Role of Women in Agricultural Development and Food Security: The Future is Female!

Photos Above: Rural Women from Embu and Kiambu Counties showing their farms.

As we celebrate International Day of Rural Women, we acknowledge and applaud the vital role played by women in agriculture. Statistics show that in most developing countries, women produce 60 to 80 percent of agricultural produce. This shows how pivotal they are in transforming rural smallholder agriculture from rudimentary subsistence farming to commercial farming. However, their duties are limited to the provision of labor. This begs the question; how can smallholder farming be transformed from subsistence to commercial? When the leading agents of change are held back by land access rights, access to productive resources, extension information, market opportunities, and limited control in decision-making in the house. That is where approaches like the Village Based Advisors (VBA) come in.

The VBA Project , a private sector-led extension approach implemented by the Local Development Research Institute (LDRI) with support from AGRA, seeks to contribute to the improvement of food security and the economic status of smallholders. The approach entails the dissemination of extension information by selected lead farmers (VBAs). The VBAs receive training to become Trainer of Trainers (ToTs) to other farmers in their villages. The project, found in the rural parts of Kiambu and Embu counties, has about 60% of its smallholder farmers as women. These women are empowered to approach agriculture as a business in the following ways;

Knowledge: Kudos to whoever said knowledge is power and information is priceless. Lack of appropriate information is a major contributor to crop losses in agriculture. The VBA training has exposed farmers to improved methods of farming such as the use of improved maize varieties, seed rate, types of fertilizers and how to apply on crops, how to dry maize correctly after harvesting, and post-harvest handling. In addition, some women underwent agro-dealer training by Agricultural Market Development Trust (AGMARK https://agmark.org/ ) and some were able to open agro-dealer shops. 

Farm Inputs/resources: the VBAs and their farmers received seeds from various seed companies to conduct on-farm demonstrations (demos). Through the demonstrations, farmers can make informed decisions on which improved varieties to purchase. In addition, they can identify the maize varieties that are suitable for their respective regions for maximum yield. After all, seeing is believing.

Link to financiers: one of the most vital resources for rural women. Limited control over household income necessitated the initiation of avenues that provided financial support to rural women. The VBAs became linked to financial partners like; Faulu Kenya, Apollo Agriculture, KCB Group, MasterCard Foundation, and Hand in Hand East Africa. Faulu Kenya provided favorable and affordable loans to individuals and groups to boost their agricultural businesses. Apollo Agriculture provided insurance in cases of crop failure in addition to other services that enabled farmers to purchase farm inputs. MasterCard Foundation provided some loans to a few female VBAs in Kiambu County. Lastly, Hand in Hand provided thorough training, depending on the needs of the farmers, before providing loans to registered VBA groups. Most of the women benefited from these linkages as they got finances to mprove their businesses. They also acquired income-generating skills making feeds, livestock salt licks, detergents, yogurt, baking cakes and so much more.

Marketing opportunities: VBA groups have provided opportunities for women to market their produce despite this being a male domain. In addition, farmers provided with sample seeds to conduct trials created a demand for inputs, hence unlocking more opportunities for the women. Through the training, rural women sold inputs like seeds, fertilizer, livestock feeds, chicken feeds, detergents for home use among others. Other value-added products include; vegetables, yogurt and cakes which were in demand in the villages. These marketing opportunities provided avenues to generate income.Women were able to earn income from these activities as well as provide enough food for their families.

As aforementioned, the resources empowered rural women to rise above their roles as labor providers, into commercial-oriented farmers. A good example is the VBA group in Ngewa which has two-thirds of its members as women. The group received training by Hand in Hand on how to make cattle feeds, salt licks, and liquid detergents. After the training on salt licks, the group members made trails in their homes to check the feasibility of selling the salt to farmers before going commercial with the idea.

In a nutshell, rural women are increasingly becoming aware of their potential given the right resources and information. Involving women more in household decisions wgreatly enhance agricultural rural development since women are more familiar with the challenges in farming, therefore, well-equipped to tackle them. Food security is possible through the transformation of agriculture in rural areas. What better way to initiate transformation than entrusting women to do the job for us!