Climate-smart knowledge empowers female farmers in Kenya

Tuesday, 31 March 2015 09:46 GMT

Farmers Queen Teva and Josephine Mutua manage two climate-smart agriculture plots in Makueni, Eastern Kenya. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

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“Before I didn’t say anything, during meetings,” says farmer Josephine Mutua, a soft-spoken but assured woman from Eastern Kenya. “Now that I have knowledge about different agricultural techniques I have the confidence to speak up and share the information in church or when I have visitors,” she explains. Josephine credits this change to her role in managing a climate-smart learning site as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) climate-smart village activities in Makueni, Kenya. Together with her neighbour Queen Teva, the duo is taking the lead to show how women can make their farms climate-smart. As they gain new skills and knowledge, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

Queen Teva and Josephine Mutua have been actively participating in the village activities for the last two years. With support from local partners they lead two learning sites trialling a number of climate-smart techniques and drought-resistant seeds to learn what works best for their area, and which practices are not a suitable match. Getting it right is important; as climate-smart farm practices have the ability to support smallholders adapt to, and mitigate, climate change while improving yields and income.

Both women agree that getting involved in the climate-smart village activities has impacted their lives, both in terms of increased yields, but also in how they are viewed by their fellow community members and friends:

“I feel like the community members respect me more, as I now train others, I am involved in community meetings and talk to visitors who want to see my plot,” says Josephine. “I feel proud as I am able to teach others about agriculture technologies”

On the food production side, Queen explains; “I used to get 2 bags of Sorghum but now I get 4-5 bags from the same acre from planting drought-resistant seeds.”

“I feel a sense of relief, as I now know a number of agriculture techniques that I can use on my farm. I know my family will be food secure and I don’t have to worry like before,” she continues.  

Women less aware

The ladies were chosen to champion these practices because of their keen interest to keep farming in an increasingly warm and dry climate. Their husbands, who normally work outside the household, support their wives in leading the way on the farm and in the community and are happy with the changes they’ve seen.

However in most households they would typically be the ones taking the lead on climate-smart farming as recent research shows that women in Africa are less likely than men to be aware of the practices. This is because channels of disseminating agricultural information do not favor women.

Getting the information out to women farmers and socially marginalized groups is therefore key, as the same research shows that women who know about the practices are just as likely as men - if not more - to adopt them. Josephine and Queen’s achievements exemplify these findings.

“We identify and work directly with women within the climate-smart villages activities, building their capacity to implement farm techniques that are suitable to them and their needs,” says Mary Nyasimi, a gender expert working with the CCAFS East Africa program. “Getting women onboard is really key to ensure the project gains momentum among the community members as they are usually the ones managing the farm when the men work outside the home.”

The farm practices that Josephine and Queen are implementing are tailored to the region’s dry and infertile land. Both are working with partners International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), on soil conservation practices, hybrid legume- and cereal intercropping and non-organic fertilizer application to preserve soil moisture and boost yields.

They have also built soil terraces, retention ditches and established micro-irrigation systems throughout their plots, all crucial water and soil conservation techniques to achieve climate-smart outcomes on their farms. In addition, the women offer peer-support to nearby farmers who have committed to evaluate at least one hybrid seed variety.

Members getting organised

CCAFS works with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF) which provides agriculture extension services and trainings while supporting mobilization of community groups. This has kick-started a flurry of income-generating activities in the area.

Many of the newly mobilized community-groups are now involved in informal and essential financial savings activities including table-banking, lending and borrowing money with small interest, and merry-go-round saving schemes, where members award individuals with a small pot of money on a rotating basis. The ambition is to connect the groups with official micro-finance institutes, to help them further scale-up their activities such as poultry and livestock businesses. With 70 percent of the groups made up of women, including Josephine and Queen, there is great potential that the women in the area will be the ones responsible for boosting the households’ incomes.

Breaking through gender barriers

Josephine and Queen’s work is just one remarkable tale of women around the world breaking through agricultural gender barriers. These barriers mean women receive less agriculture information than men, are less flexible to travel due to household chores and caring for family, and have access to fewer resources to invest in their farm plot. These women are taking the lead to adapt to a changing climate on their farms and in the community. Their efforts are helping to change perceptions and attitudes, which hopefully will create more equal opportunities for men and women farmers in the future.

A seminar on Closing the Gender Gap for farming under climate change will put the spotlight on more efforts from around the world, presenting evidence to inspire renewed action. Pre-register now for the live webcast on 19 March and join the conversation!

Story produced by Cecilia Schubert, Communication Officer for CCAFS Flagship on "Policies and Institutions on Climate-Resilient Food Systems", in collaboration with Vivian Atakos, CCAFS East Africa Communication Officer.