In Kakuma, Turkana County Northern Kenya, the cruel sun beats down on the dry-arid land, not even a wisp of a cloud can be seen on the blue sky.
Turkana County has one of the harshest climate conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, with dry periods getting longer, rainfall patterns changing and water is scarce. Temperatures sometimes reach 50 degrees.
The heat is so immense that after a few hours of staying in the sun, one feels as if their tongue is coated in fur and lips dry, broken and cracked.
Most of the people living here are nomadic pastoralists who only keep livestock and move from place to place in search of pasture and water for their animals.
They heavily depend on food-aid due to the persistent drought that affects the area. Earlier this year, scores of people were reported to have starved to death in both Baringo and Turkana County.
If it wasn’t for the oases that create verdant spots all over the place, no humans would dare live in these vast lands of burning sand, where almost nothing grows.
But surprisingly, an area in this desert is now filled with a variety of green vegetables, such as Spinach, cabbages, tomatoes, Kales, and Pumpkins among others.
Some innovative refugees at the Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County are turning the desert green by following birds and bees to dry water beds where they dig through and use pipes to water their gardens.
Kakuma hosts about 190,000 displaced persons and refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), among others.
Most of the refugees engaged in farming, are from countries were agriculture is common, such as Ethiopia, Burundi, and DRC.
Msajimana Posuberi, 49, from DRC is one the farmers. He told Anadolu Agency that they employed archaic farming methods to track water in the desert.
He says they follow bees and birds in the desert until they find dry water wells. “Where there are bees and birds, there is water. We have always followed birds and bees… back home this is how we tracked water. Birds and bees always live near water areas,” he said.
When they find underground rivers and water passages mainly next to dry rivers, they dig wells in these areas.
Once they find water, they use pipes connected to a pedal pump which they connect pipes to their farms and make small holes to utilize drip irrigation system.
“We are careful only to water the plants early before the sun comes up and late after the sun sets to limit evaporation like right now it’s around 6:30 pm local time (15:30 GMT), this way we limit the evaporation rates and our plants don’t dry,” he said, adding, “this is how we fight the desert climate.”
Posuberi points at a section of the pipe where drops of water are leaking on the ground, the drops fall on the surface before being sucked into the soil.
He stands up with his pants soaked with wet mad. He tilts his head away from the light of the setting sun and points to a section where Kales are growing. The sight is amazing, hidden deep inside the desert are green hectares of crops.
These farmers have reclaimed land from the desert for farming and grow trees to ensure the climate of the region changes.
“You see we also grow trees because our motive is to change the climate of this place, where there are trees there always will be water.”
“Back in my country, we have farms and plenty of rain. Our weather and the climate is very good compared to this place, back home farming is easy because our seasons are better than here in the desert,” he said.
Posuberi says from farming he has been able to supplement his food rations in addition to what he gets from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with fresh vegetables.
He also sells his produce to the host communities and is able to get school fees for his children.
Another refugee, Kizimana Felicity from Burundi also says farming has changed her live at Kakuma refugee camp.
“When I got to Kakuma refugee camp things were bad, I suffered a lot. Food was very scarce, and being a farmer, I went in search of a place to farm and that led me here,” she joyfully said.
'Refugees are a positive reflection to this environment'
“I used to hate vegetables, maybe because we didn’t have them, but here at the Kakuma market refugees sell us vegetables, they are nutritious and tasty,” Lomaruk El-Nyoroike a pastoralist and part-time tailor from Kenya’s Turkana community told Anadolu Agency.
“I have visited their farms, and I was shocked that anything can grow in this land, we have learned a lot from them,” he said.
Edith Imbolokonye Ingutia, the UNHCR Livelihoods officer for Kakuma Refugee camp told Anadolu Agency that refugees are a blessing to Turkana County and are gradually changing the environment.
“Refugees are a positive reflection to this environment. We have now been able to see that we can reclaim land. The host community can have food for their animals, food for their own consumption and also food for sale” she said.
She said UNHCR is also supporting the refugees by growing 180 hectares of sorghum in Kakuma with 3,300 household garden kitchens in a partnership with World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization./aa