Land access is crucial in an agricultural society

Two girls from the children’s village (photo: E. Van Velde).
Eldoret has approximately 200,000 inhabitants and is located in western Kenya near the border with Uganda. The city is situated in the highlands at an elevation varying between 2,100 and 2,700 meters above sea level. Eldoret is one of the fastest growing cities in Kenya and its economy is based mainly on the service industry and some manufacturing, such as textiles.

The surrounding Rift Valley Province is largely agricultural, focusing on cash crop production such as tea, coffee and wheat, as well as small-scale mixed farming. However, the region is also prone to droughts, which, in addition to land degradation and erosion, frequently endanger the livelihoods of the population. Food insecurity has grave effects on all, but affects children most severely: 35 per cent of children in Rift Valley Province suffer from stunting, meaning they are below their age-appropriate height as a direct result of malnutrition.

Policy on land ownership has been a matter of contention in Kenya since colonial days. Today, women especially are at a great disadvantage when it comes to land access, as they usually lose all land rights in cases of divorce, separation or widowhood.  The overall distribution of wealth in Kenya continues to be extremely unequal: it currently ranks 143rd – in the lowest quarter – in the Human Development Index, which takes into account health, education and income.

Inequality and lack of education can lead to social tension

The post-election violence that erupted in Kenya in 2007/2008 also affected Eldoret, when targeted ethnic violence against the Kikuyu people caused numerous deaths. The violence continued for several months in Rift Valley Province, and ethnic tensions continue to run high.

Kenya’s Free Primary Education policy, which was implemented from 2003, saw a great improvement in primary school enrolment. However, many are concerned that this has led to a decline in the quality of teaching due to the large class sizes, and the increasing workloads teachers face, combined with inadequate salaries. Another problem is the dilapidated state of many school buildings, especially during the rainy season. Children from poor rural families may have to travel long distances to get to school and in many cases, parents are unable to provide food for the day. This means that many pupils go all day without eating, which has a detrimental effect not only on their health but also on their learning. The enrolment rate for secondary school remains very low, especially in rural areas.

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