Category Archives: Kenya

Kenya makes hospital arrests as it probes child trafficking ring

Motorists drive in traffic along a highway as pedestrians walk on the walkways before a curfew, which is a measure to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Nairobi, Kenya May 13, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI, – Kenya said on Wednesday it had arrested three hospital staff in a probe into the theft and sale of babies, accusing some public hospitals and care homes of colluding with organised crime.

Authorities acted after a BBC investigation revealed how Kenyan child trafficking syndicates – from street clinics to a government-run hospital – were stealing babies from vulnerable mothers to be sold for as little as $400.

Kenya’s Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai said three medical officers from a public hospital had been arrested, with a high possibility of more arrests to come.

“During an operation by police to unearth the organized crime, police officers noted with a lot of concern that local public hospitals and children homes within Nairobi are involved,” said Mutyambai in a statement.

“In the course of the investigations and operations, it is unfortunate that it was realised senior medical officers in collusion with the child smugglers are highly involved.”

The arrests were announced two days after the BBC aired its explosive Africa Eye documentary, ‘The Baby Stealers’, alleging a trade in babies that stretched right into Nairobi care system.

The government launched a sweeping investigation on Tuesday, saying it would do its utmost to root out the widespread human trafficking that has long plagued the East African nation.

Officials from the Mama Lucy Kibabki hospital named in the documentary did not reply to calls for comment.

Mutyambai directed county police commanders and other local security agencies across Kenya to “immediately undertake investigations and operations on matters touching on child trafficking” – especially in hospitals and children’s homes.

Kenya is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children who are trafficked into forced labour and sexual slavery, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Once bought or lured, children are forced into domestic work, farming, fishing, herding, street vending and begging. Girls and boys are exploited in prostitution throughout Kenya, including in sex tourism on the coast, it added.

There are no accurate figures on the number of children trafficked in Kenya. However, the 2020 TIP report said the Kenyan government had identified 578 child victims in 2019.

Campaigners say the true number is far higher, noting that victims often do not understand they have been trafficked.

The BBC’S year-long investigation found young children were snatched from homeless women, while illegal street clinics in informal settlements were buying newborns from poor mothers.

An undercover journalist bought an abandoned boy just two weeks after birth from an official working at a government-run hospital. The official used legitimate paperwork to take custody of the child before selling him.

Simon Chelugui, minister for labour and social services, announced the establishment of a multi-agency team to probe the child trafficking syndicate.

“Following this expose, a team of officers and experts from the relevant government agencies has been constituted to exhaustively investigate and take the necessary action,” he told a news conference on Tuesday. “We will do everything possible to get to the bottom of this issue.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20201118130555-w7bf2/

‘In the DNA’: How social entrepreneurs are getting creative in pandemic

Claire Sancelot, the founder of The Hive Bulk Foods, a social enterprise in Malaysia that runs zero waste stores, poses with bubble wrap her firm collected for reuse due to a surge in plastic waste led by the increase in online deliveries over the pandemic. Photo courtesy: Claire Sancelot/The Hive Bulk Foods

KUALA LUMPUR/NAIROBI, – As COVID-19 forces businesses worldwide to reinvent themselves, social entrepreneurs are getting creative to help communities hit hard by the pandemic – from a Ugandan medicine-on-wheels service to upcycled face masks made by vulnerable women in Peru.

While recessions and falling revenue are affecting ethical businesses too, many such companies are proving particularly adept at innovating and finding new opportunities.

“Social innovation is the DNA of social entrepreneurs,” said Vincent Otieno Odhiambo, regional director for Ashoka East Africa, a non-profit working with social enterprises – businesses aiming to do good while making a profit.

“They are accustomed to tackling complex social problems and therefore design innovative solutions that create better conditions of life,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation to mark Social Enterprise Day on Thursday.

Started by Social Enterprise UK, the sector’s trade body in Britain, and held annually on the third Thursday of November, the day aims to highlight the sector’s global impact. The campaign has since expanded to other parts of the world.

With the pandemic taking a heavy toll on vulnerable communities around the world, companies with a social focus are even encouraging some traditional businesses to have a rethink.

“We have seen them tackle perennial challenges ranging from access to healthcare and education, remote working, economic resilience all the way to transparency or fighting fake news,” Otieno Odhiambo said.

‘OUTSIDE THE BOX’

In Asia, social enterprises have turned to making face shields and protective suits for doctors, and linking those who have lost their jobs to careers in sustainable fields.

As movement curbs remain in place across many cities, a surge in online deliveries has led to a mountain of plastic waste, prompting Malaysia’s The Hive Bulk Foods to start collecting discarded packaging for reuse.

The social enterprise, a zero-waste chain selling products from refugees and local organic farmers, said items like bubble wrap quickly filled up its warehouse. It donates the packaging to other businesses so it can be used again.

“We realised everyone on the planet was also ordering online and that online packaging was delivered with an insane amount of plastic waste, often more plastic waste than the goods delivered,” said founder Claire Sancelot.

“We just want to prove that despite the pandemic we can change the business model and move to a more circular economy.”

In Peru’s capital Lima, Valery Zevallos – who founded an ethical fashion brand called Estrafalario that employs poor women, female prisoners and domestic violence survivors – knew she had to adapt as shopping mall sales plunged during lockdown.

She started a new line of handmade face masks made from recycled materials, working with nearly 40 women. So far, they have sold more than 26,000 masks and donated some to community groups and female inmates.

“We had to think out of the box,” said the 30-year-old designer, adding that the company’s online clothes sales have jumped 400% as customers go to its website to buy the masks.

“It’s a win-win. We sell clothes and they earn,” she said.

In Africa, where the pandemic has strained fragile healthcare systems and made it even harder for people to get to medical centres and pharmacies, Uganda’s Kaaro Health started sending its nurses to treat patients at home.

The company, which offers pre-natal check-ups and child immunisations at its solar-powered container clinics, also put its technicians on motorbikes, mounted with refrigerated clinic kits, to collect medical samples and deliver prescriptions.

Across the border in Kenya, CheckUps Medical, which offers remote diagnostic and pharmacy services, has trained motorbike taxi drivers to identify people in need of medication or teleconsultation in remote areas.

‘BUILDING BACK BETTER’

Like other pandemic-hit businesses, social enterprises have struggled financially this year but their swift response could spur big business into more collaborations and a rethink of dominant business models.

“What COVID-19 has shown us is that the massively complicated international supply chains are really fragile when you have a pandemic,” said Tristan Ace, who leads the British Council’s social enterprise programme in Asia.

“One positive outcome that we have seen is corporates starting to incorporate social enterprise in their local areas more, more than just relying on the global supply chains.”

Yet major industry players and governments will have to take the lead – such as changing procurement practices and encouraging more impact investing – as the solutions offered by social enterprises are often small-scale.

“As economies begin to recover, we need to think about the big levers that will support the delivery of positive impact at scale, which should be led by big businesses and governments,” said Louise Aitken from Ākina, a New Zealand consultancy working with social enterprises and corporates.

“This is beyond building back better, it’s actually about building impact into our recovery,” the chief executive said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20201119020545-o3v7v/

Kenya arrests four more after BBC Africa Eye baby stealers exposé

Three senior medical officers were in court on Wednesday

Police in Kenya have arrested four more people for allegedly running a child-trafficking syndicate following a BBC investigation into the theft and sale of babies. 

BBC Africa Eye revealed children were stolen to order from illegal clinics and at a Nairobi public hospital.

Seven people are now in custody in connection with the case including medics and a hospital administrator.

The babies were sold for as little as $400 (£300). 

In the wake of the BBC Africa Eye story, police chief Hillary Mutyambai ordered an investigation into hospitals, as well as children’s homes in the Kenyan capital.

Two hospital administrators, a nurse and a social worker appeared in court on Thursday, adding to the three senior medical officials who were in court on Wednesday.

They have not been formally charged and did not enter pleas.

BBC Africa Eye uncovered a trade in children stolen from vulnerable mothers living on the streets, as well as the existence of illegal clinics dotted around Nairobi, where babies were being sold.

The investigation also revealed alleged corruption at Mama Lucy Kibaki, a public hospital in Nairobi.

Fred Leparan, a clinical social worker at the hospital, is alleged to have facilitated the sale of an abandoned two-week-old baby boy to undercover reporters, later accepting 300,000 shillings ($2,700; £2,000) in cash.

Both Mr Leparan and Mama Lucy Kibaki hospital declined requests to comment on the investigation’s findings.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Kenya’s Labour and Social Protection Minister Simon Chelugui said the culprits would face the “full force of the law”.

Mr Chelugui also acknowledged that improvements to some of Kenya’s child protection services were needed.

His colleague in the Interior Ministry Fred Matiang’i thanked the BBC for exposing the “rot” at Mama Lucy hospital. He added that human and drug trafficking were the biggest challenges Kenyan security was dealing with.

There are no reliable statistics on child trafficking in the East African state, but a non-governmental organisation, Missing Child Kenya, said it had been involved in nearly 600 cases in the past three years.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54986993

Bringing Catholic social teaching to boys recovering from street life

Boys from the Bosco center in Nairobi, which is run by the Salesians, pose with their instructors.

Kartel is from Umoja slum in Nairobi. Another social worker and I found this 4-year old at a garbage dump site, shivering with cold. We took him to the hospital and then looked for his sole caretaker, a 14-year-old brother. They were living alone much of the time, but we later discovered their grandmother, also a street dweller, living in a mabati (an iron-sheet shelter) flooded with water. We could see where they huddled together with goats at night to keep warm. When we suggested that the boys join us, the grandmother was relieved to know Bosco Boys would care for her grandsons.

This is just one story that I have learned since 2017, when I began working as a social worker with boys like these two at Bosco Boys. Right now I volunteer there, as I am studying for my bachelor’s degree in sustainable human development at Tangaza University in Nairobi. The work at Bosco Boys is now part of my practicum requirement.

At the Bosco Boys informal school, I teach art and life skills and serve as counsellor and after-school tutor. This informal setting is a basic preparation for some of the boys to later attend Kuwinda, a primary boarding school. I like the boys and find them friendly and cooperative, and we have grown in mutual understanding and trust. I also find they are unusually responsible in doing their work, except at times when they fall behind in doing homework.

I think their responsibility is a result of having to live on their own and fend for themselves. But the discipline of study is challenging for some because — coming from street life — their listening abilities are not well developed, and they are easily distracted.

One of the methodologies proven successful for rehabilitation at the center is play therapy. The boys spend several hours a day in games. One of my challenges in working with the boys is understanding their slang. It is like another language. I have to ask them to explain what they are saying in ordinary language.

The boys are organized into four group houses, and positive competition is encouraged; they are rewarded for good behavior and completed assignments. Although this system is a way to help them to discipline themselves, as they can keep each other from “messing up,” there are times when informal cliques erupt into fights, even over small issues.

Bosco Boys Langata rehabilitation center was established in 1994 by the Salesian Priests to help boys overcome addictions and behaviors learned on the street. Thirty-two boys ages 5 to 11 are undergoing rehabilitation at the moment, and more than 3,000 have benefited from this center. Some of the boys live at the center, but others are day students. The boys usually stay from one to two years, and a good number of them are successfully rehabilitated.

Most of the boys I work with are from the slums of Kibera (the largest Kenya slum), Mathare (the second largest slum), Rongai and other slums around the country. These very large slums are infamously tough, marked by widespread poverty, unemployment and high crime rates. It is not an easy place for children to grow up, although many do. Education is also limited because school fees are a luxury for most families living there.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/column/bringing-catholic-social-teaching-boys-recovering-street-life

Kenyan recycling firm mixes kitchen waste to boost urban farming

Ted Gachanga and Michael Kanywiria agronomists who co-own Sprout Organic company display samples of vegetables grown in a compost that is sold to urban farmers to grow food in squeezed spaces during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Nairobi, Kenya June 30, 2020. Picture taken June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Edwin Waita

NAIROBI, – Kenyan urban farmer Francis Wachira credits a soil recycling company with keeping him afloat financially during the coronavirus crisis: it helped him to start producing herbs and vegetables on his tiny Nairobi plot.

The locally-owned company, Sprout Organic, mixes animal bone meal, seeds, foliage, dry leaves, twigs and kitchen waste like banana peels, to concoct a composite that is then sold to urban farmers like Wachira to grow food in small spaces.

Wachira, 71, used to make a living by renting out tiny tin shacks he built, but the coronavirus pandemic meant his tenants could no longer pay him.

Now he sells the produce from his plot, such as kale, spinach and herbs, and says he earns around 1,000 shillings ($9.23).

“We are making good money out of this,” he said.

Ted Gachanga, an agronomist who co-owns Sprout, says their product resembles black cotton soil. Worms are usually added to the mixture to help it mature, a process that takes about four weeks.

A 20 kg bag sells at 3,500 shillings. Gachanga said demand had risen by 10% during the pandemic, which has cut incomes and impinged food supply chains.

“People are seeing the need to grow their own produce,” Gachanga said.

Close to 15,000 people in Kenya have been infected by the COVID-19 disease since the first case was reported in mid-March, official data showed. Economic growth has slowed down sharply, with many job losses in sectors like tourism.

Sprout employs three staff, and its owners say that although their technology is not new, they have patented the formula for the composite. They hope to expand production beyond Nairobi to cover other towns.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200724071329-q9hgm/

During pandemic, Nairobi nuns expand their reach

Sister Grace Njau, a member of the Missionary Sisters of Precious Blood, is being helped with food and hygienic items during a June 12, 2020, collection for poor and needy families in Nairobi, Kenya. (CNS/Francis Njuguna)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Normally, the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood feed about 200 children in Nairobi’s informal settlements of Kawangware and Riruta.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the sisters are expanding their reach.

“We are using the telephone contacts of the children to reach these poor and needy families,” Precious Blood Sister Grace Njau told Catholic News Service during a mid-June distribution.

The sisters set up distribution tents outside Amani Rehabilitation Center/Primary School, where the children normally go for breakfast and lunch.

When a name was called out, a parent or guardian would step forward to collect the packaged assorted items, gathered from donors. About 14 families received food that day.

Esther Njeri, a single mother, told CNS upon receiving her share: “I am happy with our sisters … through our children, they have fed the entire family. May the good Lord bless where this has come from.”

Hassan Kariuki Warui, a Muslim and teacher at the school, told CNS the system was designed so “that every ‘grain of wheat’ goes to the intended poor and needy family.”

Kenya’s bishops anticipated that the food needs would be great with the lockdown. In late May, they predicted the pandemic would hit the nation’s most vulnerable people the hardest, including the 2.5 million people living in informal settlements.

They asked for donations of money, food and nonfood items “to support and save the lives of the affected population. In-kind donations (dry food and nonfood items) can be channeled through our parishes, diocesan and national offices and other church institutions,” the bishops said.

By June 29, Kenya had reported more than 6,000 cases of COVID-19, but fewer than 150 deaths.

“We hope we shall go back to our system of feeding these families via their children in our rehab center and primary school when the current coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown finally come to an end,” Njau said as she helped coordinate the distribution.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/coronavirus/during-pandemic-nairobi-nuns-expand-their-reach

A look at a home for the elderly in Kenya during pandemic

An elderly man washes his hands with soap to protect against coronavirus infection at the Cheshire Home for the Elderly located in the Kariobangi slum outside of Nairobi, Kenya. (Doreen Ajiambo)

Phylis Nyambura sits on a plastic chair, pensive and alone in the shade of a tree at Cheshire Home for the Elderly in the Kariobangi slum northeast of Nairobi. With an effortless click, Nyambura shoots a jet of saliva through the gap between her two front teeth, before she begins to lament how her social life has changed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I’m told it’s a bad disease that kills old people in minutes,” the 80-year-old said in Kikuyu, her native language. “Everyone here is avoiding me. They cannot even allow me to see my daughter and grandson when they come to visit me here. My life has completely changed.”

Nyambura, who arrived at the home four years ago, suffers from dementia (loss of cognitive functioning)  and behavioral disabilities to such an extent that it interferes with her daily life and activities.

She has been experiencing increased feelings of confusion, paranoia and delusion during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in 2,862 cases, 85 deaths and 849 recoveries, as of June 9 in Kenya, according to Worldometers, a reference website that provides counters and real-time statistics for diverse topics.

“I don’t know what’s happening nowadays,” said Nyambura, gasping for breath as she struggles to lean on the chair. “We are told to wash our hands all the time, even when we are not eating. I feel very bad, isolated and confused.”

The home, run by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters for Africa, used to be a hive of activity. More than 300 men and women of advanced age would meet their relatives and lifelong friends every day. They would share meals and pray together.

But the place is now empty since Kenya has adopted strict measures to counter the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. The government has suspended travel in and out of the country, banned religious and social gatherings, and imposed a nationwide curfew between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.

In the countrywide fight against the pandemic, the sisters have rolled out a series of strict measures and supportive human services to safeguard the elderly from the virus.

This is because the new disease presents specific risks for older people. Preliminary research from the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, based on more than 44,000 cases of COVID-19, showed a mortality rate of 2.3% for the general population, rising to 8% in those aged 70 to 79 and nearly 15% in those 80 and over.

“Strict isolation is the only way to protect these elderly men and women,” said Sr. Lydia D’sa, who is the administrator of the home. “We have already made changes to provide for social distancing. We told them they could not watch television inside the hall because of space, so they usually watch from outside. Prayers are done outside as well for the sake of distancing.”

The home was built in 1980 with the help of HelpAge International to cater for the destitute and homeless elderly members of society. In recent years, however, the home has come under pressure from those who have families but want to be admitted.

Currently, the home is a permanent residence for 40 elderly men and women and has a day care program for about 300 people from the neighboring slum areas, mostly suffering from leprosy, post-polio paralysis and blindness. It provides a two-pronged care program: Those who are weak and feeble who require nursing care reside in the home and those who capable of carrying out their daily personal care taking part of the day care program.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/people/look-home-elderly-kenya-during-pandemic

Kenya faces new health risk as floods, mudslide displace thousands

NAIROBI, KENYA — Catholic leaders in Kenya are appealing for humanitarian support in regions where landslides and floods have displaced thousands, as the country battles increasing cases of the coronavirus.

Church sources said the disasters had left a trail of death and destruction in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya regions, while introducing a new twist in the COVID-19 fight.

At least 4,000 have been displaced in the West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties in the Rift Valley in mudslides that have also killed 12 people. In Nyando, part of Kisumu County, an estimated 1,600 people are trapped in villages by floods, according to the sources.

“The parish center, a convent and nearby school are now submerged in water following days of heavy rainfall. The parish priest and nuns had to be evacuated, but the people are still trapped in their homes. They are crying for help. With a canoe, we can evacuate them to safer zones,” Fr. Joachim Omollo, an Apostle of Jesus priest in Kisumu Archdiocese, told Catholic News Service.

“I think all the attention is on COVID-19, but these people need emergency aid. If we don’t act quickly, waterborne disease will soon strike, adding to the burden when the health systems are on the alert over COVID-19,” he said.

The mudslides swept away a main market, a school, a police post and villages. With their homes and houses destroyed, the displaced families have camped in schools and other places on safer grounds.

The government, the Red Cross and churches — including the Catholic Church — have moved to provide some relief, including some food and clothes. County governments are promising to help the displaced people fight COVID-19 by providing water, soap and encouraging social distancing.

Before the landslide, the communities had been observing church and government COVID-19 guidelines, but concerns have emerged that these measures may be difficult to keep, leaving the people exposed to the disease in the new camps.

“We have been discouraging the people from congregating in one place due to the current situation in the country (COVID-19). Many of them have since moved in with relatives,” said Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Eldoret. “We are also there, providing relief to the displaced persons.”

The East African nation’s Catholic bishops and clergy have been urging the people to observe the government’s guidelines. By April 23, Kenya confirmed 320 cases of COVID-19, but the numbers were increasing daily.

 

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/kenya-faces-new-health-risk-floods-mudslide-displace-thousands

Climate change linked to African locust invasion

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Climate change linked to African locust invasion
Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Lemasulani village, Samburu County, Kenya January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129162104-dctmm/

 

Traditional crops puff hopes for climate resilience in Kenya

Screenshot_2020-01-09 Traditional crops puff hopes for climate resilience in Kenya
Workers wash millet to prepare it for popping in Embu, Kenya, September 9, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Wesley Langat

EMBU, Kenya,  Two years ago, Michael Gichangi launched a business he hopes will help his rural community better cope with climate change stresses: making puffed cereal from climate-hardy traditional grains.

Using a $1,000 machine he bought, he pops millet – a drought-tolerant grain, but one not as widely eaten as staple maize – and turns it into a popular snack.

Over the last two years he has sold about $1,500 worth of the popped grain, and is the first in the district to have one of the machines, he said.

“I started popping millet to produce very delicious snacks, by mixing it with groundnuts, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon powder and simsim (sesame) oil”, he said.

The combination has won particular approval from students looking for an after-school snack, he said, and is now sold at the local Embu market.

As many households in sub-Saharan Afria struggle with poverty and food insecurity, climate change is hitting harvests and making life even harder.

But finding new markets for hardy grains that can better stand up to extreme weather and changing pests, and produce a reliable harvest, can help, agricultural scientists say.

Gichangi’s effort began when he joined a women-led agribusiness group in his village and started buying and selling traditional cereals such as millet, sorghum and green gram, all more drought-resilient alternatives to maize.

Previously, maize dominated farming in the area – but that dominance is gradually declining as weather extremes linked to climate change make getting a harvest more difficult, he and others said.

Patrick Maundu, an ethnobotanist at the National Museums of Kenya and an honorary fellow with Bioversity International, an organisation that promotes agricultural biodiversity, said millet is a traditional Kenyan crop – just one that, over the years, lost ground to maize.

The change came as a result of the intense promotion of maize production by governments, research groups and multinational companies selling products in Africa, he said.

“Millet is well adapted to dry parts of Africa but has been neglected because of … key policies focused on maize, taking over indigenous cereals,” he said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But in the recent years, wilder weather linked to climate change and the high cost of farm inputs – which farmers can struggle to pay if harvests fail – has made maize farming less reliable, particularly for small-scale farmers like those in Embu, Maundu said.

That has pushed many farmers to diversify back into drought-resistant traditional crops.

The amount of farm acreage planted with maize in Kenya has fallen by about a quarter in recent years, according to data from Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Still, finding a ready market for crops like millet – and getting people to resume eating them – can be a challenge.

Gichangi, an entrepreneur and millet farmer, said he realised that the key to making the new crops pay was adding value to what was harvested – hence the popping machine.

MORE JOBS, MORE RESILIENCE?

The puffed millet, besides being tasty, has boosted employment opportunities in Embu and helped reduce food waste because it can be stored longer, he said.

Stella Gathaka 30, who formerly worked as a food vendor, is now one of four workers at Gichangi’s small factory.

She said that, besides earning a salary, her new job allows her children to eat the millet snacks, which are more nutritious than their previous snack of sweet wheat biscuits.

These days, “I’m very knowledgeable on the importance of millet as a nutritious crop,” she said.

Daniel Kirori, operations director at DK Engineering Ltd., which assembles the popping machines, said his company had sold about 15 of them so far to women’s groups and other entrepreneurs around Kenya.

According to a 2017 United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition, climate change pressures, from worsening droughts to floods, heatwaves and storms, are a key reason about 800 million people still lack access to enough food.

Liz Young, a senior researcher with the International Food Policy Research Institute noted in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that Africa’s farmers urgently need help to adapt to the threats and grow enough to feed the continent’s rising population.

Producing more millet and other traditional hardy crops, and finding ways to process them to produce more income, is one way of doing that, Young said.

Emily Wawira, a small-scale millet farmer in Embu who sells her produce to Gichangi, said she sells 10 to 20 sacks of grain each year, each weighing 90 kilos, and earns $25 to $30 per sack.

That income “is enough to pay school fees,” she said – and an improvement on her former loss-making maize farming.

Gichangi’s millet snacks are slowly gaining ground on traditional favourites such as sugary wheat biscuits, his sales team said.

“It wasn’t easy popularising the products,” admitted Lucy Njeru, one of Gichangi’s saleswomen – though free samples helped.

Now, however, Gichangi has partnered with four local schools and an agricultural show to offer his healthier snacks.

Anthony Sawaya, Embu County’s director of trade and chief executive of the county Investment and Development Corporation, said his office is keen to help innovators like Gichangi access markets.

The county government, for instance, is promoting local foods at nearby and international trade fair exhibitions, he said.