Kenya's Women Farmers: Masters of Their Own Destiny?
Elburgon is a quiet village town located in Kenya’s Rift Valley, a province which has traditionally produced maize, wheat, and pyrethrum. The land here used to yield good harvests, but as droughts became more frequent, many were forced to abandon these crops. Climate change has affected the region with unpredictable rainfall leading to decreased food production and an increased presence of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Yet with the assistance of non-governmental organisations, farmers have been trying to make the most out of the challenging environment and have received training to plant other more durable crops.
One such body which supports these farmers is GROOTS (Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood). Based in Nairobi, GROOTS is a group of community and self-help organisations which, thanks to a $3 million grant from the Japan Social Development Fund to be managed by the World Bank, will help women farmers increase their income by planting resilient horticultural crops which are less likely to fail during periods of bad weather.
“With climate change becoming very real, we cannot sit down and complain but must do something” Esther Mwaura-Muiru, the national coordinator of GROOTS told Think Africa Press. “We teach the farmers to have a mentality that challenges can be value-added into opportunities. We also assist the women farmers to access direct markets for their horticultural products both for local and international consumption.”
Initiatives like this could prove important for women farmers, who, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, produce 90% of the continent's food. More than two-thirds of Africa's women are thought to be employed in agriculture, but are often marginalised in business relations and have minimal control over resources such as land and inputs like credit, technology, and fertiliser.
“We have incorporated a few thousand women farmers in our training program” says Mwaura-Muiru, “I can tell you that they have improved their ability in the way they negotiate and do business”.
Cutting out the middleman
Another development providing hope for Kenya’s rural farmers is new technology. One new mobile phone application, for example, is allowing farmers to cut out the middleman, leading to an increase in incomes for farmers themselves.
“We teach them how to use various mobile applications to help them get direct markets for their produce”, explains Mwaura-Muiru. “With mobile applications in Kenya on the increase dealing with farmers, middlemen are easily kept away”.
Another mobile phone initiative known as Agrimanagr, launched by the Kenyan technology company Virtual City, has helped over 300,000 farmers in different parts of the country keep a record of weights, grades and quantities of deliveries as well as printing out receipts.
“We hope that we can reach about three million farmers with the app within the next five years” says John Waibochi, the CEO of Virtual City. He continues: “The app has already improved the income of several farmers by 46% since its launch [because] they do not need the exploitation of middlemen”.
Kenya’s farmers have also been enhancing their businesses by forming cooperatives through which groups of farmers can combine their savings to purchase more land and plant more horticultural crops than they would have been able to individually.
“When we form women’s groups, we open a savings bank account together. Women’s groups can be about five people who agree to open a group savings account,” explains Stella Cherono, a farmer from Elburgon.
“The banks usually do not have a problem in giving loans since the savings can be used as collateral in case we do not repay the loan. We usually borrow to purchase land. Also, as we always continue to borrow money from the banks and pay back, the more confidence they have in us to give us even bigger loans to develop and expand our businesses,” says Stella.
Mwaura-Muiru explains, “We also educate the women farmers on the importance of value addition on horticulture which brings them more income, for instance, [with] avocado."
“They can open businesses through bank loans and open facilities for processing the fruit and turning it into many market products such as lotions, jellies and cooking oil. The idea seems to be working for them as they continue to be empowered.”
Other projects in the area include dairy farming, which has seen steady growth over the last two years, although horticulture still remains the biggest income earner in the region.
Through a variety of innovative and empowering tools, some of Kenya’s farmers appear to be increasing their incomes and improving their agricultural businesses. With new forms of technology, intelligent cooperative business models and the support of NGOs such as GROOTS, which is now working with more than 5,000 rural women, Kenya’s farmers are seeking to follow GROOTS' motto, "Let us be masters of our own destiny."
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