August 9, 2012

By E. Niven

In the Horn of Africa, the worst drought in 60 years foretold comprehensive famine in 2011. By the time the United Nations declared the first famine in nearly 30 years, more than 13 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda needed food, water and safety to survive.

A humanitarian disaster of this magnitude needed quick action and Monsanto and its employees forged new partnerships with three experienced, well-respected relief organizations, World Food Program USA, Kenya Red Cross Society and Catholic Relief Services.

Kinyua M’Mbijjewe, Monsanto corporate affairs officer in Nairobi, Kenya, explained the selection of on-the-ground partners, “We selected organizations based on their experience and long-term presence in this area of Africa. Each organization we funded had the ability to provide the immediate needs for those in crisis. In addition, we wanted to continue our commitment and help those affected to regain productivity and food security with purpose and dignity.”

Monsanto, simultaneously, launched a multifaceted social media campaign to raise awareness of the crisis leveraging their $1 million gift to relief efforts and asked the world community to join in supporting our partners. This additional outreach, made with World Food Program, produced more than $250,000 in additional donations.

With funding, the partnerships immediately moved forward: World Food Program provided one million cups of fortified blended foods to people in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world. Catholic Relief Services provided clean water, sanitation, food supplements, shelter and health services. And finally, Kenya Red Cross provided food delivery to the hardest hit areas, including 2,057 metric tons of Unimix to more than 285,000 school children.

“Our philosophy at the Kenya Red Cross during a crisis is twofold,” said Rosemary Mutunkei, partnership manager at Kenya Red Cross, “We initially provide short-term relief and then support mid- and long-term efforts to build solutions so that communities are more resilient even in times of drought. Our interventions take an integrated approach to sustain livelihoods with water, sanitation, health and agriculture. Monsanto is helping us help Kenyans achieve food security and establish water resources.”

One such example of this integrated approach is the cassava program in the Yatta region of Kenya. Cassava is an edible tuberous root, much like a potato, and a major source of carbohydrates in tropical regions worldwide. It generally does well in poor soils with minimum rainfall and, as a perennial, can be harvested as needed.

The Kenya Red Cross is distributing more than 1,000 cassava cuttings to 3,100 families – these cuttings, developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, are faster maturing and more drought and disease resistant than traditional cassava.

In addition to the seedlings, KARI is providing crush and drying facilities for the cassava in market centers throughout the district and will buy cassava sticks back from farmers, providing marketing assistance for cassava growers who produce enough to sell.

In this way, the project provides food, economic empowerment and future opportunity for other Yatta farmers.

“We envision scaling up the cassava project to 10,000 farmers in the coming months,” said Mutunkei. “We also are exploring infrastructure investments in irrigation systems in connection with nearby rivers and a planned dam project, giving communities the tools to endure drought conditions in the future.”

Through partnerships with Kenya Red Cross, World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services, and by funding projects, like the cassava planting program and others like farm equipment, irrigation pumps and seed voucher distribution, Monsanto is committed to helping Kenya farmers access multiple sustainable food and water solutions.

Originally published July 25, 2012 by Monsantoco