Pro Gender Strategies Critical For Agri-Sector Progress

It’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Karah drops the harvested leafy greens from her back to the ground and slumps her tired body to the stool that has been waiting for her in the shade outside her house. Since 9 o’clock she has been tending to the livestock and crops on her three quarter acre family farm. But even before that she had been up from 5am to milk two cows, make breakfast, prepare her children for school, do the laundry and clean her house. 

Her mind flits from the fruit fly menace that is beginning to threaten her fields to the week of saving she’ll need to afford costly pesticide.The greens she spent the afternoon harvesting need to be sold but she has no means of transportation and the market is 7 kilometers away – too far to walk besides, her children will soon be back from school. Halfheartedly, she decides to sell her hardwon produce to the first middleman who comes knocking. Their prices are awful and even with a big sale, the amount won’t be enough to afford the pesticide, never mind facilitating smooth operations at the farm or covering her domestic needs. It will just about put food on the table.

Despite Karah’s hard work and dedication, she remains trapped in a cycle of poverty.

This scenario is one all too common to female farmers in rural Kenya. The female farmer is diligent and hardworking, the embodiment of perseverance. And yet this alone is not enough to overcome the challenges she faces at every turn in her journey.

A 2014 World bank study found that women in Kenya make up between 42% – 65% of the agricultural labor force and globally they produce more than 50% of the world’s food according to FAO. This contribution more than justifies the empowerment of rural women.

The silver lining to these challenges is the great opportunity offered by their solving. As we work to eliminate food loss and formalize Kenya’s food value chain, FoodFlow sees this process as one that goes hand in hand with female empowerment. Only by improving the position of women can we fully realize our goal of 0% loss chain.

Why do women face these challenges?

The vast majority of the challenges these women faced are borne from several key issues, namely a lack of institutional support, societal biases, inadequate advocacy and ignorance. 

The material consequences of these issues mean that women have reduced access to land, loans and machinery than their male counterparts. They are also less efficient than men, forced to shoulder the dual burden of paid work and child care/domestic labor. According to IFAD, small scale farmers contribute to 80% of food consumed in Asia and sub-Sahara, and women play a central role. If provided with proper support systems and infrastructure, their productivity has the potential to significantly increase. As a 2011 UN report puts clearly ‘Women in rural areas have the potential to raise agricultural production to levels that would feed up to 150 million more of the world’s hungry people if they had equal access to the means of production”

How then, can we make sure Women in Agriculture are being Empowered?

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index is a tool that was developed by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFRI) to monitor women’s inclusion in agricultural sector growth. It offers a novel approach to measuring empowerment in an effort to overcome the hurdles and constraints faced by women in agriculture, and enhances understanding of women empowerment in different economic, social and cultural contexts.

This index monitors women’s inclusion and engagement along five domains: (1) decision over production, (2) access, ownership and decision over resources, (3) control over use of income, (4) social and economic leadership and (5) time allocation. It also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their household. Beyond this, it includes enhanced modules on market inclusion, livestock, and health modules. These domains can then be used to evaluate the disadvantaged aspects of women’s lives. Programs use this index as a guideline to plan, initiate, monitor and determine progress made towards gender equality in line with Sustainable Development Goal number 5.

The WEA index has been instrumental for mapping out FoodFlow’s selection of interventions and actions for women empowerment. We have been particular on interventions pertaining to domain 1, 4 and 5. 

SokoFresh & FoodFlow’s Vision for The Female Farmer

FoodFlow recognizes the immense contribution of women in agricultural production and in its mission to showcase zero percent food loss, we necessarily employ strategies that are pro-women.

What are we doing to empower women in our projects? 

Glad you asked! Through our venture SokoFresh, we have managed to onboard 1200 farmers across our hubs in Murang’a, Embu, Kajiado and Makueni and Kitui. Over 30% of these are women. Through our venture SokoFresh, we offer cold storage as a service to farmers. This project in Kenya has already made massive strides towards tackling challenges faced by the farmers. Cold storage is being used as a strategy to prevent spoilage and allows farmers more time to secure markets. The direct effect is that greater volumes are sold at better prices increasing the farmers’ earned income. This project officially started in 2020 in Murang’a and has spread out to 4 other different regions, engaging in 5 different value chains; avocadoes, mangoes, French beans and bananas. This increased income directly alleviates the farmers’ challenges, providing farmers like Karah with the money they need domestically and professionally.

SokoFresh also links farmers to a fair market to counteract  the exploitation and inefficiencies inherent to the middleman system. The venture collects produce from the farm gate, aggregates it at a hub and finds buyers for the produce. This benefits female farmers who produce small amounts and have neither the means nor time to get their produce to market. 

In short, SokoFresh has directly cut waste to rates as low as 0-2%, and increased farmer earnings by 40%, it also serves as a crucial touchpoint where female farmers can be engaged and supported with interventions such as affordable eco-friendly pest control traps, training and advice. 

We’re building skills and providing platforms

We have also heavily invested in a gender-responsive marketing system development approach in alignment with the WEAI module on marketing which has led to significant increases in income, knowledge impact, farm management practices and diverse skill adoption. Our platform has immense benefits to the female farmers. By providing critical information on current market prices and available buyers, farmers have increased bargaining power and are able to avoid exploitation by middlemen, which directly contributes to their bottom line. Credit facilities are also provided, a major gain for female farmers who often experience financial constraints, which prevent them from expanding their operations.

As a bonus, SokoFresh organizes farm visits and training to educate farmers on good agronomic practices. As a result, farmers are now making better management decisions pertaining to farm management and cultivation and digital literacy is also on the rise. Besides this inherent value, these training groups have become a useful space for women to confidently voice their opinions, suggestions and challenges – many of which would otherwise go unheard.

Teresia Muthoni, one of our onboarded farmers in Murang’a testifies “The increase in earnings have enabled me to plant more trees and feed my family better.” This kind of impact is exactly why, FoodFlow!

Looking Forward 

Sure, achieving gender equality is going to take some serious work and time but at FoodFlow, we are in it for the long run. We are constantly seeking to grow, improve and streamline efficiency, and for this having a dynamic, diverse team is crucial. Alongside ensuring diversity in our team, empowering women through our projects has always been a priority. We remain accountable in the journey of closing the gender gap and actively strive to account for gender differences in our service delivery, and provide equitable access to opportunities for various types of engagement and decision making.

Winfred Githinji, a cold storage hub operator at SokoFresh

We are ever ready to jump on the opportunities presented by the empowerment of women, forming collaborations and partnerships for the obvious greater good. This is a task that cannot be done alone, it requires collective action!  

In our regions of operation, our interventions have already effectively empowered women. Women are heavily involved in the food production process, working in the fields and selling the produce harvested. While the land still overwhelmingly belongs to the men, women have more power over the harvested crops and profit most from the introduction of cold storage and market linkage solutions. Women are also in charge of selling produce, and most strongly feel the burden of long exhausting walks to distant market centers and bearing the costs of hiring transport for delivery. Through our storage and market linkage interventions, we are already well underway to alleviating these challenges.

Sustainable food waste prevention provides a clear economic justification for female empowerment that only underscores the obvious moral case for doing so. If we are serious about saving our planet, and meeting dietary needs of a booming world population we must reduce our waste and as we do so, lift up women along the way.

Agree? Get in touch and let’s work together as we make food loss a thing of the past, and empower women along the way.

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