By Martin Muluka, Emergency Communications Specialist, World Vision Kenya
Agnes is joyful as she harvests peas, vegetables and coconuts at her farm in Kilifi County, Kenya. She is all smiles because she is assured of good profit from her produce.
This is a key milestone for Agnes, who for many years doubted that women like her could get opportunities to run thriving businesses in her community.
“Women in our community have numerous responsibilities. From morning to evening, they do household chores and culturally, it’s their job to ensure that their children and husbands come back to a clean house with food,” she says.
"The work that women do in farming is usually limited to manual labour, often under the guidance of their husbands. And when the crops are ready, it's the husbands who handle the marketing and selling process of the harvested produce. Basically, women are required to do what is considered less important while their men handle the important things in farming," she adds.
This was Agnes’ life for a long time and she did not see anything wrong with it, as it was her community’s cultural paradigm and as a woman, she was expected to follow it.
However, tides began to slowly change in her village after World Vision in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) rolled out a women’s empowerment initiative in the area.
The project, called Women Empowerment Farmer Business School approach (WE-FBS), targeted both women and men. It was geared towards enhancing their capacity on agribusiness as well as making agriculture gender-inclusive by breaking cultural barriers that impede the active and meaningful participation of women in agricultural activities at all levels (from the farm, all the way to the market).
According to Agnes, the mentorship programme helped her and other women to be confident and realise that they too, have the ability to effectively undertake income generating activities and improve the economic status of their families.
“Knowing that tomorrow can only be sustainable if there is gender equality, our husbands appreciate us more as we are no longer a burden to them.Instead, we are empowered wives that contribute to the financial security of our families. Now, there is collaboration between husbands and wives in families, which has contributed to the well-being of our children,” notes Agnes.
The mentorship programme targeted farmers' groups comprising of 30 members each. As part of the training, the participants were asked to write down a Vision Journey. This was a roadmap of what they envisioned to achieve and how they would track the progress.
Agnes and a majority of other farmers indicated that they wanted to gain knowledge on effective agricultural techniques, as well as ways of turning their various farming activities into profitable ventures or businesses.
Agnes notes that a key highlight of the agribusiness training that she received, was on the significance of market research in farming.
“This has changed our lives. My husband and I now cultivate crops and keep poultry that have a high market demand. In the past, we would just farm blindly without considering what the market wanted. Lack of this knowledge largely contributed to the losses we used to make,” she states.
Based on the results of the market research, Agnes realised that there was a high demand for chicken in nearby hotels, restaurants, shops and companies that serve tourists and local residents in Kilifi.
“Therefore, I requested for specialised training and began making plans with my husband to start poultry farming. We started with 20 hens but have now expanded to meet the market demand. To diversify our income, we now have an incubator that helps us to rapidly hatch eggs into chicks, which we supply to other farmers,” she says.
“Another key lesson I learnt is the importance of value addition in agriculture. I have coconut trees that produce enough fruit all year round. However, I used to sell them to traders and the price was not good. But after learning about how to add value to the fruits, I now use them to produce coconut oil. The returns are greater than before. I also grow different types of vegetables that we consume at home and also sell since they are usually on demand all year round,” she adds.
As a result of these thriving ventures, Agnes notes that her family now enjoys increased household incomes and lives comfortably.
“I can say that we are now happy and joyful. The relationship with my husband has also been strengthened as a result of the empowerment and training that I received. He no longer sees me as a burden but as a valued friend and partner. In fact, he really appreciates the contribution I have made in our farming business, thanks to the lessons I got through the support of World Vision and the FAO. We are now building a new house which was one of our life dreams,” she notes with a beaming smile.
Agnes has gone further to cascade the knowledge and empowerment to other women in her village, through the Juhudi Farmers' Group that she is part of.
“As women, we have suffered for long, thinking that our fate in life is to rely on our husbands for everything. But now we know better, thanks to the empowerment, which has enabled us to also contribute to the well-being of our families,” she says.
Daniel, a beneficiary of the empowerment programme notes that the project opened his eyes as a husband on the great potential that women have in improving the economic status of families and communities.
“I have now experienced the benefits of a balanced family tree, where both the husband and wife work together for the common good of all. Working with my wife and involving her in the family business of selling chilli made from raw pepper, which we grow on our farm has strengthened our bond. Involving her in activities and in making financial decisions has contributed a great deal in increasing our profits.” he says.
Jedidah, a World Vision Kenya Livelihoods Specialist that led the initiative (in Kilifi, Nandi and Kiambu counties) notes that the empowerment programme has left long lasting change in communities, even among those living in areas that experience challenges like prolonged drought.
“Families are now enjoying improved food security as well as income levels. The agricultural businesses that they have established are also creating employment opportunities for other people,” she says.