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What does it mean to be an empowered woman in a man's world?

Posted by Roxanna Samii Sunday, April 10, 2011

Last week while visiting the IFAD-funded Central Kenya Dry Area Smallholder Community Services Development Project and Mount Kenya East Pilot Project for Natural Resources Management, I had the privilege to meet inspiring and successful women such as Jane Njaguara, Lizz Wangari Bundi and the Wangu Environmental Conservation Women’s group.

As development workers we are always trying to get hold of data and statistics to show the impact of our work. I guess one of the most important statistics is how rural development projects have transformed the lives of poor rural people and their communities, and how these interventions have managed to bring economic viability to the rural space by providing profitable on and off-farm employment, minimizing migration from rural to urban areas and providing attractive employment opportunities for young people, so that they stay in rural areas and join the active work force.

Jane, Lizz and Wangu women’s group stories demonstrate how when women are empowered the entire society thrives.

Just one buck away from a better life

Visiting IFAD-funded Central Kenya Dry Area Smallholder Community Services Development Project (CKDAP), I met Jane Njaguara, a 32 year old strong willed woman who is one of the 13 members of the Busara dairy goat group in Kirinyaga District.

In 2003, this group received its first buck and that was the beginning of a successful economic and social transformation for its members.

A proud Njaguara, giving a tour to IFAD President, Dr Kanayo F. Nwanze, said: “Thanks to that one buck that we received 8 years ago, today I am running a successful business. I have managed to expand my goat dairy farm. I have diversified my activity and now have poultry, cows, I have a thriving milk business.”

Today, the Busara dairy group has 72 upgraded goats and in just five years they’ve managed to make KSH 223,000. “Our vision is to have 200 goats by 2015 and to operate a milk shop,” says Njaguara.

Over the course of its implementation, CKDAP continuously provided technical assistance to the Busara dairy group. Njaguara was one of the farmers who benefitted from training session by the Dairy Goats Association of Kenya. Thanks to the training received, she is now providing extension services to Busara community.

“The training allowed us to venture into selling milk. Now we are producing 3 to 5 litres of milk on a daily basis. As a result the families have a better diet and we have a thriving business, selling the milk to neighbouring villages for KSH 60 a litre,” explained Njaguara. “You know, goat milk is rich in protein and does not cause any allergies, so there is a high demand for it.”

“My dairy farm has turned out to be a profitable business. Thanks to the revenues from the farm I was able to expand and diversify my business. Today, I have chicken, geese, turkey and cows. My dream is to go to school and get a degree in veterinary sciences,” says a beaming Njaguara.

A couple of months ago, Njaguara lost her husband prematurely. But thanks to the income from the dairy goat farm she is able to maintain her standard of life. Her two children go to school, the family lives in the improved dwelling with cement floor, plastered and painted walls and the most wonderful thing is that she has managed to buy additional land to further expand the business.

“Jane is a perfect example of how every dollar spent in a woman generates 11 dollars,” observed Dr Nwanze.

“I was so excited when Jane referred to what she does as a business. Her story embodies the idea and concept of farming as business. Jane’s business is making money and giving employment to others. She has diversified her business, as a result is able to send her two children to school, has invested in more land and what is absolutely heartwarming and contrary to many parts of the world, the land is in her name, in the name of Jane Njaguara.”

After touring Njaguara dairy farm and in thanking the community Nwanze said: “What struck me is the commitment of the women and men, the beneficiaries and the community as a whole. I am so impressed on how you’ve made this project your OWN and how through your engagement and work you’ve managed to transform the your community.”

Tapping into the gold mind of tissue culture banana (TC banana)

In Africa approximately 70 million people rely on bananas for food or income. However, they are faced with a considerable challenge, namely a decline in production due to environmental degradation, diseases and pest infestation.

TC banana technology was introduced in Kenya about 14 years ago. Over the last eight years, Africa Harvest has raised awareness and built farmer’s capacity so that they can get the most out of this technology. Tissue culture technology in Africa has the potential to increase banana production from 20 to 45 tons per hectare. This means that a typical Kenya farmer family cultivating bananas could potentially increase their income from $1 day to as much as $3 a day.

The beneficiaries of IFAD-funded Smallholder horticulture marketing programme and Mount Kenya East pilot project, having partnered with Africa Harvest have benefitted from TC banana technology.

TC banana uses clean, disease-free, and insect-free planting materials. Statistics show that over the past six years, more than 500,000 farmers in Kenya have benefited from tissue culture banana technology transfer.

Lizz Wangari Bundi, an inspiring young woman farmer lives in Mururi also located in Kirinyaga district. Bundi is one of the many Kenyan farmers who has benefitted from the tissue culture banana technology.

She joined the ranks of TC banana farmers in 2008. Before that she was a tomato and French bean farmer. “Tomatoes and French bean were both labour and capital intensive and I was subject to enormous post-harvest loss because of the perishable nature of these produce,” explains Bundi.

“In 2008 I joined the Murinidi fresh growers self-help group, where I learnt more about TC banana.”

“I must admit initially I was torn between leaving the known for the unknown, but I decided to gamble and got involved with TC banana. For one thing, banana has a good nutritional value, so for sure my family’s diet would improve,” said Bundi.

Bundi’s asset was her three-acre farm. And the prospect of providing a better life for her three children was too alluring so she decided to venture with TC banana.

Thanks to the training and support provided along the entire value chain, Bundi was able to sell the entire produce of her initial 80 plantlet. She then expanded her orchard and today she has 240 plantlets. As a result she has managed to doubled her income.

“Thanks to the steady income, I am able to send the children to school. I have expanded my business and have a dairy farm which complements my banana production,” explained Bundi. “And you know what, I use the manure for the banana orchard, this way I not only make money from the dairy farm, but do not need to buy manure for the bananas!”

Three years ago, Lizz Bundi was a smallholder farmer living on less than a $1 day. Today, she runs a family agriculture business, employs other smallholder farmers and has an average monthly income of approximately KSH 7,000 (approximately $90). She owes this to her entrepreneurial spirit of taking a risk and venturing into TC banana. Bundi has managed to ensure food security, education and a steady income for her family. She is an empowered woman and a well respected member of her community.

“I am planning to expand the dairy farm and go into poultry. My next big projects are to put an irrigation system in place and put electricity at home,” says Bundi with a smile.

Lizz Bundi’s story is an example of how through improved agricultural production and strategic partnerships, we can reach many more smallholder farmers and help more poor rural people to become food security.

Talk about transformation: Firewood collectors become environmental conservationists

Moving from Central Kenya drylands to Mount Kenya, we met the hundred plus women of the Wangu self-help group who back in 2003 earned their living by selling firewood they gathered from Magacha forest. Soon they realized that this was not a viable way of life and approached the authorities requesting that they be granted a portion of forest land to raise seedlings.

The Wangu self-group ladies shared their story with IFAD President, Dr Nwanze: “In February 2004, we started our tree nursery and raised 10,000 seedlings.”

Pragmatic and self-organized as only women are, they agreed that they would come to the site at least once a week to plant the trees. And all of them paid KSH5 to buy a polythene bag and other nursery inputs.

In 2005, their production ranged around 25,000 seedlings and today they boost an annual production of 150,000 seedlings. The once fuel wood collectors, today are forest and environmental conservationists and stewards. Thanks to their tireless efforts the forest ecosystem is thriving, they have instilled the culture of tree planting and as a result have rehabilitated and maintained 213ha of degraded forest land.

They have diversified their activities and are engaged in beekeeping, fish farming, rabbit rearing, dairy farms and have set up village saving loans associations. Their fish ponds are stocked with fingerlings, they all each have five rabbits and those who have set up dairy farms are now selling milk.

Thanks to their various income generating activities, they are food secure, are able to send their children to primary and secondary school and college, have improved their dwellings and live in semi-permanent constructions and are contributing to the community’s welfare by investing to improve communal infrastructure such as schools and churches.

And they are a source of inspiration and mentors for other women groups such as the Mazingira and Mutitu women group who aspire to follow on their footsteps.

More power to women

Later in the week, meeting with Hon Dr Sally Kosgey, Minister of Agriculture, Nwanze shared the stories of these remarkable women and observed: “Investing in women and young girls is the pathway to stability and growth. This is why it is important to empower women, because by doing so, we make sure that the entire community thrives.”

“It was so reassuring to see the results of our work. I saw value for money, value of our investments and saw how together we have managed to transform the lives of our brothers and sisters,” explained Nwanze.

“The achievements and thriving businesses of these incredible women are a source of satisfaction and pride and show how the decisions we make in Rome are bearing their fruits.”

Commending the Government of Kenya for increasing its investment in agriculture from 2.9 to 4.5%, in his conversation with Hon Kosgey, Nwanze said: “Kenya is a power house in East and Southern Africa, I hope and trust that you will soon increase your investment in agriculture to reach the target of 10%.”

Hon Kosgey in thanking IFAD for its work in Kenya, said: “IFAD-funded projects and programmes are the most successful agricultural programmes in Kenya and it is institutions like IFAD that keep us in a state of hope.”

We on our side, pay tribute to Jane Njaguara, Lizz Bundi and the self-help Wangu women’s group as they are the personification of how women are agents of change, how in any community it is often if not always women who take on the leadership role, how when rural women are empowered, the entire society is empowered and how women are better managers of resources.

Ladies, kudos to all of you. May you move from one success to another and in the process inspire many more women.