Mercy Njuthe is a smallholder farmer in Makima, Kenya. In five years, Mercy has gone from having to send her children to bed hungry, to being the proud owner of a flourishing farm, on which she grows a wide array of fruit and vegetables: papaya, mango and passionfruit, sorghum, maize and chilli. Mercy has established a farm resilient to climate change, and is passionate about other women becoming as resilient as her.
Mercy Njuthe is a farmer, in the hills of Makima, in eastern Kenya. The long, winding road to Mercy's farm is rough and bumpy. Her farm sits on a hillside, overlooking great green plains below, through which a river cuts.
Above Mercy’s farm is the rocky, brown peak of the hill. The land appears lifeless. It is hard to believe anything would grow there. But then Mercy points to it and says, "My land used to look like that."
It seems impossible as Mercy stands at the centre of her small, flourishing green farm, surrounded by papaya trees, passionfruit, mangoes, spinach, sorghum, maize and chilli. Everywhere, food bursts from the ground.
When she speaks about her farm and looks around at it, her eyes light up and her face shines with the excitement of a young girl. Mercy doesn’t know how old she is, but thinks she is about 40. She has seven children, and one grandchild.
"A lot has changed, she says, as she describes the journey she has been on since 2011, before she joined a farmers’ group supported by ActionAid, where she learnt about sustainable and climate-resilient farming methods to improve her returns on her crops.
Back then, the only access to water that Mercy had was the river, which lies kilometres in the distance.
"Before I had no water, Mercy says. "It took me three hours to fetch 20 litres of water. The situation was very bad. I often had to send the children to sleep hungry as I had no water to cook the food. I felt so bad that my children went to sleep hungry."
Mercy says that the training, and the support of the other farmers in the group, changed her life.
"I decided then to build a dam. My husband and son helped to dig it along with my group members, and ActionAid supported me by providing a dam liner."
Being able to fetch water easily has meant that Mercy no longer spends her time hauling water back to the house—that means more time she can spend tending to her crops. There is always enough water for her crops, to wash clothes and to cook food.
Mercy’s farm is more productive than ever, and with the extra income from selling her yields she has bought a sheep and two bulls and a donkey to help her with heavy farm work.
She is more resilient than ever. When her family’s house fell down earlier this year, she was able to afford to build a new one – with two bedrooms, rather than one.
Mercy is not scared of climate change and the impact it may have on growing food, and accessing water. Her dam captures water between rainy seasons, and allows her to save it for when the land is dry. She has learnt to plant a diverse range of crops to guard against crop failure.
"I am strong, says Mercy. Mercy tells us about the importance of having land and that all women should be supported to farm. It is women who are the role models, she says. If women are supported to farm, they too, can become leaders like her.
"I have confidence. I am appreciating myself as a woman."