Women's critical role in regenerative agriculture, growth

A woman plucking tea at a farm in Ndugamanu village, Nyeri. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Although much progress has been made in empowering women and girls over the last four decades, majority still face significant barriers to property ownership and access to technology and credit.

Women, for instance, account for most of farm labour yet they do not hold titles to the land they toil on. This can be attributed to the predominant culture in which the role of men as leaders and property owners was amplified while women were supposed to live under the shadows of their husbands and male relatives.   

Evidence from two years of implementing Strengthening Regenerative Agriculture in Kenya (STRAK) by AGRA and its partners in four counties confirms what we have always known. Involving and empowering women in regenerative agriculture could lead to improved yields and better nutritional and financial outcomes for families.

In Makueni, Kitui, Embu and Tharaka Nithi counties, the number of women farmers who have embraced regenerative agriculture far outweighed that of men. In Kitui County, for instance, the proportion of women to men was 78.2 per cent indicating more women are involved in farming at household level than men. In gender and leadership, at least 50 per cent of the Village Based Advisors (VBAs) in the four counties were women.

Through VBAs, farmers learn innovations and technologies of regenerative agriculture, aggregate their produce after harvest and negotiate better prices. The success of women in regenerative agriculture does not in any way, however, imply that male involvement in agriculture should be overlooked or discouraged. Far from it. It does mean, however, that families and communities stand to benefit more from inclusive growth, enhanced food security, and increased incomes where women participation and leadership is encouraged.   

The patriarchal nature of our society remains a hurdle against women stepping into the limelight. Because of it, women face significant challenges in accessing the resources and technologies needed to improve agricultural productivity and nutrition outcomes.

It, therefore, behooves us to address gender disparities and invest in women’s agricultural knowledge and skills. This way, we can enhance food production, increase dietary diversity, and combat malnutrition, contributing to better health outcomes for all. 

The interesting thing, however, is that once women’s efforts start bearing fruit, the men seemed to appreciate it and were more willing to cede leadership roles to the women. 

Evidence shows women are more likely than men to invest their earnings in their families’ education, health, and well-being, thereby helping to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. By enhancing women’s access to markets, financial services, and business training, we can stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and build resilient rural economies.

The concept of kitchen gardens, a key element of STRAK, demonstrates what women can do with little resources, in small spaces, to turn around the fortunes of their families.

In four counties where STRAK is currently being implemented, women employ innovations such as tire garden, jerry can garden, and shade net gardens to produce fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices all year round. 

In addition to their role as innovators, women are also known for their ability to save and invest. They have been known to save crops, meats, and money diligently to support their families in times of hardship. They are also excellent stewards of the environment.  

-The writer is programmes officer at AGRA

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