In the Kibwezi District of southeast Kenya, most people haven’t been able to grow much food for years.

"The river had dried up completely. The animals were not even getting enough water from drinking.” Charles, a member of the Malaika self-help roup told us. "But (now) there is plenty of water for the animals to drink, there is plenty of water if you want to do the farming here. So it is good to be situated here."

Visiting the group last week, the results of their new sand dams were astonishing to see - a green oasis in the midst of a barren and parched landscape. The community has been using the water from the dam for growing vegetables and keeping their livestock healthy.

"Some organisations just come here to provide aid in times of crisis and then disappear until the next crisis. ASDF works together with our community to give continued support in many different areas such as the sand dam, terracing and seeds. In this way they help to prevent the crisis from happening in the first place."

Daniel Mwetha, Malaika self-help group, Kenya. 

"This is the first time we are doing the planting here,” says Charles, "I will sell (the tomatoes) to other people, to the markets around, because all this cannot be eaten locally here.” So the sand dam isn’t only enabling the production of much-needed food, but it's also increasing their income potential and the availability of food in local markets.

As the number of people affected by severe drought in the Horn of Africa steadily increases, so are the calls for a long-term strategy to avert such crisis from happening again and again. We couldn’t agree more. Our partners in Kenya, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF) are working tirelessly with community groups like Malaika to do just that.

With our help, they support rural communities to build sand dams, but also to adopt new, and improve old, farming methods. They work with communities for a period of five years, advising them on simple but crucial techniques such as the types of seeds that are more drought resistant, how to dig terraces and when it’s best to sell their livestock.

The communities that ASDF supports are less acutely affected by the drought than those in other parts of the country. They have better coping mechanisms. Sand dams can store water without being replenished by rain for several seasons, providing water for farming and therefore food. Sand dams are the starting point of a virtuous cycle of water and soil conservation that increases food production and builds farmers’ resilience to natural hazards such as drought – not just now, but long into the future.

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