EMBU, KENYA: In Kenya just like in any other developing nations across the globe, agriculture is one of the most important means of livelihood for many. In communities where smallholder agriculture is practiced, especially in Africa, women form the backbone of agricultural activities including production, transportation, and marketing of agricultural commodities.
Women support the continent’s population by producing 80 per cent of its food, but gender is excluded from conversations that determine agricultural policies, while discriminatory laws and practices deprive them of their land, their rights, and their livelihoods.
Women in Embu County are seeking to change the narrative capitalising on donkey rearing to improve their livelihoods.
According to the Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies, the animals are a critical source of support to most households creating economic security, social status, and providing a sense of companionship to their owners.
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“It is time we shift our focus to donkeys and try to empower our rural people on the importance of the donkey to the entire agricultural value chain,” says Eston Murithi, KENDAT Chief Executive Officer.
The organisation runs the Heshimu Punda Programme (Respect the Donkey) in eight counties in Central and Upper Eastern Kenya. Mr. Murithi adds that “This campaign seeks to benefit the rural farmers especially women who play a vital role in the agricultural sector. Most of these women undergo challenges to ensure their families have food on the table. By encouraging them to improve the welfare of their donkeys, they have realized that their income has increased hence the reduction of poverty. They use the donkeys to fetch water for both agricultural and domestic usage.”
Margaret Munyi who hails from Murambare in Embu County has been in khat farming for over a decade now but her earnings were little until she decided to purchase a donkey in 2010.
“One of the problems we are facing in this area is the lack of water and the sources we have are located kilometres away and on a day one can only make a trip to the river. But with the help of a donkey you can carry about four -20-litres jerrican and make up to four trips, hence we have enough for domestic usage and agricultural activities,” says Munyi.
The mother of three ventured into khat farming the same year she got her first donkey whom she named ‘Kativa’.
Munyi attributes her success to her donkey “With my ‘Kativa’ I find it easy to fetch water for my khat and domestic usage and I can say that my daily income is Sh 500 from just fetching water. In my half-acre khat farm I can make between Sh 15,000 - Sh 30,000 per month depending with the market. All these have been made possible with the help of my ‘Kativa’ donkey; previously I could not fetch such amount.”
She adds, “Our group is made up of 20 women farmers and we have been empowered to care for our donkeys as well as practice table banking which has enabled us to pay school fees, build better houses, pay health care expenses and some of us have also ventured into small enterprises to supplement their income. I have plans for building rental houses.”
Communities living in semi-arid areas of some counties in Kenya like Kitui, Makueni, Machakos, Tharaka Nithi, Embu, and Laikipia among others, use donkeys to mainly transport water from water points to the homesteads, firewood from farms and forests to the homestead and merchandise to the markets. In these areas, women who use donkeys can save 90 percent of time and energy that would have been used to transport water and firewood on their heads or backs. The time saved by women is usually invested in other economically productive activities like selling commodities in markets, tendering kitchen gardens, making various merchandise like weaving baskets, and other farming activities.