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Cows help women fight COVID-19 setbacks

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By Michelle Dibo

When she received a cow under the One Cow Initiative, Linet Wangila, from Eshisiru Centre in Lurambi Constituency in Kakamega County, Kenya, did not expect that the same cow would offer her a life-line when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Like Wangila, residents of Kakamega were introduced to the programme through their county government. The initiative involves a dairy cow being given to each household to increase milk production and serve as a source of income.

Wangila got her cow three years back. “The cow has had two healthy calves so far. She has really helped me as I am able to milk her and sell the milk to get money for my daily use,” she says.

Cow dung manure

This is not all. She uses the cow dung as manure for her farm. “The manure is good for my farm in which I plant vegetables that we eat at home and also sell the excess,” she adds.

The fact that she can get fresh vegetables straight from her farm makes it easier to feed her family. “I know several people are having difficulties getting good nutrition due to the complications of the pandemic. But for us it is easier because of the farm,” she says.

A representative from the county Ministry of Agriculture visits a farmer who received a cow in the programme. Photo/Michelle Dibo

The pandemic destabilised the global economy, extending effects to rural Kenya, where most of those who lost jobs retired to.

“My eldest daughter was working in Nairobi but she lost her job. She came back home to reorganise her life. Being our breadwinner, we all panicked when she came home. However, because of this cow, we do not sleep hungry,” says Wangila.

The family sells one cup of milk at Sh20. From the 20 cups they sell daily, mainly to their neighbours, they earn Sh400 per day, most of which they save.

“Since we have the farm, we already have vegetables; so most of the money is actually saved, and some is used to buy school books, medicine and other foodstuff that we do not have on the farm,” she says.

A snapshot

Wangila’s story is a snapshot of the experience of many inhabitants of Eshisiru Centre.

“Very many women farmers in the area received cows a few years back. Today, they are enjoying quality milk with their families, and also selling the surplus,” says Edwin Sifuna, a resident.

He adds: “Although we have all felt the harshness of COVID-19 on the economy, the cows have made it possible for us to put food on the table every day.

In the neighbouring Khwisero Constituency, the story is the same. “As a stay at home mother, I was not able to cater for some basic needs of my children. Now that I have a cow, and I recently started selling milk, I am able to buy text books for my children,” says Margaret Wesonga, a resident of Khwisero.

However, several beneficiaries of the project sold their cows. They were arrested as this is against the spirit of the initiative, which requires that when the animals calve, one calf is donated to another beneficiary within the same Ward.

“If anything, COVID-19 has proved that the project’s approach is sustainable, and has reduced overreliance on sugarcane farming, which is rampant in the area. The One Cow Initiative has diversified the region’s agricultural efforts,” says Linus Njuki, an agricultural specialist in Kakamega County.

To further help the community, the county has been offering artificial insemination services at a subsidised rate, to ensure that the livestock population in the county is not only strong and healthy but also resilient to current climate changes.

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