SIAYA/NAIROBI, Kenya (PAMACC News) - When Anyango Ahenda lost her husband in 2021, her world crumbled, and the idea of becoming the sole breadwinner for her family seemed daunting.
“I felt overwhelming pain, hopelessness, and emotional turmoil. Our society's patriarchal norms dictated that women shouldn't farm or plant trees. I couldn't foresee how my family would cope with food insecurity,” says Ahenda, the founder of Aloro Widows Group in Siaya County.
However, her life took a positive turn when she joined forces with 20 other women's groups associated with the Siaya Muungano Network. This network operates under the Voice for Just Climate Action (VCA) program in Kenya, supporting locally-led climate change solutions for women, youth, and vulnerable groups.
These women, from Gem, Ugunja, and Alego Usonga sub-counties in Siaya, have emerged as pioneers in securing their families' food needs and achieving financial independence. They made a collective decision to shift away from relying solely on maize, a crop that was failing due to climate change.
Instead, they embraced al alternative route of traditional African crops known for their resilience in drought conditions. Crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, finger millet, and local vegetables like black nightshade became the backbone of their agricultural practices.
Ahenda shares, “A friend invited me to a training session on empowerment and climate change awareness by Siaya Muungano Network. After the sessions, I defied societal norms that forbade women from farming and began cultivating diverse crops.”
This transformation allowed her not only to provide for her family's needs but also to advocate for widows' rights throughout the county.
Ahenda’s story weaves directly into a new movement – The Global Tapestry of Alternatives (GTA) – which seeks to build bridges between networks of alternatives around the globe and promote the creation of new processes of confluence.
Martin Muriuki, the Executive Director at the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) noted that use of indigenous knowledge can be a perfect alternative to adapting to climate change and protecting biodiversity among other things. “We have evidence that indigenous knowledge works and this should be brought on board as an alternative way of handling and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” he said.
Esther Bett, the Executive Director at RODI Kenya said that her organisation is working directly with prisons to give prisoners an alternative restorative and social justice. “Our criminal justice in Kenya today focuses on the person who harms, but leaves the person who has been harmed traumatised. We are therefore seeking an alternative to address both sides, and identify solutions right from within the community,” she said.
RODI strives to ensure that prisoners are equipped with knowledge and skills to enhance self-esteem, restore hope in life, self-support and to endear them to the community upon release, besides enabling them to contribute towards community and national development. The organisation also produces Bokashi – bio-fertiliser made through a fermentation process.
Simon Mitambo, the Founder – Society for Alternative Learning and Transformation (SALT) believes in the philosophy of connecting people back with nature. “We have to stop looking at plants and animals as natural resources and by doing so, the flora and fauna will naturally deliver ecosystem services to humanity,” said Mitambo.
He notes that in many communities, most elders never went to school, and so, most people look at them as illiterate “But the truth is that these elders are very eco-literate, and therefore very resourceful,” he said. His organisation therefore brings elders to a space where they feel they know something, and they have a story to tell that can be appreciated as an alternative way of mining knowledge.
An organisations like AGRA, formerly (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), which has made significant progress in enhancing food production across the continent has also been persuaded to look at other alternatives in the new strategy so as to address emerging challenges to leverage on the gains made so far.
The new strategy that runs from 2023 to 2027 has been tuned to respond to recent global and African catastrophes including famine, COVID-19, drought, fall army worm, climate change, soaring food, fertiliser and energy prices, and the conflict in Ukraine.
“We have demonstrated that when farmers have access to choices of inputs (such as appropriate seeds and fertilisers) and when those inputs give a clear yield differential farmers adopt and their lives change, and this only happens sustainably when markets are available to the farmers,” said Dr Agnes Kalibata, AGRA’s President during the launch of the new strategy.
She noted that the strategy will see AGRA do more of what works for farmers and that it will help her organisation understand markets better. “In all this we must bring more youth, more nutrition and be smarter in use of environmental resources,” said Kalibata.
“The world is standing on the abyss of collapse,” said Ramasar, noting that collective, solidarity-based action across the world could help pull it back, and take in a different direction of peace, equality, and ecological harmony.
Back to the Siaya story, Rose Omondi from the Lady Gay Women Group recalls her journey, where she initially faced resistance from her husband when seeking land to plant crops. However, she found an alternative by secretly obtaining land from a friend and successfully cultivating sorghum. This act eventually won her husband's approval to plant trees in their compound.
To bolster their livelihoods further, the women have diversified their income streams by raising chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs. This strategy allows them to sell animals in case of poor harvests, providing them with an alternative source of livelihoods.
According to Ramasar, 60 percent of the world is fed by subsistence farmers like the Aloro Widows Group. “In Africa, we have our own solutions, we have the knowledge, we have the seeds and everything we need in order to make our continent a perfect place to live,” said the South Africa born academician and activist.