Jointly funded by the Governments of Kenya and Finland, PALWECO’s main purpose was to improve incomes and livelihoods for rural communities in Busia County, Western Kenya. The programme was implemented under the coordination of the Kenyan Ministry of Devolution and Planning using a human rights-based approach and focused on improving rural infrastructure, providing extension services, engaging in capacity building, creating rural–urban market links, and ensuring food security.
From its inception in late 2011 until its closing in 2017, the programme involved an estimated total of 30,000 people in different projects and activities, with several participating in more than one activity. Through those people, it is calculated that PALWECO directly benefitted about 180,000 individuals in total. However, if one considers factors such as the impact of PALWECO’s infrastructure developments and the economic effects of the direct beneficiaries’ spending power, it is likely that the programme has improved the living situations of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans.
Despite facing several complex issues, PALWECO produced many success stories. One unexpected challenge was a lack of rainfall during multiple rainy seasons. Most staple foods like maize, cassava, sorghum, millet, and beans are grown during these rainy seasons, and dry weather during these periods can have dire consequences in Busia County, as most farming is rain-fed. PALWECO combatted the threat posed by these droughts by investing in irrigation, working on the construction and rehabilitation of seven irrigation schemes during the programme’s run. With proper irrigation put in place, staple crops can be grown all year round, significantly improving farmers’ incomes. “I have taken my wife through college and I am able to pay school fees for my children,” says Gabriel Adeya, who is part of the Neela Irrigation Scheme. His increased income has enabled him and his family to move from a grass-thatched house to a bigger one with a sturdy iron roof. “All I can say is I am very grateful for this programme. I will enjoy the benefits for years to come.”
PALWECO also distributed seedlings, suckers, and cuttings for high-value crops and trees such as macadamia nuts, pineapples, bananas, cassava, and mangoes, and offered participating farmers trainings and study visits to other parts of the country. One such farmer was Rosetella Sanya, who received banana seedlings to supplement her farming of kales, tomatoes, black nightshade, maize, and beans. The trainings on banana farming that she got though PALWECO has made her knowledgeable not only about banana production, but has given her knowledge on how to best farm other crops. Armed with this knowledge, Rosetella has been able to improve all her crops, which has ensured food security for her family and provided a surplus of produce she can sell for an extra income.
Another success story comes from Arnold Adung’o, who is the chairman of Matayos Disabled Group, an organisation working to show that disability does not equal inability, just differently abled. PALWECO gave his group the start they needed to breed chickens. Ten group members received 10 hens and a cock each. They were then required to pass on the same number of chickens to each remaining member of the group. With training and further resources such as vaccination provided by PALWECO, the group was able to grow their stock. It took them about a year to pass on chickens to all of the group’s members. The group has started to diversify, buying two sheep that were sold after multiplication and a cow that has already calved twice. They sell the cow’s milk for additional income. From his profits, Arnold has been able to start a retail shop, a move that has made him less reliant on his poultry sales, which means he can sell at the best prices. Arnold is very thankful for the help he has received from PALWECO. “I cannot talk of poultry without mentioning the fact that my family has a source of protein. We are able to eat eggs at least twice a week and chicken once a month. My children are more comfortable in school and they are not sent away because I couldn’t pay school fees. They are showing an interest in poultry and that is a good thing. I hope that someday they will do even better than me. All I can say is thank you, PALWECO, and thank you, the people of Finland, for giving us a lifeline and hope,” the father of six says.
Soil rehabilitation is another area where PALWECO has stepped in to offer expertise and assistance. In 2014, PALWECO analysed Hendrika Anyango’s farm and found the soil to be too acidic, with a pH level of 4.5. The programme provided her with lime to remedy the problem. Working the lime into her soil has dramatically increased her yields. With her extra income, she has been able to keep her son in college and her two daughters in primary school as well as to provide for her family’s basic needs. She has also decided to diversify her crops and to start a chicken project as a buffer against the risks associated with rain-fed agriculture.
Many lessons can be drawn from PALWECO, but the main one is perhaps the confirmation it provides that a community can only begin to thrive when its basic needs are met. Activities such as the ones conducted through the programme contribute to peace and security in communities by allowing people to think of and engage in more than just providing for their basic needs and feeding their families.