Water: The Milk of Life

Originally published on November 13, 2014.

In Kenya’s parched Eastern Province, where nearly every resident makes his or her living off the land, the country’s persistent droughts have regularly destroyed crops, killed residents’ livestock, and confounded efforts to lead prosperous lives.

The dearth of water is particularly acute for women, who are typically responsible for fetching water every day. The lucky few have donkeys to assist them. But most women make the long journey several times a day on foot, carrying on their heads or backs the heavy jerry cans filled with the precious water their families need for washing, cooking and feeding their animals.

It’s truly a godsend to know that I can come here and collect the water I need much closer to home. Now I’m able to spend my time feeding my two cows, caring for my kids, and even doing a few things for myself from time to time

Justine (KFP Client)

“I even threatened to divorce my husband at one point, because I felt I was spending my entire life doing nothing but gathering water. Because I couldn’t carry enough for everyone’s needs, I often had to go days unable to wash myself,” recalled Justine, a woman whose life has changed through the construction of new water access points in the village of Mweleki.

Mweleki is one of the 118 new communal water projects organized through the Kenya Food for Progress (KFP) program, funded by USDA. Although KFP’s overall goal is to help smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods through dairy development, the program is also helping residents surmount drought – and even prosper during the dry season – by harnessing limited water resources.

By teaching residents to conserve rainwater through catchments affixed to their roofs, and helping to establish managed water distribution points, life has changed for Justine and the approximately 16,500 people these water conservation programs are reaching.

Although the community began preparations to dig a borehole back in 1997, it wasn’t until 2007 that one was finally established with limited local resources. But even with the borehole, the government and residents were unsure of how to create a self-sustaining water system that could be easily maintained when repairs were needed.

A woman at a water point in Mwekeki prepares to carry water back to her family
Land O’Lakes assisted with carrying out a geological survey, providing piping to connect the Mweleki borehole with several water kiosks, and establishing its management committee. Residents now pay two shillings (about two cents) for each jerry can they fill with water, and these funds are used to cover maintenance costs and to pay the four people who have now found work managing the kiosks.

There have been many other positive impacts for the community beyond easier access to water. Local children, who often assist their mothers fetching water, are able to spend more time in school. Meanwhile, their cattle experience less stress, since they no longer have to walk long distances to watering points. As a result, they are feeding better and producing more milk.

“It’s truly a godsend to know that I can come here and collect the water I need much closer to home,” Justine explained with a grin. “Now I’m able to spend my time feeding my two cows, caring for my kids, and even doing a few things for myself from time to time.”

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