The mothers of Kenya living in the face of a food crisis, Covid-19 and climate change
Covid-19 cost people their livelihoods. Now, people in Kenya are facing the worst food crisis seen in 40 years. It's a race against the clock, and the Red Cross will never stop supporting communities in Africa. But we cannot do it alone.
Last updated 4 August 2023
The impact of Covid-19 has been felt by everyone around the world. But for some people, the effects have been life changing.
The pandemic caused a catastrophic global economic fallout. The World Bank estimates that 97 million people fell into extreme poverty in the first year, with levels increasing for the first time since 1999.
In places like Kenya, these devastating ripples, along with the escalating conflict in Ukraine and a surge in global food prices, have paved the way for one of the worst hunger crises in decades.
Kenya is also reeling from the worst drought in nearly 40 years - caused by climate change - and the situation is becoming catastrophic.
Dr Asha Mohammed, secretary general of the Kenya Red Cross, says:
We have been sounding the alarm for some time, in Kenya. We are facing the worst drought in 40 years. Crop production has decreased by a staggering 70%, and 4 million people don't have enough food to eat.
The Kenya Red Cross has been supporting communities through the Covid-19 pandemic, and it won't stop now.
As part of its drought response it has reached more than 520,000 people, and is working to reach 500,000 more people experiencing extreme hunger in Kenya. Please help them continue their vital work. Every hour matters.
Supporting communities through Covid-19
The Kenya Red Cross, supported by Red Cross societies around the world, including the British Red Cross, has long provided vital support in Kenya.
Last year, funds from the British Red Cross' International Relief Fund, supported families affected by poverty and climate change around the world. In Kenya, cash grants helped new and expectant mothers, and other strong women in the community, get back on their feet after the pandemic.
Agnes is a mother of one from Kenya who became the main breadwinner in her family after her husband Jeremiah was injured in a work accident and couldn’t find a new job due to Covid-19.
“My husband used to provide for us with his job on security patrol on a ranch,” said Agnes. “He was coming home from work one morning when a buffalo chased him. We had to resort to asking for help because his arm had been incapacitated and he couldn’t work. That is when God brought us the Red Cross programme.”
Agnes was supported through the Kenyan Red Cross’s cash for health emergency project, which was sponsored by the British Red Cross, and supported new and expectant mothers. She received 2,034 shillings a month (about £13.46) over a 10-month period, choosing to save up and put the money towards her own business.
“I kept saving and I was able to buy three goats,” she said. “It even helped me with my child when he got sick – I was able to go to the clinic, buy him fruit and nourishing meals.”
Empowering new mothers
Agnes, who runs the business with Jeremiah, was just one of the 915 expectant and new mothers that financial support from the Kenyan Red Cross has reached.
“I am a farmer, a livestock keeper and a businesswoman,” said Agnes. “My business entails selling fruits and vegetables and I also farm maize and beans. As for livestock, I keep cows, goats and chickens.”
Being able to start her own business changed Agnes’s life.
“I used to sleep hungry,” she said. “After giving birth I came back and had to eat raw beans, becoming weaker and weaker. But then the Red Cross came and empowered me. I was taught that a woman should be self-reliant. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Coping with climate related disasters
As well as the health and economic impacts of Covid-19, some areas of Kenya have been, and continue to be, seriously affected by climate change.
“The kind of rains that we get are not like they were previously,” explained Evelyn, a project officer for the Kenyan Red Cross. “Farmers are not able to do the farming, or get enough produce. When it does rain it gets really flooded in this area, and people can’t access important amenities like hospitals because the infrastructure gets destroyed.”
This makes initiatives like cash assistance programmes even more vital.
“This kind of initiative has transformed the lives of not only the 915 women that we supported, but the five or seven members of their households too." said Evelyn.
Jemimah, a mother of two, started her farming business with help from a Red Cross cash grant. When she and her husband lost their jobs due to Covid-19, the family lost all their means of income.
After being selected to be supported for cash assistance by the Red Cross, Jemimah started saving.
“I decided to build my chicken coop, and started by buying five chickens,” said Jemimah. “They laid eggs that gave me 65 chicks.”
Jemimah now raises ducks and rabbits as well as chickens, and has bought seeds to plant crops like spinach, kale and okra. She has also been able to take her children for check-ups at a health clinic, and to introduce them to a more balanced diet than she was able to afford before.
“My life is different from how it used to be – now, when I want to take my child to the clinic, I can get transport money by selling vegetables or chicken,” said Jemimah.
Jemimah has big plans for her business, and hopes to diversify in the future.
“My desire is to have a water pump so that I can grow high value crops – like watermelons and peppers – that I can transport and sell,” she said. “I’d also like to buy an incubator so that I’m able to sell the chicks.”
Evelyn says that the women she worked with through the Red Cross have also inspired her to keep going.
“Seeing women like Agnes and Jemimah come up with their own income-generating activities gives me a lot of motivation to continue working and supporting the community,” said Evelyn.
“It gives you fulfilment and satisfaction that what you are doing is not in vain and the changes that we supported makes me feel immensely proud.”
Kenya and the Africa Food Crisis
As Agnes, Jemimah and Evelyn show, people in these communities are brave and resilient. But after back-to-back crises, their fortitude is fading. Across parts of Africa, 146 million people are now facing extreme levels of hunger.
We will not stop supporting communities in Africa. Please help support our vital work.
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