Cash transfers in Myanmar are changing lives for the better
The confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic downturn, political instability, and escalated civil conflicts since February 2021 has cast a shadow of financial hardship over countless lives in Myanmar.
A STAGGERING 67% of the country’s population, including the once-thriving Chin State, grapples with the harsh grip of poverty.
While maintaining a focus on education work in Myanmar, FCA also supports livelihood opportunities and humanitarian assistance with interventions such as cash transfers to beneficiaries.
Three people in Chin State, whose lives have crossed paths with FCA’s work, recently shared their stories.
Van Cung’s Journey of Hope
Van Cung is a 56-year-old resident of Thantalang Town, surrounded by teal-hued mountains and sandwiched by Vuichip and Marau peaks. The two rivers serve as the lifeblood of its inhabitants. In times gone by, it was hailed as one of the most prosperous towns in Chin state.
A devoted teacher with 24 years of experience, Van Cung poured his heart into educating the youth of Chin State in Thantalang. His dedication was unwavering even during long hours of teaching. On a modest salary of about 300,000 MMK (approximately 115 Euro), he supported his family of five, finding joy in meaningful work and the love of his kin.
However, fate took an unforeseen twist. The coup of February 2021 unleashed waves of unrest and protests, causing the education system to collapse nationwide, including in Chin state. The schools closed, leaving him unemployed. Adding to the turmoil, a devastating incident unfolded on November 19, 2021.
During a military campaign, 164 houses in his town were burned down. The destruction escalated, resulting in the loss of 900 houses and 19 religious structures to the fire. Van’s home was one of these —looted, burned, and reduced to ashes. This tragedy left his family with only an aging motorbike. Even now his voice quivers as he expresses his sorrow,
“My life has been shattered beyond imagination. I never fathomed such profound loss, even in my darkest dreams.”
In search of safety, he traveled with his family and aging bike to Zephai village, situated 44 miles away near the Indian border. The host community welcomed them with temporary shelter and food, yet the village was overwhelmed with families seeking refuge, resulting in overcrowding and limited resources. Van Cung turned to farming on available vacant lands, but the yield hardly alleviated his family’s hunger.
FCA provided 150,000 MMK (approximately 57.55 Euro) in humanitarian cash assistance to support his family. This aid was transformative. With this assistance, Van Cung embarked on a two-day journey on foot to Hnaring sub-town to buy spare parts to repair his motorbike. With the restored bike, he devised a plan to sell petrol. In nearby villages, he began selling fuel, earning a daily income of 20,000 MMK—a lifeline for his family.
Van Cung’s impact extends beyond his household. He now extends a helping hand to his community by ferrying patients on his motorbike to the medical center, navigating the winding roads of the Chin Hills.
“I am deeply thankful to FCA for their invaluable support, which has been a lifeline for individuals like me in Chin State. My hope is for their compassionate efforts to continue reaching the Chin Hills, touching more lives in need.”
Iang Ku’s Path to Self-Sufficiency
In a quiet corner of Chin State’s Haka Town resides Ms. Iang Ku, a resilient 30-year-old woman sharing her life with her 90-year-old father. Nestled on a small highland peak, Haka Town rises over 6,000 feet above the earth, compact yet proudly serving as the capital of the entire Chin State.
She and her father once owned a shop, selling cherished Chin traditional dresses, bringing in a steady income of about 20,000 MMK per day. But life’s tranquility was shattered by the echoes of a turbulent coup, rewriting their narrative in an instant.
Amidst the upheaval, a powerful explosion rocked their home, leaving them with their lives but taking away their possessions and livelihood. To take refuge, they fled to Sialam Village situated 54 miles away. For three days, they traveled on foot, enduring hunger and uncertainty, surviving on foraged fruits and vegetables along the route.
Despite the community’s generous hospitality, aid was limited due to their responsibility for a significant number of internally displaced people. Iang Ku experienced profound disappointment and a sense of hopelessness regarding their future survival, especially given her father’s chronic illness. With a heavy heart, she lamented, “I feel as though I could perish alongside my father.”
Like Van Cung, she also received humanitarian aid from Finn Church Aid, amounting to 60,000 MMK (approximately 115 Euro). She invested the entire sum into crafting traditional weaving products, which hold a high market value. With this assistance, she acquired the necessary equipment for traditional weaving production.
She started earning 8,000 MMK within a few days by selling her textiles. Her monthly income gradually ranged between 5,000 to 20,000 MMK. As her earnings grew, she could afford more materials for weaving. She now earns more than enough money to meet her family’s needs and generously assists those in need within her community.
Actively engaged in church activities, she finds herself counting the blessings of her transformed life. “With determination and assistance, I’ve woven a new life, now able to offer hope and help to those in need,” she shares.
Naw Bik’s Tale of Transformation
Naw Bik, a 47-year-old resident of Thantlang Town, was employed as a lower division clerk at the Ministry of Home Affairs. His monthly income of 280,000 MMK (107.5 Euro) provided for his family of four. However, when political turmoil erupted on February 1, 2021, he was compelled to leave his job, causing financial strain that cast his family into a state of food insecurity.
In October 2021, amidst the chaos in Thantlang Town, he and his family, like many others, sought refuge near the India border. They embarked on a grueling 41-mile journey on foot, traversing rugged terrain over two days, carrying what little belongings they could. The path was challenging, marked by steep inclines and treacherous footpaths.
Upon reaching Tlangpi village, his family’s spirits were lifted by the warm welcome of fellow villagers. Despite the uncomfortable living conditions, they found solace among other internally displaced families.
In response, FCA provided 120,000 MMK to address the family’s livelihood crisis. This assistance ignited Naw Bik’s determination. He invested in a grass trimming tool and secured work at an Elephant Foot Yam and Strawberry farm, earning 10,000 MMK per day and a monthly income of 240,000 MMK. This newfound stability eased his family’s daily needs.
Reflecting on his journey, Naw Bik expressed profound gratitude for the unexpected support that reinvigorated his family’s means of survival. The generosity of strangers through the project inspired him to lend a hand to others grappling with conflicts and crises. He stressed the ongoing importance of humanitarian aid in Chin State, where many silently endure for survival.
30 Somali women and girls are training in web and mobile development thanks to partnership between FCA and iRise innovation hub.
MAIDA MOHAMED AHMED is a bright and ambitious woman from Somalia who has always had a passion for finance and technology. She applied for a six month web and mobile development course at Somalia’s first innovation hub, iRise.
The course, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Finland, is designed to empower girls and young women in an underrepresented field. The six-month course utilises design thinking skills to unlock the girls’ potential, ultimately empowering them to pursue a career in tech and improve their employment opportunities.
Today Maida is working as a web developer and is proud to be paving the way for other young women like herself to succeed in the tech industry.
This project is part of FCA’s thematic approach to connect learning with earning in their livelihood projects. The initiative is highly significant, particularly in Somalia, where women face numerous hurdles in accessing education and employment opportunities.
Somalia is well poised to develop its digital industries – it is the seventh cheapest place in the world for high-speed internet. By providing women with the skills and expertise to pursue a tech career, this project hopes to reduce the gender gap in the tech industry and improve the quality of living for Somali women.
The first batch of 15 girls have already completed the programme, while the other 15 expect to finish their studies soon.
As the first batch of graduates enters the workforce with their newly acquired skills, we hope to see significant changes in the industry in the gender ratio in Somalia. This program empowers girls to take on more challenging roles, disrupt stereotypes and create a more gender-inclusive workforce.
Text: Fatima Abshir Photos courtesy of Osama Nur Hussien for iRise
Vocational training unlocks the potential of refugees
In Uganda’s Rwamwanja refugee settlement, thousands of refugees, including a significant number of youth, face immense challenges. Locked out of many employment opportunities, they struggle to find ways to generate income.
FINN CHURCH AID launched their Business Vocational Education and Training (BTVET) programme in response to the need for change. It’s had a profound impact on the lives of the young people living in the settlement.
Gaston Chirimwami, a Congolese refugee living in Rwamwanja, had long harbored aspirations to become a musician. His goal was dashed, however, when he was forced to flee his country and seek safety in Uganda. His luck changed when he enrolled in FCA’s Creative Industries programme at their training centre.
There, he discovered his passion for video production and learned skills such as camera operating and photo and video editing. Gaston’s newfound abilities not only boosted his confidence but also provided him with a source of income through photography.
“I believe I can pursue both music and video editing like successful musicians like Tekno,” he told us.
Hairdressing helps support an entire family
Majengo Sadick, a resilient young adult who has the responsibility of caring for his six siblings, stumbled upon FCA’s vocational training program, and found it lifechanging. After completing a hair dressing course at the centre, Sadick started a mobile salon in Rwamwanja refugee settlement (see main picture).
Sadick’s newfound abilities in hairdressing opened doors to lucrative job opportunities while also igniting a passion he never knew he had.
Today, as a professional cosmetician, he owns a salon and supports his siblings’ education. “I’m glad that FCA provided me with skills and a professional certificate without any cost as compared to the expense I would spend in my home country, Congo,’’he says.
Vocational training brings transformative change
Beyond these individual success stories, FCA’s vocational training program has made a tangible impact on the Rwamwanja community. The programme’s focus on trades such as tailoring, cosmetics, and agriculture has resulted in the establishment of numerous salons and tailoring firms owned by FCA BTVET graduates.
Parents in the community have witnessed the transformative changes brought about by vocational education. Now youth, who were once passed over, play a crucial role in rebuilding their lives and addressing unemployment challenges. Many graduates have even ventured beyond Kamwenge district, competing for job opportunities in urban centres across the country.
The hope for a better future is being restored, one skill at a time, thanks to FCA’s vocational programme.
Text and Images by Shema Bienvenu: Communications Intern at FCA Uganda
Shema completed secondary school with assistance from FCA and is now studying Journalism and Communication at university. We are honoured that he chose FCA for his internship!
World Refugee Day 2023 – supporting Somalia’s internally displaced people
World Refugee Day is an opportunity to recognise and support the millions of people across the globe who have had to flee their homes due to conflict, violence, persecution, among other reasons. FCA also supports internally displaced people in places like Somalia.
Zaynab, 55, lives in the DurDur camp for internally displaced people in Burao, Somaliland. The longstanding drought in East Africa resulted in her livestock dying. Without resources to support her family of six children, she was forced to come to the camp.
FCA Somalia has been working tirelessly to assist households like Zaynab’s, affected by the longstanding drought in Somalia. From October 2022 to February 2023, the FCA team offered multipurpose unconditional cash transfers (MPCT) to help with urgent household requirements.
Cash lends flexibility to households
The cash project has proven essential in giving households the flexibility they need to deal with the impacts of the drought disaster, which have led to large-scale and long-lasting population shifts.
In Baidoa, Somalia, Hawa Noor a 35 year old mother of 5, arrived at the internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp from Dinsoor. She fled with her children after life became unbearable due to drought and violence in the region. She made the difficult decision to leave her husband to look after the small number of their goats that still survived.
“I was traumatised as life was difficult due to conflict and drought. On top of that, a memory I will never forget is my losing my sister, the mother of this young child (pointing to the 4-year-old girl sitting next to her). I’m her mother now,” she adds sadly.
Arriving at the camp, she had nothing to sustain her children’s needs. She depended on a neighbour’s aid and casual work, which was hard to come by. Getting proper shelter for the children was much more challenging than she had thought before leaving her home.
Building a business
Hawa was one of the beneficiaries supported by FCA’s cash payment of $80 per month for six months. In the first installment, she built a house for her children; in the second, she started a vegetable and groceries kiosk near the camp. Over the next months she continued contributing money to the small business each month while utilising the remaining cash for the children’s needs. She bought food, clean water and milk powder.
She also paid for her children’s school fees, plus educational materials.
FCA’s programme has transferred cash payouts via mobile phone transfers to targeted households in both regions of Baidoa and Burao. The initiative has focused on the most vulnerable individuals affected by the recent drought.
In all, 1100 households comprising 913 women and girls and 187 men and boys in 21 IDP camps have received a lifesaving cash distribution of $80 per home over three months.
As the programme comes to an end, many families like Hawa’s now have a small income-generating activity to sustain their daily needs until conditions become better.
New skills lead to sustainable livelihoods
In Baidoa, a project funded by the ACT Alliance, provides training for 40 women, who are also internal refugees. They learn handicrafts, like henna painting, as well as skills and basic numeracy and literacy to support running the business.
After the two month long training, carried out with our partners at the Bay Women Institute in Baidoa, the new entrepreneurs can offer their trade at the local market, bringing in extra income for their households.
The skills were chosen because they were simple yet marketable skills that the women could use within the camp to quickly generate income.
Due to their newly gained skills, the students also reported a boost in their self-esteem and confidence. The project highlights FCA’s commitment to support vulnerable communities through capacity building and empowerment initiatives.
Fly larvae help Nepalese women create innovative sustainable business
FCA and Womens’ Bank BUZZ project in Nepal uses larvae from the Black Soldier Fly as alternative animal feed due to their high protein and fat content, as opposed to traditional feeds. This reduces solid waste by efficiently converting organic waste into animal feeds and organic fertilizer within the cycle of circular economy.
IN THE small village of Bhardeu in Nepal’s Lalitpur district, a building with a corrugated tin roof is abuzz with activity. Women crowd round small plastic trays, which are writhing with small larvae. One woman gently and carefully lifts a handful of the larvae in gloved hands. She doesn’t seem fazed by the wriggling grubs – in fact, these unassuming worm-like animals represent an exciting innovation in the working lives of these women. They’re a chance to turn waste into value.
“It’s such a new concept in Nepal,” says BUZZ project coordinator Nishi Khatun. “In the beginning, the women who saw our prototype larvae farm were a bit doubtful and sometimes frightened. But since training, they’re really confident with handling the larvae and find the process more convenient and beneficial from the farming they’re currently doing.”
With funding from our sister organisation, Women’s Bank, and in partnership with the Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal (FWEAN), the project aims to provide employment to seven women, who are part of a farming cooperative in the village. All of them face social and economic marginalisation, with limited access to resources, job opportunities and influence within their community
The premise is simple: Black Soldier Fly larvae are raised in a special production facility feeding on organic waste. They then are used as feed for farmed animals and fish. The frass (excretion of larvae/fly) is used as organic fertilizers.
“The organic waste from the household and farming land is reused again and again for the larvae,” says FCA Climate and Environment Sustainability Advisor, Aly Cabrera. “It’s a really good initiative because it reduces land competition between food for human and for animal consumption.”
FCA set up the production facility and provides ongoing training to the women in both the technical skills needed to raise the larvae and the business development skills that will enable them to connect with customers and larger industries. In time, they won’t just be able to maintain their farms, but also sell surplus larvae and frass to others.
That said, it’s a very new concept in Nepal and the benefits of using the larvae are not yet well understood by stakeholders in the agriculture, poultry and fisheries industries.
Other challenges include the delicate nature of the larvae themselves. The grubs are highly sensitive to temperature and humidity and getting the ambient conditions exactly right for them to thrive is crucial.
Despite this, the women in Bhardeu recently celebrated a milestone. The initial insects needed to establish a colony arrived from the western district of Chitwan and they were able to get to work after long months of training. The cooperative issued a statement in celebration:
“We are filled with hope that our dream of economic empowerment through engagement in the Black Soldier Fly business model will finally come true. We envision ourselves becoming successful entrepreneurs.”
The BUZZ project is thanks to a joint FCA and Women’s Bank initiative that develops circular economy projects to increase income opportunities & sustainable agricultural practices in order to improve community resilience.
Contract farming project delivers life-changing benefits for women farmers in Uganda
Traditionally, women have had a hard time making a living in Mityana, a rural town in central Uganda. Women are usually not allowed to own farming land, and the ones who have land at their disposal have had low and unpredictable crop yields. This is something the contract farming project, backed by Women’s Bank and Finn Church Aid, wanted to address.
CONTRACT FARMING is a system in which farmers enter into an agreement with a buyer under predetermined contractual obligations. The farmers produce for the market, as they are already assured that they will have a buyer, and what price they will get for their produce.
In some cases, the buyer might also support the farmers with agrotechnical knowledge, inputs and other production requirements to be assured of the best quality product.
“Before, I struggled to make ends meet. I would plant my crops and hope for the best. But now, I have a contract that guarantees to buy my maize at a fair price. I have also received training on how to improve my farming practices, and I have seen the results in my yields,” says one of the farmers, Celina Nelima, about her experience with contract farming.
“With the profits I make, I set up a fast foods business where I sell fried chips to the community in the evenings. I save enough money weekly, and now I am building my dream house. I am grateful to Finn Church Aid for their support,“ Nelima, 34, adds with a big smile.
Increased bargaining power
Finn Church Aid and Women’s Bank help build the linkages between the women farmers and buyers. One of those buyers is Egg Production Uganda Limited (EPL), which is set up by the Women’s Bank. Women are assisted in organising into groups, creating collective bargaining power, to negotiate fair trade deals with the buyers.
FCA and EPL provide women farmers with training and support in the community, such as business literacy, good agricultural practices, Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) methodology, gender awareness, leadership and short-term specialized livelihood trainings. Training has improved the lives of the women and helped them access seeds, fertilizers, and other things they need to start their businesses.
The results have been remarkable. The farmers have been able to increase their yields and household income significantly, take their children back to school with ease, access finances for investment through VSLAs, access medical services, gain respect in their communities, and be elected to leadership positions.
Women in control
Through this, the lives of the women farmers have transformed. They are no longer at the mercy of middlemen who would buy their crops at a low price or not at all. They now have a steady income and can plan for the future.
Bitamisi Nakibirango, 52 years says, “I used to walk 7 kilometers to go to the market to sell my produce, now EPL collects the produce from the bulking center which is not far from my home. This has allowed me to save time and money.”
The success of the contract farming system in Mityana has also had a ripple effect in the community. Other farmers have seen the benefits and are now interested in joining the program. Finn Church Aid Uganda continues to work with the farmers to expand the program and ensure its sustainability.
In Mityana, over 700 women, from as many households, with an average of 6 household members each, were introduced to contract farming by Finn Church Aid Uganda (FCA). FCA is a non-profit organization that works to promote sustainable livelihoods in rural communities in a program that was initiated on January 3rd 2021.
EU and Finnish Ambassadors visit FCA projects in Nepal
FCA hosted the Ambassadors of Finland and the EU to Nepal, during a trip to visit Nepal’s Far West. They visited free Kamaiya and Kamlaris (ex-bonded labourers) and witnessed progress made by the communities toward self- sufficiency and increased incomes.
AMBASSADOR OF FINLAND to Nepal, Ms Riina-Riika Heikka and Ambassador of the European Union to Nepal, Ms Nona Deprez, saw the varied activities ex-bonded labourers undertake to generate or supplement their incomes. These included vegetable farming, pig rearing and tailoring, supported by FCA with funding from the Finnish government.
They were also impressed by the impact FCA distributed bicycles had on farmers’ ability to transport their goods to market, decreasing their reliance on middlemen.
Said Ms Heikka, “I think what has impressed me the most is FCA’s work with women and women’s economic empowerment and linking it also to advocacy work.
But being very concrete on bringing sustainable solutions to the communities and also to women and girls, using local expertise, local knowledge and network and a good partner in order to really strive for sustainable solutions for the future.”
Communities in the lead
Working closely with the community has been key in FCA’s success in the region. Lal Bahadur Chaudhary, 52, and his wife Janaki Chaudhary, 48, are a farming couple, who not only serve as representatives for their community but have also made significant strides towards adopting modern farming techniques to increase their yields.
Chaudhary was among the participants in an earlier training visit organized by FCA to Chitwan district. During the session, people exchanged knowledge and experience on sustainable farming, including using indigenous resources as pest control.
Since then, he has not only improved the family farm’s yield, but also disseminated the knowledge he gained during the visit to the other members of his community. Chaudhary’s family no longer needs to purchase vegetables from the market as they can produce enough for their own consumption, with a surplus that can be sold in the market to generate income for their household.
Another income-generating activity that ex-bonded laborers have undertaken with the support of FCA is pig farming. This project has helped the community members to rear pigs and sell them in the local market.
Tailoring is another initiative that FCA has undertaken to support ex-bonded laborers. Salina Chaudhary was one of the recipients of tailoring training in 2020.
Three years later she now operates her own tailoring business and trains other women in her community. The Ambassadors were impressed with the quality and variety of clothes Salina and her trainees make. Moreover, they recognised the tremendous impact that the project has had on the communities, as it has facilitated the development of valuable skills through the training programs.
Finally, the Ambassadors visited a community group called REFLECT. The FCA supported project is an approach to adult literacy and empowerment which uses participatory learning methods to promote dialogue and critical thinking among community members, enabling them to identify and address their social, economic, and political issues.
“I think the most important thing for me has been to witness the warmth of the people and the atmosphere of going forward and really the atmosphere of movement,” concluded Ms Heikka.
SMEs in Least Development Countries are not a risk – they’re an opportunity
The Fifth Union Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) happened between 5-9 March in Doha, Qatar. FCA Investments hosted a high-level event with the governments of Somalia and Finland, in partnership with Accenture and in cooperation with the UN Capital Development Fund.
“This is not charity we are talking about – often it is the entrepreneurs that are taking the largest risk, not the investors.”
So said the opening speaker, Somalia’s Minster of Finance, Dr. Elmi Nur at the panel, which looked at how to scale support to sustainable, growth-oriented small to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in LDCs*.
He stressed the close partnership between Somalia and Finland, emphasising the need to realise SME potential to be an engine for LDC economies.
Following on with the event keynote, former President of Finland Tarja Halonen also highlighted the potential of a sustainable private sector to provide for greener growth, decent jobs and the opportunity represented by female entrepreneurs.
“Women’s economic empowerment boosts productivity and increases economic diversification and income equality. Economies with high women’s labour force participation rates are generally performing well,” she stated.
Businesswomen take the floor
Underlining Ms Halonen’s point, two businessowners – Rose Namayanja, CEO of Kande Poultry Farm in Uganda and Leila Omar, CEO of SolarLandAfrica – took the floor to share their personal experiences building and growing an SME.
Ms Omar, whose company builds large roof- and ground based photovoltaic solar/wind power plants and solar systems for remote homes in sub-Saharan Africa, related how difficult it is to find the specific skills needed for her SME. However, with targeted training and recruitment, her company has been able to advantage both the business and local people.
“The community welcomes us because we provide sustainable energy and we offer potential jobs and training for youth,” she shared.
Meanwhile, Ms Namayanja’s poultry farm has overcome the common SME problem of attracting investment by working hard to attain sustainability certifications and improving their financial and management processes.
“The challenges in Uganda and many LDCs is lack of affordable financing and the fact that agribusiness enterprises are looked at as risks. We’ve worked with FCA Investments for some time and been helped by service-backed loans,” she said.
FCA Investments aims to make funding and skills available for economically viable and environmentally and socially responsible companies, like Ms Namayanja’s enterprise.
A key bottleneck preventing the growth of sustainable SME-sector in LDCs is the shortage of investment-ready companies. FCA Investments act as an impact investor, offering management and capacity building services as well as financing options, such as Kande Poultry Farm’s service-based loan.
FCA Investments CEO Jukka-Pekka Kärkkäinen, recalled his experiences at the panel as an entrepreneur in Tanzania. He and fellow entrepreneurs often needed to be an expert in wide areas such as accounting, financial management or marketing. In contrast, in countries like Finland, these services can be efficiently purchased from service-providers.
“Increasing innovation and competitiveness is key. You want to focus on your ‘go to market’ strategy’ – that’s why looking to others for the transactional and administrational side of the side is a good idea.”
The promises made by SME-entrepreneurs, like Rose Namayanja and Leila Omar, can be significant to their countries. Their successes relate to job creation, environmental sustainability, transparency and paying of taxes. But more than that, they work towards the future of the youth, anti-corruption, renewable energy and food security, By assuming the greatest risk in developing their businesses, the entrepreneurs take the fulfillment of the promise on their own shoulders.
*The term “Least Developed Countries” is the only country group in the UN that has a legal status and countries must apply to be granted the status. Being an LDC entitles countries for benefits that other countries do not enjoy in development financing, multilateral trading system and technical assistance.
When your whole fortune dries up. The two-year drought has taken everything from the pastoralists of northern Kenya
East Africa is struggling through an unprecedented drought. Since October 2020, four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, and the fifth seems to fail as well. In northern Kenya, the nomadic population has lost all of their property, meaning cattle, which has traditionally been by far the most popular investment in the region. The situation can be compared to a total collapse of the stock exchange in Finland. Lives are in danger, too.
SHEDO ISACKO ROBA, 25, started her journey to the nearest borehole with her friends yesterday. The distance is approximately 40 kilometres, and the young woman, familiar with the conditions of the journey, covers it in a couple of days. There is no water in Shedo Isacko’s home village, Gareru in the north of Kenya.
Shedo Isacko knows how much hardship the failure of the rainy seasons causes in the lives of the locals.
“For the past two years I’ve come here to get water and look for food for my children,” she says whilst washing her laundry at the well.
The clothes are so covered in sand dust that the water instantly turns brown, and they need to be rinsed several times.
After finishing her load of laundry, Shedo Isacko fills up her worn-out yellow plastic jugs with water and ties them on a donkey’s back for the way home. 40 litres of water is enough for a family of five for two days, but due to the drought, Isacko can’t find enough food.
“We share what we can get between us. Sometimes we have food, sometimes we don’t. Life is tough.”
The cattle perish first – then the people
Isacko’s family lives a nomadic life, just like most people in the region. The drought has killed most of the family’s livestock. Shedo Isacko mourns not only for the lost property but also for what’s ahead.
“I’m afraid there will be no more rain. When the cattle have already died as a result of drought, we’ll soon be losing human lives. That’s what scares me.”
According to official figures, by the beginning of November no-one has died directly due to the ongoing drought or food shortage. In neighbouring Somalia, the situation is several steps ahead: based on a UN report, thousands of people had died by mid-October and half a million people are at risk of death. In the Marsabit region in northern Kenya, health officials are extremely concerned about the direction of development.
“At the moment, the deaths in the region aren’t directly caused by malnutrition, but they are strongly linked. Many deaths, particularly among the elderly, are caused by illnesses that hit undernourished people,” says Bokayo Arero, the director of nutrition at the Marsabit health department.
The pastoralists of Marsabit in Northern Kenya are severely affected by the droughts. Since the drought began in 2020 the working water supplies are further and further away, and a lot of livestock has died from lack of food and water. Photo: Björn Udd / FCA
Undernourished people are more likely to contract pneumonia, diarrhoea, and tuberculosis. The elderly, children, pregnant women, and disabled people are in a particularly vulnerable position. According to a health screening conducted in October, 92 percent of the surveyed children under the age of five in Marsabit were malnourished, and approximately half of them had received urgent treatment.
Especially in the case of children, malnutrition leads to serious, life-long consequences.
“Both physical and mental development suffer from malnutrition,” Bokayo Arero emphasises.
Food shortage also puts people under mental strain. Those whose entire property dries up can suffer from mental health issues.
“The population here is completely dependent on their livestock. There have even been a few reports of suicides being committed, when people notice that they have nothing left,” notes Bokay Arero.
Hungry children have trouble learning
The drought and the resulting food shortage have an impact on schooling, too. A few dried-up trees stand in the schoolyard of the Boru Haro village school, and the most energetic of the children are playing in the shade. The rest of the pupils sit and rest under the roofs of the building.
The principal Wako Salesa Dambi says that the drought and lack of food make children stay home instead of coming to school. The pupils who do come to school tend to be tired, and staying focused in class can be difficult.
“Even just for the sake of humanity, I think it’s important that the basic needs of the pupils are met. If their tummies are full, they listen, learn, and do their homework,” Wako Salesa points out.
Previously the state supported school lunches, but currently there’s no support available. After the elections in August, the resources are scarce, as the resulting transfer of power has brought financial transactions between the state and the local government almost to a standstill.
A school lunch is an important meal for children and a reason to come to school for many. Particularly younger students are likely to stay at home, if they haven’t had anything to eat the night before.
12-year-old George Guyo has returned to school after being absent for 10 days. Now he sits in the front row learning how to read a clock.
“My parents haven’t got money for food, so I can’t come to school. When I don’t get enough food, my health gets worse.”
George Guyo can clearly tell how hunger makes it more difficult to go to school, and his learning results deteriorate.
“When I’m hungry, I think about food all the time, and I can’t focus in class.”
“My biggest wish is that there would be enough food for us children and that we’d be able to maintain a balanced diet.”
In December in Kenya, a national exam will be held to students finishing primary school. The result of the exam determines which secondary school the pupil will continue in. Wako Salesa fears that the results will be negatively impacted by the food shortage.
“Getting a good exam result will be difficult for the children who’ve had to skip breakfast and lunch. It would be great if we could offer food for the pupils, but it seems impossible. The parents are currently so poor that they can’t afford to pack a lunch for their kids,” says Wako Salesa.
“This two-year drought is completely exceptional”
One of the main reasons to the poverty in the region is that the majority of cattle has either died or in such a dire shape that it’s lost its value. Previously, a cow would be sold for 20 000 Kenyan shillings, or approximately 160 euros. Now, a cow is worth as little as 500 shillings, or four euros, as the livestock is in bad condition and many people are simultaneously trying to sell their animals to the butcher.
Locally, the situation is comparable to a total market crash. Traditionally, the nomadic population has invested its entire wealth in livestock.
50-year-old Elema Gufu Sharamu has, in his words, been a nomad since he was born. He has brought his caravan of camels to drink from the well repaired by Finn Church Aid. He used to have plenty of cows and goats, but most of them have died because of the food shortage caused by the drought.
“There have been dry periods previously, but this two-year drought is completely exceptional. The circumstances have led to grass not growing, and there’s nothing for the animals to eat.”
As a nomad, Elema Gufu is used to being on the move. It takes him eight hours to walk to the nearest bore well.
“This well is really important to us. If it didn’t exist, we’d have to travel even further.”
Sharamu’s family comprises of two wives and nine children. He used to be able to easily provide for them all, but the situation has changed.
“I take cattle to the market and sell it there, but the prices have dropped dramatically. I haven’t got enough money for food, and sometimes we must skip lunch. It feels bad not to have enough food for my family.”
Currently Elema Gufu Sharamu borrows food from his neighbours, which isn’t a sustainable solution. He’s afraid for his family.
“If this drought continues and the rest of my cattle dies, we too will die. I have no other option. I can’t read, and I won’t be able to get another job. There’s nothing for me in the city.”
The health officials of Marsabit have noticed that parts of the population are drifting towards towns and cities. The director of health Bokayo Arero deems this problematic.
“I don’t think it’s a good survival mechanism. There really isn’t enough work for even those who already live near the cities. Now, an entire family might move to live with a young man working a day job at a construction site. A single income simply isn’t sufficient.”
Conflicts in the area escalate
However, sometimes circumstances force people to move close to population centres. In Marsabit, there are tensions between tribes that every now and then spew out for various reasons. A year ago, the home of Biftu Boroyani’s family was burned in clashes. The family of four used to live in a house of their own, had a small allotment that provided them with enough food, and a few goats.
“When I lived there, I was able to live in peace. I felt no stress. We used to make a good living from our plot.”
Now the family has had to come up with new ways to make a living. Biftu Boroyani’s husband is working in construction. When they have enough food at home, Biftu cooks a larger batch at once and sells it to the nearby construction workers.
“Recently it’s been difficult for both of us to find work opportunities. Because of the drought and lack of money few people are building right now, so making money is hard.”
Because of the difficult situation, Biftu Boroyani used to be able to offer food for the family only once a day. She was stressed out when she noticed how hunger made her children too tired to play.
Now the Boroyani family has received a cash allowance from Finn Church Aid. The 74-euro allowance is given in three consecutive months directly to a mobile phone in mobile money. Biftu Boroyani has received the first instalment, which she spent on food and school fees. Although food is scarce, Biftu Boroyani thinks that the children’s education is at least just as important.
“If the children get a good education, they can get a good job and then support us later. That’s why I make sure the school fees are covered.”
Although the first part of the allowance was spent on food and education, Biftu hopes to be able to use the coming instalments on establishing a small business. She’s planning on buying basic supplies from the city and then selling them near her home.
However, Biftu is still scared that the drought will drag on.
“I can only pray for the rain to come.”
Text and photos: Björn Udd
The prolonged drought in Northern Kenya has resulted in a lack of access to water. Here a group of women were washing their clothes at a borehole in October. Goats are better equipped to deal with drought and lake of grazing opportunities than cattle, but even the goats have started to perish now. Kuva: Björn Udd / FCA
“In the future I’ll be measuring instead of guessing” – A tech innovation by a young Jordanian helps farmers increase crop yields
Sager Marayha, 28, developed a device he hopes will boost the most important trade in his birthplace – farming. FCA supports the young agricultural engineer with a grant to start production.
THE AIR FEELS thick and there are flies buzzing around. In early November, Jordan is preparing for winter; but in the sheltered Jordan Valley, west of the country, summery conditions continue.
The greenhouses are brimming with foliage. Between them, cucumbers are loaded onto a truck that’ll soon begin its journey to the capital Amman. There, the cucumbers will be pickled and then sold to be served in local restaurants.
Sager Marayha, 28, stands in the scorching sun and fiddles with a tiny plastic bag. Inside it, there’s something that can reduce farmers’ workload and improve crops in the future.
“This is the prototype, like a small computer with several sensors,” Marahaya says, digging into his bag.
“This sensor measures soil temperature, this one assesses humidity, this one acidity and salinity.”
Marayha demonstrates how the innovation works. First, it’s thrusted into the soil, and soon, the farmer will receive information regarding the properties of the soil on a smartphone app. A new result will appear on the screen every five seconds.
“The farmers in the Jordan Valley use fertilisers and water without knowing exactly what the farmland actually needs. It’s possible that the soil is so rich in nutrients already that it’s impossible to grow anything anymore. The device will help reduce the unnecessary use of fertilisers and watering just in case.”
As a teenager, Marayha already worked in the fields and greenhouses. The community encouraged him to continue his studies at a university. Marayha became the first in his family to have a higher education.
During his studies, Marayha got to know different kinds of agricultural measuring instruments and wondered why they all seemed so complex and clumsy. Could a small and easy-to-use alternative provide all that information in one go?
Northern Jordan Valley. Jordan Valley is an area in West Jordan which is known for its agricultural opportunities and crops that benefit the whole country. Photo: Sherbel Dissi
A cucumber farmer is ready to invest in smart tech
The practical experience from the field and the knowledge from university helped Marayha get started with developing the device. Soon the technology began to garner the interest of not only farmers and the media but also researchers.
“The problem is that Jordanian agriculture doesn’t really attract investors,” Marayha points out.
The young agricultural engineer was given support from a joint project of Finn Church Aid and the foreign ministry of the Netherlands. The project trains young agricultural professionals to ensure the industry continues to attract future workforce. After proving his commitment and willingness to develop, Marayha was given a grant he can use to begin the production of the devices and selling them to farmers.
There are plenty of potential buyers. Cucumber farmer Abu Muhammad has a total of a hundred cucumber tunnels in Jordan, and in three months, a single tunnel produces 7000 to 7500 kilos of crop.
According to Marayha, a 500-square metre tunnel can be covered with three devices. Manufacturing one device costs approximately 65 euros, but it hasn’t got a market price yet. Even so, the farmer is ready to invest in the innovation.
“The price doesn’t concern me, and I don’t care about it. I’m sure the benefits will outweigh the price,” Abu Muhammad says.
He’s confident that the device will be particularly useful during sowing.
“Sometimes I fertilise wrong and end up losing both the money spent on fertilisers and the crop. In the future my farming will be based on scientific measuring instead of guessing.”
Making a living as a farmer isn’t easy. The biggest reason, Abu Muhammad says, is that there’s no fixed market price for crops in Jordan.
“As we’re farming, we don’t know for what price we’ll be able to sell. Many have quit, and most people have started to cultivate various plant species to mitigate the risk. I’m taking a significant risk with all these tons of cucumber. I get along, because I have a contract for getting them pickled. If all my cucumbers were sold in the fresh market, the profit would be uncertain.”
Farming is badly lacking young professionals
The situation in the rest of the world also poses a challenge for Jordan’s farmers. The crops no longer travel to dinner tables around the world like they used to.
“We used to farm a lot to meet the needs in Syria, and through Syria, our products would go to Turkey and from there to Russia. Because of the war in our neighbouring country, the trade route has been closed. Previously we also sold to the Gulf countries, but now they have their own farms,” says Abu Muhammad.
Abu Muhammad says he’s constantly on a razor’s edge due to the fluctuating markets.
“I only have to fail once. If I can’t sell my next crop, I’ll give up farming.”
At worst, the consequences to food production can be dramatic. If one farmer after another quits their profession and the young aren’t drawn to it, Jordan might have to start importing more food in the future. The cucumber farmer has faith in young professionals who otherwise have no work opportunities in the region.
“It’s great that Marayha and other young people are developing agriculture. Everyone wins: the farmers benefit from the innovations and the young get more work opportunities. Marayha has a university degree, and the studies have cost a fortune, and currently he hasn’t got anything else to do for work. It’s up to us farmers to encourage the young to make a living for themselves,” Abu Muhammad ponders.
Marayha says that his education as well as the grant he received improve the financial situation of his family. The young man wishes that with the help of his future income, his hard-working mother could finally get some rest.
“I dream about my future every day. I have already received inquiries from people who could help me sell the device abroad. My dream is to see the device in use specifically in Jordan, so it could benefit the people in my own region.”
The Cool-Ya project is funded by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The project is seeking to attract more youth to the agriculture sector by making it more appealing and interesting for the young people.
Text: Ulriikka Myöhänen Translation: Anne Salomäki Photos: Sherbel Dissi