She selected kales, carrots, beets, bulb onions, green pepper, cilantro 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 Nyaidho. Dietary diversity is one of the best indicators of nutritional health and it holds even greater importance for people living with HIV.
DIG’s 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 and hasn’t stopped since. Within a year of completing the training Sabina’s vegetable sales averaged a profit of $45 a month.
“WE DON’T BUY FOOD ANYMORE. WE HAVE MAIZE AND WE HAVE A VARIETY OF VEGETABLES IN OUR GARDEN. PEOPLE ACTUALLY BUY VEGETABLES FROM US NOW,” says Sabina
Diligently referring to her garden log books to make informed decisions on planning, Sabina says her farm records keep her motivated. The money she earns from her garden pays for school fees and to purchase necessary household items from the market. Jeremiah not only supports his wife’s efforts, he praises them. He’s quick to assist her and let her take the lead in farm decision-making.
A year after graduating the DIG program, Sabina and Jeremiah decided to expand the land they allocated for vegetable cultivation by two acres. To do so, they had to reduce their sugar cane crop dramatically. Sugar cane is a crop with little-to-no nutritional value, high nutrient and water demands, and requires an 18-month harvest schedule. “In the region it can be hard to pull farmers away from this cash crop,” says Nyaidho, “but DIG has been encouraging the economic and environmental benefits of growing vegetables over sugar cane.” Sabina and Jeremiah were eager to try, believing a shift away from cane would help them better meet their household nutritional needs, while increasing their income. Their investment certainly paid off. Three years after graduating from the DIG program and expanding their vegetable farm, Sabina is consistently earning roughly $60 a week from her produce sales.
On a return visit to their farm in May 2019, DIG facilitators asked Jeremiah how the family and farm had been doing. He proudly shared that they had been able to completely cover all of the children’s school fees from garden proceeds and that three of their children who were in secondary school when the couple started the DIG program in 2015, had all graduated. Two of their daughters had moved to Nairobi to complete technical courses while their son, Victor, had joined the local polytechnic school. Their youngest daughter is finishing form two and is doing very well, he said.
Apart from educating their children, the family had acquired new assets they did not own during or immediately following the DIG program. 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 shared that they had expanded their gardens, renting land close to a river where they have planted kale and cilantro. They credit their business success to having mastered the local market trends. Sabina used to take the produce to the market to sell to retailers, but now those retailers come to her. The family buys their cilantro seeds from a specific agro dealer who has high quality seeds. But when they don’t stock the seeds they prefer, the couple will travel 40 minutes to source them
elsewhere. “DIG made us great farmers,” says Jeremiah with a broad smile.
In 2018 Sabina and Jeremiah were linked to One Acre Fund, where they have benefitted from the organization’s initiatives on staple crop production. The program employs a lending scheme for maize and bean seeds, in addition to other staple crop inputs. Sabina and Jeremiah confidently joined the program knowing they could repay their loans with their vegetable sales which average $60 a week. To date their repayment rates have been perfect and they have qualified for further lending.
Jeremiah has reactivated his NHIF card, which is Kenya’s National Health Insurance Fund. He had stopped paying for it when he lost his job years back. Thanks to their garden, the family is receiving proper medical attention again.
Both Sabina and her husband have continued with their separate village savings schemes. The money they contribute comes mostly from vegetable sales. They access it to pay school fees for their children in college, and make decisions together on family finances.
When asked how DIG has helped prepare their family for success; Sabina was quick to respond, ‘’We don’t buy food anymore. We have maize and we have a variety of vegetables in our garden. People actually buy vegetables from us now.’’ Jeremiah chimed in sharing, “This is my job. You trained my wife and now both of us have a job at home. Everything DIG trained us on has stuck in our minds; we still do them.”