The sea of wheat and maize fields in Uasin Gishu County earn it the title of Kenya’s ‘breadbasket’. Yet many of the women involved in the region’s agriculture sector continue to be marginalised by deeply rooted traditional customs that straddle family and business dynamics. 76% of Kenya’s women are involved in the agriculture sector but most have unequal access to land, credit, skills and education. Increasing access to credit is one of the most effective solutions to empower women in Uasin Gishu and there is evidence of success, but patriarchy remains the definitive obstacle to gender equality.
UN Women Kenya and the government-run Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) are conducting a series of training sessions that aim to reach out to women – for some, the first time in their lives – to build their capacity to run a business, access credit and identify alternative income opportunities along the agribusiness value chain. These sessions have been carried out at the county level, tailored to local contexts. AFC is the Kenyan government’s largest agriculture credit institution, targeting recipients for agriculture development. The partnership with UN Women builds capacity of women under the Women Affirmative Access Window (WAAW) initiative.
Jackson Echoka is AFC’s Head of Risk with 28 years’ experience in Kenya’s agriculture sector. He has witnessed this gender-focused initiative grow but admits there were teething problems to begin with:
“Women are marginalised because they are married – and titles belong to the husband. So we needed to come up with a scheme that opened a window for women, hence the name.
When we bring men and women together to discuss issues, it creates dialogue within families – agribusiness should be seen as a joint-venture. It is important we encourage family ventures and sharing of family resources and the dividends.” The chart below shows the steady rise of sum loan amounts distributed to women (via AFC):
Source: AFC 2019
Ambition and Drive
Women can, and do, succeed here and 62-year-old Leah Makerer is an example. Widowed in 1993, Leah was left to tend to 10 children and a 50-acre farm alone. In February she was made aware of the UN Women – AFC programme Women Affirmative Access Window (WAAW) and has taken full advantage. The farm produces maize, wheat and dairy. Her most recent loan came in February worth 1.5M KSH [15,000 USD]. She has purchased a feed mill machine and has begun building a dairy facility that can hold up to 36 cows. Fertilizers and pesticides have helped her harvest blossom also: her harvest of old used to reach a combined total of 150 sacks (of wheat and maize) but has now reached 400 sacks of each.
Photo: UN Women/Luke Horswell. Leah Makerer, 62, has used access to credit to maximum advantage increasing her yield, expanding her portfolio and diversifying her income revenues.
Leah is constantly looking for ways to develop her business and is currently planning for a new loan. She intends to focus on dairy production by purchasing a milking machine, a storage facility for milk and invest in a water treatment project so that her livestock have access to clean water. Leah has worked hard but does not feel that she has been at a disadvantage because of her gender:
“I do not feel I have been treated differently. I have to work hard just like everybody else: to transport my maize, make money, and repay my loan. I face typical problems. In 2014 I was injured carrying heavy weights, I slipped a disc and spent a long time I hospital.”
Insecurity, Secrecy and Gendered roles on the Farm
But Leah’s experience does not reflect the norm for women in the region. Flomena Tendet also farms in Uasin Gishu, operating a small subsistence farm which produces avocados, eucalyptus and pine nuts. Women traditionally do not own titles here which causes problems. She is married and although her husband’s name is on the title deeds of the land, the ownership of the business is shared. This shared partnership is not necessarily common and explains that, in a previous time,
“I was renting land, but I had to give back to the land owner before my project of crops was finished.”
Prior to moving to Uasin Gishu she was based in the Mount Elgon region, on the Kenya-Uganda border. She compares the two regions and finds Uasin Gishu can be particularly ‘secretive’ when it comes to sharing information:
“I trained women in Mount Elgon but here it is not so receptive; traditions do not allow for it. Many things are secretive, people are not open to tell you training courses, like this, are happening. This is the first training I have attended – I moved here in 2005. The information does not reach women. Some men believe that women will become arrogant towards the husband if they receive training.”
Photo: UN Women/Luke Horswell. Flomena Tendet, 38, operates a subsistence farm of around 0.2 arcres, 30km from Eldoret.
Maimouna Jepkemoi, 44, is a single mother in Uasin Gishu with a growing poultry business. She explains:
“Traditions are very prohibitive here and women are stuck in traditional practices that are not very productive. Taking the cows to graze and milking them is traditionally reserved for women – this is time intensive and selling milk is generally not that profitable. They then have to balance this time with tending to their children.”
Photo: UN Women/Luke Horswell. Maimouna received her first loan from AFC in 2018, using it to expand her poultry business.
Reaching Women, Through Women
One way to reach more women is to target women-led community based organisations (CBOs). CBOs are popular in Kenya, offering a more secure option to attract financial support as well as being a great channel of communication to promote the gender equality agenda as well as providing more secure financing opportunities. Such spaces enable women to share knowledge in a region where this is not so freely encouraged.
David Singoei is a farm owner in Uasin Gishu and explains the difficulty for women which stems from family dynamics and the unity of marriage:
“ It is widely accepted that while the men own the title of the land, the farm belongs to the whole family. The only way women might receive title deeds of land is through inheritance.”
A hereditary system of land entitlement undermines women’s economic security and the ability to determine their own livelihoods. Leah’s example demonstrates the success to be gained through access to credit but deeply rooted social norms in regions like Uasin Gishu remain the biggest obstacle for women farmers – be they small subsistence farmers or budding female agripreneurs.