Diversification helps communities to tackle malnutrition and beat the drought in Kenya

By Martin Muluka, emergency communication specialist.

One-year old Dara is weak but recovering from the effects of malnutrition, which have been exacerbated by the ongoing drought in Kenya.  

He was identified and referred to a local dispensary by a community health volunteer trained by World Vision on child health and nutrition interventions in Tana River County.

Marwan weighs babies
Marwan (left) was touched by the suffering of children in his community. He decided to become a community health volunteer to make a difference. He visits homes and refers children with acute cases of malnutrition to health facilities.©World Vision photo/Martin Muluka.


“I didn’t know much about malnutrition until I was visited by a community health volunteer at home.  She examined the baby and took me to Sera dispensary. The nurses gave my baby nutrition supplements and trained me on how to feed him well. My baby now enjoys the food that I prepare for him so much and is doing well. Every week, I come to the dispensary to learn about good child nutrition practices,” says Hawo, baby Dara’s mother.

Malnutrition is among the major devastating impacts of the drought that has affected communities in most dry areas, categorised as Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs), in Kenya. Those most affected are young children whose health and optimal development are deteriorating as the prevailing food and water shortage continue to take a toll on families.

To address this problem, World Vision is rolling out emergency nutrition interventions aimed at tackling this challenge through the support of the USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance. The organisation is working with various hospitals to ensure children with acute malnutrition, which results from either inadequate energy or protein intake, get Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), commonly known as Plumpy Nut.

World Vision distributes ready to use food supplements
World Vision is working with various hospitals to ensure children with acute malnutrition get Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) that treats the condition rapidly.©World Vision photo/Martin Muluka.


This nutrition supplement, recommended by the World Health Organisation, supports rapid weight gain derived from broad nutrient intake, which can alleviate a starving child from impending illness or death.

World Vision has also gone further to build the capacity of community health volunteers, mothers and care givers to identify children suffering from acute malnutrition using the Mid-upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tape.

This is a quick and effective way to determine whether or not a child is malnourished using a simple coloured plastic strip.

khadija, a community health volunteer
World Vision built the capacity of community health volunteers, mothers and care givers  to identify children suffering from acute malnutrition using the Mid-upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) tape.©World Vision photo/Martin Muluka.


“I decided to become a health volunteer because my health is my responsibility. I was also touched by the suffering of children in my community and I really wanted to help. I have been trained by the Ministry of Health and World Vision on how to detect acute malnutrition in children. So, I visit households in my community to identify those affected and urge their mothers to take them to our local dispensary where the children can receive urgent treatment and care,” says Marwan who helped save baby Dara from the acute malnutrition.

Dennis Mramba, the Project Manager for World Vision in Tana River and  says, “We are working with the government to address capacity issues in the management of acute malnutrition. This has helped in improving service delivery for malnutrition cases in children, pregnant and lactating women.”

Caregivers go through intensive training sessions on effective child nutrition to help them raise healthy children who can develop optimally.©World Vision photo/Martin Muluka.


Once children have been treated for acute malnutrition using the RUTF, community health volunteers usually take their mothers or caregivers through intensive training sessions on effective child nutrition.

The women are then linked to mother-to-mother support groups that are supported by World Vision to learn about effective agricultural techniques and get seeds, as well as farm inputs for establishing kitchen gardens and practicing crop farming.

Aside from the food crops grown within their home compounds, the women also join hands to farm collectively in large pieces of land with continuous water supply for irrigation, thanks to World Vision’s massive water projects in dry areas.

collective farming
Mother-to-mother support groups trained by World Vision on effective agricultural techniques are helping communities to practice climate-smart agriculture and boost food security.©World Vision Photo/Martin Muluka.


Ubah who leads one of the mother-to-mother support groups (known as Masalani) in Garissa County, which has also been badly hit by the drought, is among the many beneficiaries of the agricultural projects.

She notes that the training made her and other community members to realise that they had to depart from their normal ways of doing things so as to adapt and cope effectively with the adverse effects of climate change such as prolonged droughts.

Community members in Garissa take part in a climate-smart agriculture training. They are learning how to establish kitchen gardens using sacks filled with soil that can be used to grow crops.©World Vision Photo/Martin Muluka.


As pastoralists, the community previously relied solely on livestock keeping to earn a living. So, whenever drought struck, most animals would die and they would have no source of income to purchase food for their families and children.

As a result of the support from World Vision, they have now embraced crop farming which has diversified their sources of income and food. This has saved their families from starvation and children from the adverse effects of acute malnutrition amidst the ongoing drought.

“My life has changed for the better since we started this group and started farming. I harvest peas, vegetables, bananas and fruits from this farm. My family is well taken care of because of the food we get and also from the money we get from selling the food surplus,” she says.

PEAS Harvest
By practising farming, Ubah (left) lives in harmony with neighbouring communities because she has enough food and fodder for animals during drought.©World Vision Photo/Martin Muluka.


According to Ubah, the mindset change that facilitated their shift from the sole focus on pastoralism to the appreciation of combining crop farming and livestock keeping was a huge milestone.

“The climate has changed, so our lives need to change too. By practicing farming, my family doesn’t have to keep migrating all the time in search of pasture and food. We now have all we need here at home. The irrigation water allows us to grow food crops and even fodder which keeps our animals healthy all year round. Because of this, we live in harmony with neighbouring communities that we previously fought with, while scrambling for the limited pasture land in the area,” she says.

*Featured photo at the top and photo gallery below:Pictures depicting the impact of World Vision interventions that are helping communities to cope effectively with the drought in Kenya.