Empowering Kenya’s Agriculture Backbone: A Focus on Rural Women

In May 2023, Rainforest Alliance withdrew the export certification of the products associated with two multinational tea companies — James Finlay and Ekaterra. This comes in the wake of a BBC documentary that exposed the sexual harassment and abuse of female workers at these estates. Incidentally, sexual violence is only one among the several factors that impede a conducive environment where female workers in rural supply chains can also effectively contribute to the agri value chains as crucial stakeholders.

For instance, since a majority of farms in Kenya are located in remote areas, many are far from necessary support services such as transportation networks and gender-specific resources. Female farmers also face additional obstacles in accessing vital resources such as land, credit, inputs, and technical support. This limited access restricts their ability to enhance productivity, adopt sustainable farming practices, and effectively compete in the market. The lack of formal education not only makes them vulnerable to exploitation but gives them restricted alternatives to earn livelihoods and, more importantly, robs them of their agency.

Addressing such hardwired challenges requires systemic change. In Africa, nearly half of all agricultural workers are women. Despite a decrease in the total agricultural workforce, the number of female workers in this sector is on the rise. This underscores the importance of creating a system that intentionally empowers women with economic opportunities.

“Enviu’s ventures have a unique position to drive the gender agenda because we operate mainly in rural Kenya. Knowing we are setting standards in inclusivity, we have had to develop specific job profiles and prioritize employing women. We are also constantly reminded of the threats women face from the stories we hear and would like to learn how we can continue to model ideal working conditions for women, especially in rural Kenya,” says Arpana Philip, Senior Venture Builder.

How Enviu promotes gender equity

Creating businesses that truly benefit people and the planet requires an approach rooted in inclusivity, fairness, and transparency. Innovation can be the catalyst for driving such meaningful social change. Here are five ways Enviu is designing businesses that protect rural women in smallholder supply chains.

1. Identify opportunities for businesses that promote gender equity.
Our process begins with getting into the market and conducting in-depth studies that help us understand the gaps in the market and possible leverage points.

Once we ideate businesses, we identify opportunities in our businesses to include women and engage them through our products and services. Our value-addition venture, Shambani Pro, takes an active approach to empower rural women in Embu’s Karurumo village by offering jobs targeting women as well as the opportunity to own micro-factories for those interested in pre-processing. Since most women in rural areas do not own land and produce, we organize training sessions as an all-women farmer group, where we also offer produce on a credit arrangement to help them kick-start their pre-processing.

2. Incorporate diversity in team building/management.
Achieving gender balance and diversity in senior management positions is a crucial step toward creating a fair and inclusive workplace. However, it is essential to go beyond mere representation and actively create job opportunities that support women. A compelling illustration of this is Shambani Pro, our value-addition venture, where three women hold leadership positions in the C-suite. This commitment to achieving at least one-third representation of women in senior management showcases our dedication to fostering gender diversity and empowering women in key decision-making roles.

3. Develop gender-inclusive solutions.
We feel thrilled when we witness women actively engaging with our solutions. When designing these solutions, our focus is on how to incorporate women as both clients and suppliers. For instance, in our venture SokoFresh, we created agent jobs that included women. Agent jobs are flexible on-demand jobs that women can take on alongside household duties. This approach considers the cultural expectations of women’s role in rural Kenya, while providing them an opportunity to earn income.

4. Create a safe and inclusive workplace environment.
We take every complaint seriously, particularly when it comes to issues of harassment. Our approach is to address such matters promptly and decisively, often resulting in the termination of the responsible party. To ensure a supportive and secure working environment for all female rural workers, each of them is assigned a dedicated supervisor. This ensures that they have someone to turn to for guidance, support, and assistance whenever needed.

5. Partner with organizations that promote gender equity:
We are enthusiastic about collaborating with organizations that promote gender equity. Through these partnerships, we aim to develop and implement collaborative programs that provide female rural workers with access to grassroots credit facilities, agricultural knowledge, and mentorship opportunities.

Our partnership with the IKEA Foundation in our regenerative program has opened us up to a vast network of organizations that are focused on rural development, particularly with a strong emphasis on empowering women and youth. One shining example is Hand in Hand International, which is part of that closely-knit IKEA network, and is an organization we can learn a lot from as we work towards building gender-focused partnerships.

In conclusion, protecting the rights of rural women in smallholder supply chains is essential for achieving sustainable and equitable development. The challenges faced by women in rural areas are complex and multifaceted, including issues related to gender-based violence, limited access to resources, and social and cultural barriers. However, through targeted interventions, including capacity building, advocacy, and policy reforms, we can create more inclusive and equitable supply chains that prioritize the rights and well-being of rural women. It is only by working collaboratively across sectors and engaging rural women as equal partners that we can ensure that they are able to participate fully and benefit from economic opportunities.

Join the movement for gender-inclusive supply chains and help us make a transformational impact! We’re on a mission to empower more than 10,000 smallholders to embrace regenerative techniques on a large scale. As a vital part of our regenerative agriculture program, we’re launching our first business intervention. Contact us at eastafrica@enviu.org to become our partner in this journey or to discover more about our initiative.

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