The human social stratum around the world naturally positions women at the centre of every aspect of life - be it home making, leadership, entrepreneurship, education, tech, or production in food systems. Women’s potential to contribute to human and sustainable development cannot be overemphasized. In Sub-Saharan Africa, however, this potential remains unexploited due to exclusion of women in the ownership of productive assets and decision making. The situation is further exacerbated by negative effects of rapid land degradation and the impacts of climate change.
The southern rangelands of Kenya are home to beautiful landscapes rich in biodiversity, providing ecosystem services that support agropastoral livelihoods of millions of indigenous people, where women are often excluded in the livestock production value chain.
The Integrated and Climate Smart Innovations for Agro-Pastoralists Economies and Landscapes project (ICSIAPL) in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid landscapes is implemented in three Counties - Narok, Kajiado and Taita Taveta – and is funded by the European Union and Kingdom of the Netherlands. It aims at building more resilient and market-based solutions for improved forage production and livestock husbandry through climate smart innovations and sustainable landscape management that focuses on increasing their incomes, gender inclusion in forage development and livestock value chain while reducing the effects of climate change and degradation of landscapes.
Gender equality and social inclusion
A recent survey on Gender and Social Inclusion conducted at project inception found that women (adult and young) are not passive agents in their disempowerment. Women are already active agents who run households and businesses, livestock production, coordinate relief activities and provide support for each other and their communities. They negotiate decision making processes and in some cases challenge gender norms.
The project is already taking advantage of the findings by catalysing and strengthening these enabling factors through capacity building on innovations in nature-based enterprises, business leadership skills, fodder, and seed bulking enterprises. Initial results show that women are taking up roles to help communities adopt new technologies and innovations that will not only help improve their skills but also create impact for livelihood improvement and resilience building.
Elizabeth Masas, a Trainer of Trainers for the ICSIAPL project
Elizabeth during her chat with Bibiana, SNV's Communication Officer
In Narok county, Elizabeth Masas is one of the 30 Trainer of Trainers who with the help of SNV and The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) received trainings on innovations in fodder production. Eliza, as fondly referred to by her trainees, is passionate about her work and has exceptional skills in community mobilisation. She has mobilised close to 500 agropastoralists, of whom 73% are women, and established ten plots of land for training and demonstration use during the past year.
Elizabeth joined the trainings offered by the ICSIAPL project on improved forage varieties and immediately agreed to offer a piece of her five-acre land – which she uses to raise four cows – to be used as a demonstration plot. She is a seasoned farmer, and walking around her piece of land, you will see an array of crops: fruit trees including avocados and oranges, maize, beans, Napier grass and Boma Rhodes. Nonetheless, she made room for the project's ten improved varieties of fodder legumes and grasses to be planted on 5 by 10 metre plots to serve as demonstration plots for learning among other farmers.
Making a difference and supporting the community
‘I am generally passionate about farming, and I keep close contacts with the agriculture department at the county. I was part of an association of farmers in Narok town, through which I was trained on growing Napier grass, and I collected a split from the site, and I have kept on multiplying it over the years’, says Eliza. ‘But after attending the training on improved forage varieties, I realised the difference it will make in our lives as farmers. Through the training, they explained to us how these grasses and legumes contribute to cows nutrition and milk production and allow bulls to grow fat. After planting the sugar graze, I fed them to my own cows and I got double the usual amount of milk per day’.
Elizabeth is also the secretary of Mulot Kogoos Dairy Cooperative, a small women-led and owned primary cooperative society that collects milk within Ilmotioko ward. Initially, the group of 30 members, where 90% are women, had opened a milk collection facility at a small shopping centre nearby, but soon closed when there was no supply of milk due to the drought. Despite the closure, the women are taking this time to focus on learning about improved forage which will incrementally stabilise milk production throughout the year ad realise the meaning of the name 'Kogoos', which in Kalenjin, means incremental production of milk.
Climate smart practices
‘We are more interested in the varieties that promote milk production because that is our main business. Without milk, we do not get the little money we require to meet our homestead needs,’ says Elizabeth. She also emphasizes the feedback she gets from the farmers she trains, who keep asking for the seeds so they can also plant these forages in their own pieces of land. She believes this is what will unlock the potential that the area has in becoming a reliable source of milk. Eliza mentions that the only reason she keeps the other grasses, is because they have been coming in handy during the prolonged dry seasons in the area and help keep the animals alive.
To make the demo sites accessible to more farmers in the area, Elizabeth sought further support from SNV and some lead farmers and managed to set-up seven more demo plots. In these additional plots, Elizabeth has taken initiative to visit each of them to ensure Climate Smart Agricultural practices are adhered from land preparation to harvesting and conservation, and to ensure maximum nutritional value for the animals.
Stephen Bargero standing infront of his house
Stephen chats with farmers during a field day
Stephen Bargero is one of Elizabeth’s trainees, and his land is six kilometres away from Elizabeth. The young man recently hosted the agriculture club from the nearby school to learn about the new grasses and legumes. The students were curious to learn more and were challenged to encourage their parents to visit Bargero’s farm to learn and adopt the new practices.
A few farmers who were also invited to understand more about innovative fodder production were happy to learn and see what can work well in the area. This offers them an opportunity to make informed decisions on what variety suits the area they live in and what to plant in their own farms.
During field days, women's attendance and participation is much higher than that of men across the pastoral counties
Elizabeth is not alone; she is one of many women providing training and recruiting farmers across the project. Lydia Namoo, who hails from the Trans Mara region, has trained over 200 farmers during the one season of planting. While Bela Mwakio on the other hand, from Mwatate area of Taita Taveta county, trained over 150 farmers despite the rainfall challenges in the county.
The growing list of women enthusiasts is an affirmation that women inclusion has the potential to accelerate desired change for both innovations and leadership that are relevant for livelihood improvement, resilience building and market system development.
The ICSIAPL project will continue with its interventions to empower women within these communities through training on business and leadership as well as inclusion on decision making. Once the forage technologies are adopted by farmers and production upscaled, business skills will be required to ensure that what is produced can be sold competitively in the market, and the resources gained will contribute to an improved livelihoods for women, and for communities at large.
Author: Bibiana Wanalwenge, SNV Media and Communications Officer in Kenya