Yao Ming (2nd R), a counsellor of Chinese Embassy to Kenya, distribute relief food to local residents in Makueni county, Kenya, on March 12, 2017.(Xinhua/Pan Siwei)
by Christine Lagat
MAKUENI, Kenya, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Kenyan farmer Zipporah Muema was in buoyant mood on Sunday afternoon as she carted away packets of maize flour, cooking oil and sparkling bottled water donated by Chinese firms.
The 83-year-old from Kenya's semi-arid Makueni County defied advanced age and scorching heat to walk briskly to her humble abode and prepare an otherwise elusive meal as drought ravages her surroundings.
Muema was among hundreds of vulnerable residents of Makueni County who benefited from foodstuff donated by Chinese enterprises operating in Kenya.
Speaking to Xinhua after receiving her ration, Muema lauded the benevolence of Chinese firms and urged them to extend assistance to her elderly peers reeling from hunger.
"This is a happy moment for me having received food donation from the Chinese. I wish the Chinese companies would continue helping those in dire situation," said Muema.
The jovial matriarch was born and bred in a locality infamous for recurrent droughts and abject poverty.
Based on her grandson's account, Muema is lucky to have clocked 83 years, having survived a spate of severe droughts since her childhood.
"My grandmother has outstanding resilience and can still work in the farm and trek long distances despite old age. She has witnessed countless famines in this region but has outlived them," said Zipporah's 51-year-old grandson Daudi Muema.
Daudi too hailed generosity demonstrated by Chinese firms to drought victims in his locality, terming it a welcome respite to hunger pangs blighting vulnerable people including his grandmother.
"We had 90 percent crop failure in the last two seasons due to below average rains. Many people can hardly afford a decent meal but the food donation by Chinese firms came at the opportune moment," Daudi said.
The mood at a school sports stadium in Makueni County where Chinese companies donated 30 tonnes of maize flour, cooking oil, fruit juices and bottled water was ebullient as the young and old queued for their ration.
Mutulu Kithuka, a 69-year-old farmer, beamed with joy after receiving his food ration and a thermos flask that came in handy to assist him in preserving tea and porridge.
"I'm happy to receive food donation and appeal to the Chinese people to visit us regularly until the drought season is over," said Kithuka, adding that a prolonged dry spell has worsened hunger in his extended family.
The food donation from Chinese firms resonated powerfully with drought-hit residents of Makueni County. Local administrators had earlier mobilized the most vulnerable households to turn up and receive their share.
Local residents wait to collect water in Marsabit, one of the most severe drought regions in Kenya, on March 3, 2017. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday vowed to enhance drought mitigation measures to ensure all those affected are assisted. Kenya government declared drought a national disaster in February, inviting international community to help in addressing the situation. (Xinhua/Pan Siwei)
Fred Kibathi, a 67-year-old small-scale farmer and father of seven, waited patiently for his turn. He was optimistic the food ration will sustain an otherwise large family for several days.
"It is an honor for my community to receive food donation from the Chinese businesses and we hope the gesture will replicate in other parts of the county affected by drought," said Kibathi.
He revealed that total crop failure in the last two seasons almost threw his entire household into destitution but was optimistic the forthcoming March/April rain season will reverse the bleak situation.
"This year's drought is extremely severe compared to previous ones. We are hardworking farmers but extreme weather events have always stood in our way," Kibathi said.
Residents of Makueni County cheered the surprise gesture by Chinese companies that will go a long way in alleviating their suffering amid acute drought.
Mary Nyamai, a middle-aged mother of three and a trader, said food donation from Chinese firms is welcome in a region where children were going to bed on empty stomach due to severe drought.
"It is prudent for Chinese firms to make regular visits here and lend assistance where it is needed most. But we also require long-term assistance from the Chinese like technology to carry out irrigated farming," Nyamai told Xinhua.
She added that capacity building for farmers, irrigation and hybrid crops would offer sustainable solution to food insecurity in the Makueni County.
Her sentiments were shared by Christine Ndunge, a middle-aged mother of two, who said that Chinese enterprises could share knowledge and expertise critical to transform small-scale farming in Kenya amid threats posed by harsh weather patterns.
"Relief food from Chinese companies is welcome here in Makueni as we grapple with a very acute drought, but we urge them to assist us with skills and technology required to produce food irrespective of changing weather patterns," Ndunge said.