Whether they be mashed, baked, or french-fried, potatoes are the unsung hero of many a meal, a versatile delight that brings joy to tables worldwide. In Turkana County, Kenya, the potato's adaptability mirrors that of its farmers. Meet Godfrey, a farmer who, with a little help, mastered potato farming and saw his community thrive.

Imagine a place where the sun blazes relentlessly and water is a precious, rare commodity. From 2020 to 2023, Turkana County in Kenya faced its harshest drought in 40 years. Even the much-anticipated short rains couldn't bring enough relief, and recovery from the drought was projected to take years.  

A group of people surveying a field
Godfrey Aeumun, his team, and Concern staff members survey the farm. Photo: Charles Ekalale/Concern Worldwide

As the drought dragged on, River Turkwel (a permanent river that had been a lifeline for the Nadoto irrigation scheme) saw its water levels drop alarmingly. For hundreds of families  in the community, this was a disaster waiting to happen. Most are either pastoralists or agro-pastoralists (dependent on livestock rearing and/or crop cultivation.) It was at this point that Concern decided to partner with the community to help build resilience against the backdrop of the devastating drought.

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Meet Godfrey Aemun

Man standing in a field
Godfrey Aumen stands proudly in a field on his 2 acre farm. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Godfrey Aemun, a 46-year-old farmer, lives in Nadoto with his family. His eldest daughter, 18-year-old Achwaa, is training to be a teacher, while his youngest, three-year-old MacDonald, already shows signs of following in his father’s farming footsteps. 

‘’Though formal education is not always highly regarded in a pastoralist lifestyle,” Godfrey explains, “I schooled my children because I want them to be educated and have good life in future so that they can support themselves, myself, my family and the community we come from. My last born sometimes he tries to pick the fork shovel in an attempt to follow me to the farm. I hope that both my last born and my first-born daughter continue pursuing education so they can succeed and better their lives to become role models in Nadoto village.‘’

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Getting to the root of the issue

Concern has a track record of promoting potato production around the world (after all, we do have Irish DNA) and that includes sweet potatoes. Technically a root vegetable and not a tuber, we firmly believe the sweet potato qualifies as an honorary member of the mighty spud family, due to its many special properties.  

A large collection of sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes harvested from Godfrey’s farm. Photo: Charles Ekalale/Concern Worldwide

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSPs) are without a doubt the cream of the crop. OFSPs are not only delicious, but also rich in immune-boosting carotenoids, making them an important bulwark against infectious diseases. In 2023, Godfrey embraced the challenge of orange-fleshed sweet potato farming. With support from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), he received initial vine stocks and quickly saw the potential. By mastering vine multiplication (a technique where the most desirable plants are used to propagate the new), Godfrey was able to expand his crop sustainably. 

But then, the drought hit hard. River Turkwel’s water levels plummeted, and the irrigation canals silted up, blocking the already scarce water supply. Desperate farmers, including Godfrey, resorted to transporting water from boreholes on motorbikes, an expensive and unsustainable solution. 

From struggles to sweet success

When the situation seemed dire, Concern Worldwide, supported by the Centre for Disaster Philanthropy, stepped in. Through a cash-for-work program, the community united to desilt the canals, allowing precious water to flow once more. This initiative not only restored water access but also empowered the community by providing paid work. Godfrey took an active role, inspiring other farmers to cultivate OFSP and other crops. Concern Worldwide provided essential farm inputs, tools, and seeds, enabling farmers to optimize their production. 

Farmers harvesting sweet potatoes.
Godfrey and his team harvesting sweet potatoes from his 2 acre farm. Photo: Charles Ekalale/Concern Worldwide

A brighter future

With the support of Concern Worldwide, Godfrey’s efforts bore fruit. He was contracted to supply 480 bags of OFSP vines, earning enough to pay for his children’s education, construct a modern toilet, set up a retail shop for his wife, restock livestock, and even buy a smartphone. 

"I have started saving some money from my OFSP and other produce," Godfrey shares. "I have started paying my children’s fees in excess to cover worst times in future in case my income is affected. I have also started expanding my farmland so that I produce more food that can also be kept in store for future use. " 

A man ties up sacks of freshly harvested sweet potato vines, ready for market.
Godfrey ties up sacks of freshly harvested sweet potato vines, ready for market. Photo: Concern Worldwide

Thanks to these collective efforts, the community in Nadoto is rebuilding its resilience. With access to tools, seeds, and knowledge, they are better equipped to face future challenges and thrive once more. 

Join us in supporting communities like Nadato

At Concern Worldwide, we believe in the power of community and resilience. Help us continue making a difference in places like Nadoto. Together, we can turn the tide against drought and hunger. 

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