Hunger in the Horn of Africa: From emergency to resiliency

After years of drought, families across the Horn of Africa are eager to shift from emergency food aid to sustainable, drought-resistant food sources.

By Chris Huber, World Vision U.S., and Lucy Murunga, World Vision Kenya
Published April 15, 2013 at 12:00am PDT

Tabitha Mutinda and her husband, Daniel, have struggled for years to provide enough food for their family in eastern Kenya.

They’re among thousands of small-scale farmers in the Horn of Africa hit hard by the drought that pushed more than 13 million people to the brink of starvation in 2011 and 2012 It was the worst in 60 years.

Food aid for how long?

The family’s small farm failed, so they relied on food aid they received from World Vision.

“Most of the time, the maize withers in the fields before harvest,” Tabitha says. She’s embarrassed her community continues to survive on outside help. “For how long, though, can we go on relying on relief food?”

Conditions have improved slightly since seasonal rains returned in late 2012, but the situation remains fragile for millions in the region.

Working with farmers to diversify crops

Governments and aid organizations are now shifting the focus in drought-prone regions of Africa from simply supplying short-term food aid to helping communities protect themselves from increasingly frequent dry spells.

The African continent used to experience severe drought every 20 to 50 years; four have hit various regions there since 2000.

Key factors such as over-reliance on rain for crop irrigation, planting too much of one crop, and low household income contribute most significantly to a family’s inability to withstand or bounce back from drought.

World Vision is working with about 1,600 farmers in eastern Kenya to help them learn how to diversify their crops, when to plant for optimum yield, and how to dry and store seeds and surplus stocks.

We supply them with a variety of drought-tolerant, disease-resistant seeds — like cowpeas, millet, and sorghum — providing a healthy start on the path to improved crop yields, nutrition, and increased family income.

“We want to see that by the end of three years, smallholder farmers are able to produce enough food for consumption at the house, and they are able to sell the surplus at a profitable income,” says Ashton Kilugha, a World Vision project coordinator in Kenya.

From seeds to sending children to school

Tabitha has been growing maize for years, but her yield keeps dwindling. She doubts there will be enough to adequately feed her family. Though her half-acre of maize is withering, the mung beans are flourishing because of the December rains.

When harvest comes, Tabitha and other farmers in her community will contribute some of their seeds to a seed bank, so they and other struggling farmers have something to plant next seasons.

As crop yield increases, Tabitha may be able to sell her surplus at market and potentially invest in equipment or pay for household needs.

“I am certain in my heart, that we will produce enough food and never have to go back for relief food,” Tabitha says. “I want to see all my children successfully complete school.”

Between July 2011 and January 2013, World Vision directly helped more than 2 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Tanzania through food and nutrition assistance, water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives, shelter and household materials, and programs to improve livelihoods and agricultural production.

How you can help

Thank God for the improved, albeit fragile, conditions in the Horn of Africa. Pray for parents like Tabitha and David, who are working hard to grow drought-resistant crops and provide for their families, even during lean times.

Make a one-time gift to help provide seeds, tools, and training in Africa. You’ll help supply seeds and tools to assist farmers in raising crops and livestock, as well as training on improved agricultural techniques and guidance on environmental protection.