Mary Lomuria Alarilho is a smallholder farmer in Isiolo, Kenya. She is the leader of a farmers' collective, established with ActionAid’s support. Together, the farmers have established a village savings and loan scheme that has meant, for the first time, Mary has been able to invest in the land she farms, which she inherited from her father. She now grows onions, spinach and tomatoes, which she sells at the market.
Mary Lumuria Alarilho is an energetic, vibrant woman who spends her days farming three acres of land that she inherited from her father when he passed a number of years ago. Her land is ten minutes from Isiolo – a town in eastern Kenya, six hours’ drive from Nairobi. The climate here is harsh – a hot, unrelenting sun beats down on dry, bare land - victim of the drought that has afflicted the region for as long as anybody can remember.
Against a brown backdrop, Mary’s farm appears like a vibrant green mirage— her tall maize plants sprouting from deep, rich soil.
At 37, Mary has overcome some of life’s greatest adversities - drought being but one.
A mother of six, Mary feeds her children and pays for their education. She sells her produce, and employs people to help her on the farm. But it wasn’t always that way.
"I was married, she says. "I was a victim of domestic violence for a long time. My husband was drunk and lazy. Before I knew how to farm, I used to burn charcoal for some small money. He didn’t work – he didn’t support me at all. He argued that he had already paid a bride price for me, so it was up to me to support the family."
It was during this time that Mary joined a farmers’ group supported by ActionAid. Together, the group undertook agricultural training. Each farmer was provided with seeds for crops like tomato and spinach, and the group was provided with a water pump, to irrigate the common garden, which they nurture together.
With a little support from the group, Mary thrived. She started selling spinach and tomato, and bought onion seed with the profit. She planted onions on her farm, which then, was like much of the landscape – brown and barren. But eventually, the onions began to grow. Mary spent hours in the fields, tending to them lovingly, eventually growing more and more.
"When I started to make money, he would come out while I was in the farm and beat me, and claim that I had been cheating, and that was why I had money – from sex work."
The violence got worse. Mary took to sleeping outside the house with her children to avoid beatings at night, until one day, her husband attacked her with a knife. She moved home to her parents' house and reported him to the village chief and elders. They counselled him to stop beating her, but he was only taken into custody when he was caught stealing goats from another farmer.
Now, Mary farms her land freely, and her onion business has taken off. With the money she has made from selling her onions at market, Mary has bought cows and goats. She grows spinach, which she sells to women who come by the farm and take it to market.
She is now the leader of the Kitos farming group, who have successfully lobbied their county government for support—funding for tomato seed and training.
Mary’s land has changed her life. It is the cornerstone of her livelihood, and her independence. It stopped her from being afraid.
"Back then, I didn’t consider myself worthy", she says. "My farm gave me the confidence to move on with life.