Building resilience through good governance in community groups

‘I have a passion for helping people who aren’t very empowered to accept that they can change their situation for the better. This is why I’m using my livestock production skills to build resilient communities.’

These resounding words are by Salome Nyaga, an alumna of the Australia Awards. While Salome’s personality is soft-spoken and relaxed, her professional passion and conviction for working with organised groups to promote sustainable community initiatives is forthright.

Salome, a trained animal production officer, graduated with a Master of Community Development from La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. After completing her Australia Awards studies, Salome returned to Kenya and has spent the last nine years relentlessly supporting a livestock production project to build the capacity of people with disability in one of the locations in the expansive Tharaka Nithi county. The project aims to reduce rural poverty in the Upper Tana River catchment through sustainable food production and by increasing incomes for poor rural households.

Agriculture is the main economic activity in Tharaka Nithi. The county is made up of 80 per cent arable land, with the industry mainly comprising tea, green grams, sorghum, coffee, bananas and mangoes. Goat-rearing is becoming a strategic and lucrative way to improve the standard of living in households.

‘Goats have a low mortality rate and are resistant to diseases and adverse weather,’ says Salome. ‘They are an affordable source of protein and income for smallholder farmers. The benefits of owning and raising goats are enormous.’

To seize opportunities around these benefits, Salome helped 20 households in the community to form a common interest group—Rubate Warriors—that is focused on livestock rearing. The group brings together households affected by various disabilities including mental health, visual impairment and chronic diseases like diabetes.

At the beginning of the project, each household was given a goat which provided nutritious milk protein for the household. On average, each goat produces four litres of milk a day, with surplus milk being sold to make money. The income was in turn used to buy medication for those with disability, reducing their financial, mental and physical dependence on their families. When a goat gave birth, the kid was given to another community member and the cycle repeated until all members involved had a chance to breed goats.

The success of the initiative is largely attributed to Salome’s extensive experience and the knowledge she built while studying in Australia. She has also capitalised on the eagerness by the livestock farmers to learn and grow through the initiative and received immense support from a committed pool of livestock extension officers. The livestock extension officers help provide technical input in modern breeding and health promotion techniques as well as support the group to develop clear dairy production plans.

While in Australia, Salome gained exposure to important development issues, including community development, food security, land-use planning and environmental and social policy. She learned advanced research skills as well as negotiation and community consultation skills that she continually applies in Kenya in managing and delivering the livestock production project.

Salome returned home at a time when Kenya had devolved power and resources to county level after the new Constitution (2010) was enacted. She retains her Principal Livestock Production Officer status under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, but was deployed to Tharaka Nithi County as a Deputy to the County Director on Livestock Production.

As Deputy, Salome coordinates the distribution of livestock production information, manages administration and prepares work plans and budgets for county livestock projects.

A highlight of her career was mentoring a colleague who successfully completed a Masters of Agribusiness under the Australia Awards. Benedict Okwako and Salome form a formidable team driving agricultural entrepreneurship in the county.

Salome’s determination to invest time and energy to grow the Rubate Warriors group will help many more people with disability respond to some of the significant challenges they face, including living under extreme poverty, high unemployment rate and poor provision of education and health services.

Photo: Salome Nyaga has helped 20 households with livestock rearing in Tharaka Nithi county.

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