Yes, enhance food security with women in mind

Women in Moi's Bridge sort out good maize from those rotten after maize was affected by the El Nino rains. [File, Standard]

When I wrote about taking the hoe to the museum and increasing mechanised agriculture to enhance food security last week, many called asking me to “increase the volume”.

Most respondents were women, of course not your usual one in the village. They were those who can afford a newspaper, farm in style if they chose to, because they can afford to pay for some labour, and maybe mechanised farming.

Their issue was with the woman in the village whose main reason for farming is to get food for the family. They were all quick to share that women are mostly in the farm alone with children, not because men are lazy, or have abandoned women at home.

Since there are few manufacturers that offer job opportunities locally, the men have left in search of income in urban areas. With the unpredictable rain patterns, farming as a source of livelihood is unsustainable.

So there are families headed by women literally, not because they are widows or single parents, but because they have men out there, who they see occasionally. Add this to the number of widows in villages. A woman recently told of a flood in Budalang’i that rendered them helpless because men were few, increasing risks of loss and damage.

The problem with the hoe is the effort and time needed to produce very little, and timely. Their backs are not strong enough and once they are done with the farming, there is barely any strength for more work.

The women then have nothing left to even buy themselves lotions or make their hair. They miss out on merry-go-round or table banking where fellow women invest.

Their financial muscle diminishes. Sadly, even when the soil is so degraded and the rain patterns so bad that investing in farming has no meaningful returns, they still do it, because it is the norm.

Once again, the 23 counties that featured heavily when the country suffered prolonged drought last year are on the edge, confirming the National Drought Management Authority’s (NDMA) October 2022 prediction that 4.35 million people would be in need of humanitarian assistance.

Malnutrition of children and pregnant women is one of the immediate problems visible, and which may need urgent intervention. We saw this coming. The NDMA and other government departments will obviously respond. But we can guarantee that this will happen again, and the small-scale mixed or subsistence farmers relying on their small farms to survive with their large families will suffer more.

The faces that will be gracing the headlines include women. These communities need sustainable solutions, even if it starts small. They have perennially suffered loss of livestock, crop failure, conflict over grazing land, hunger, water stress, poor health and interrupted education for children. Sometimes it escalates to increased human/wildlife conflict.

For now, county and national governments should align operations in climate action, with short and long term solutions. Early warning systems must work for that poor village woman, and not only the urban ones who use the information to know when to carry an umbrella. Local FM stations will be of great help.

As we determine how to take the hoe to the museum, focus on irrigation, best water management, sustainable land use and ecosystem conservation, research and education of rural women farmers, as well as motivation for youth to engage in farming will be a good campaign. We must also help diversify agricultural practices for resilience to climate fluctuations.

The writer is communication manager at GreenFaith