Vanguard women farmers find money in trash

A group of six enterprising women have turned a heap of garbage in Nakuru to a lush of vegetables and fruits that is now feeding over 7,000 vulnerable people while providing the much needed income.

The women, including a 27-year-old farm supervisor, Eunice Ojale have been working on the piece of a rehabilitated dumpsite for half a decade and turning it into a lush mixture of vegetables and fruits. Some of the produce from the farm is supplied to the hospital for free and the remaining is either given for free or sold to the most deserving people; specifically those affected by HIV at low prices.

Janet Rotich is among the ten women who have expanded the nutrition programme to other regions outside Nakuru County; mainly dry areas, going as far as Narok, Isiolo, Baringo, Maralal and Nanyuki among others, according to Zachariah Keyah, APHIA II Plus Programme Coordinator in charge of Family Aids Initiative Response (Fair-Aphia II).

"Proper nutrition is critical in keeping away opportunistic infections that are a constant threat to persons living with HIV/Aids," says Keyah. Apart from the 2,000 households, inpatients at the PGH consume 10 per cent of the 90-tonne annual vegetable harvest, hence guaranteeing a daily fresh supply. "Weekly, we supply vegetables to 10 centres within Nakuru County where mostly people living with HIV/Aids access them at just Sh10 per kilo," explains Rotich. 34-year-old Leah Atieno is one of the beneficiaries of the work done by the ten women as she buys the vegetables for resale.

Desperation and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the lives of people living with HIV saw the birth of cultivation of vegetables under a project dubbed; 'Nuru ya Bonde' being implemented by Aphia plus. The vegetable plot stands on 'a two and half acre piece of land, part of the former hospital dumpsite. 82 per cent of the land is on vegetables while the remaining piece of land is occupied by other important farm structures including a unit for compost manure making, a vegetable drier, a farm house office, kitchen and a car park.

According to Eunice, the remaining piece of land is where the 'Nuru ya Bonde' project is raising a fruit orchard for the hospital's daily supply.

The farm also serves as a training centre for members of the community. "We train different groups of people especially people living with HIV on sustainable farming techniques. Some of them have started their farms which we have visited to give further advice," says Anthony Wekesa, the farm manager. About 200 of the clients attached to the project have been trained on vegetable growing; 75 per cent of them have their own gardens from the trainings.

Those who do not have land and have been trained are advised to form groups which are allocated land at drop-in centres to learn as they grow their own crops. "We also want this kind of project to be replicated at farm level, simple reason being to get many people into a food security net, especially those who 

are living with HIV because we know medicine and food are key and will enable the patients live longer," adds Keyah. He said the farm is also a place where patients get supplements over and above the medicine given by health facilities. "In essence, it is the driving reason why we had to rehabilitate the dumpsite since it was the only available space around here," he added.

St. Nicholas Centre for the Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVCs) is an example of a drop-in station where vegetables are taken for easier access by vulnerable people. It is a swarm of activities; with community health workers, caregivers and volunteers are shuffling files of identified needy children who benefit from the nutrition project.

According to Kenneth Alumasa, Plus Programme coordinator in charge of OVC and community home based care, care givers attached to the programme identify needy homes where they sup-ply free vegetables. "This is especially to people who are too ill to work providing them with free rations until they are strong enough to work and earn a little money to buy vegetables," he told journalists on a tour of a farm during the week long Internews Africa Science Journalists' Conference in Nakuru.

The programme also has an incentive allotment whereby those who cannot afford to buy vegetables are given for free to enable them start a business, says Rose Abinya a community health worker. Kales have Vitamin B12, an important component for the absorption of other minerals in the human blood system while other vegetables are rich in calcium and iron. Through the testimony of Nancy Mideva, an assistant at the St. Nicholas OVC centre, the vegetables grown from the former hospital dumpsite, have significantly contributed to the reduction of the disease burden among various communities grappling with devastating effects of HIV/Aids.

The 'Nuru ya Sonde' farm is one such initiatives that must be encouraged in various communities countrywide by the Government and all stakeholders in our quest to provide proper nutrition to persons living with HIV/Aids.