Women’s revolution in home gardens
8 min read
Douglas Moenga, the Coordinator of Solidarity Foundation’s livelihood work, sits on the couch at the Solidarity Foundation office in Helsinki. He is ready to reveal all about the revolution that is smoldering in the gardens of Kenyan homes: everyday vegetables could be a valuable key for women to earn their own income.
“Nearly every African woman grows something, at least vegetables for household needs, in her own yard” Moenga begins and goes on “they have a lot of know-how in the cultivation itself, but not so much in sales and marketing”.
Up to 40 percent of the vegetable harvest produced by Kenyan women must be thrown away, when sales channels are missing and there is no possibility to preserve the products.
“Who would be able to use hundreds of kilos of, say, beans at once among their own family when the crop is ripe? And on the other hand, which wholesaler would buy, for example, only 15 kilos of avocados?” Moenga asks.
Particularly good experiences in solving these challenges have been gained in the Nyamira region in Kenya, when Solidarity Foundation has joined forces with a women’s cooperative.
Gender equality rises from the kitchen gardens
In the Nyamira region, the domestic cultivation of vegetables such as corn, amaranth and pumpkin is traditionally women’s work. While “cash crops” grown for export such as coffee and tea are men’s responsibility. The man of the family also decides on the use of the money earned from the sale of coffee and tea.
Albeit men don’t do most work, not even on the “cash crops” they manage, they control most of the resources” Moenga says and continues “although women work hard, they are the first to starve when food is scarce”.
How can we best support women who strive to earn their own money in this very patriarchal environment?
“A working solution has been found in an activity that men show no interest in – growing vegetables. When women who grow vegetables in their home gardens join forces in cooperatives where training and networks are available, they have the opportunity for great achievements.”
Women’s achievements also have a huge impact on the well-being of their families. “Mothers often use the money they earn for better nutrition for the whole family, clothes and education for the children. Men, on the other hand, spend earnings more outside the home.”
The development of initially small and hidden value chains, such as vegetable cultivation, is successful when women are given the opportunity to develop commercial and technical skills. In cooperatives, women are offered a new kind of opportunity to access the resources needed for production, from farmland to high-quality seeds and machines as well as equipment that make work easier. Through the cooperative, both the analysis of existing markets and the search for new markets are handled, as well as the sale of the crop.
“It’s quite a different thing to negotiate contracts together as an cooperative than as an individual farmer” says Douglas Moenga. He continues “as a cooperative, farmers are able to offer buyers hundreds or even thousands of kilos of corn, for example. For such a quantity, it is already possible to negotiate with wholesale buyers to get the best price”.
The cooperative can also more easily become part of services, such as agricultural advice. The development of operations is possible, because the cooperative can grant small loans that can be used to finance the development work.
When the Nyamira North Women’s Cooperative was established in 2014, there were 30 farmers involved. Now already 1,604 farmers are working in the cooperative.
“When money has started coming in, men have also become interested in these previously neglected vegetables, and also they have joined the cooperative. More and more men now recognize the importance of women in improving the financial situation of families”.
The cooperative’s first farming center has just been opened. There, it is possible to process the harvest by, for example, drying or grinding, so that it can be preserved until it is sold.
Waste is reduced and farmers’ incomes are increased when, instead of raw materials, further processed products that meet the quality requirements of larger buyers, can be sold.
Permanent benefit of the projects
“The projects we support always leave something new and permanent in the communities that doesn’t disappear after the project ends” says Jenna Kettunen, Solidarity Foundation’s Sustainable Livelihood Adviser.
It is often about new and more environmentally friendly ways of doing things, more climate-resistant food crops, sales channels in new markets, or new cooperation networks, for example with East African universities.
In Nyamira’s women’s agricultural projects, an important thing has been the connection with agricultural advisers and food companies.
Supporting women’s farming is also important for Nyamira’s regional food security, as vegetables are food that is not produced for export but for Kenyans’ own consumption.
“The future of the cooperative looks bright”, rejoices Douglas Moenga. “Our next goal is to encourage more and more women to put part of their income into savings, so that they have the necessary financial buffer and opportunity to invest independently in the future. This way, more and more women can get involved” Moenga continues.