Shaping resilience: the role of Kenyan women in countering climate change

Kenya's agricultural sector plays a vital role in the country's economic and social development. However, the sector faces numerous challenges, including low productivity, limited access to finance and quality inputs, and vulnerability to climate change. Projections for East Africa, particularly Kenya, indicate increasing temperatures, reduced rainfall, and more frequent climate shocks such as droughts and floods. These factors further exacerbate the existing difficulties faced by the agriculture sector, making it crucial to implement sustainable solutions to ensure food resilience and security.

In the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, SNV has been making significant strides in strengthening the counties' resilience to climate change. Through the Isiolo, Samburu Transforming the Environment Through Nexus (LISTEN) project, a four-year initiative implemented in partnership with Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), SNV is working to increase food, nutrition, and water security. By adopting an integrated approach and collaborating with various stakeholders, the project aims to address the challenges posed by climate change in the region.

Empowering women: a key to rural development

One crucial aspect of the project is empowering women in the target counties. Recognising the pivotal role women play in agriculture and rural development, the project aims to bridge the gender gap and ensure equal access to resources, services, technology, and training. By enhancing women's knowledge and capacity through training programs and access to improved agricultural practices, the project empowers them to become change agents in their communities. In this article, we will explore two inspiring stories that demonstrate how LISTEN has transformed the lives of women in these counties, focusing on poultry farming in Samburu County and Good Agricultural Practices in Isiolo County.

Poultry farming: an alternative source of livelihood amidst drought and conflict

In Samburu County, six consecutive failed rain seasons paint a real picture of the ravaging effects of climate change. The effects manifest displacement of families, scarcity of water resources, hunger, insecurity, and conflict. The traditional way of life, pastoralism, is under threat.

Despite these challenges, women have stepped up, embracing poultry farming as an alternative source of livelihood. Amidst limitations such as low production, disease control, and lack of information on farm management, these resilient women have taken the initiative to adapt to the situation. The LISTEN project has played a crucial role in enabling these women, providing extensive training through a collaborative effort between SNV, county livestock and veterinary extension agents, village-based consultants, and input corporations.

One of the women SNV works with is Santana Lemunaa, a member of the Chemichemi Women Group in Suguta Marmar. Santana and her group received training in chicken house construction, brooding, disease management, chicken feed making, and record keeping. They were also provided with improved chicken breeds, vaccines, and poultry equipment.

Santana's determination and the knowledge gained through the LISTEN project have led to significant improvements in her poultry farming venture. From a mere 15 birds, she now has over 75 birds, allowing her to increase her income and provide nutritious food for her family.

Santana Lemunaa feeding her chicken.

Santana holding collected eggs in a crate.

'When I received these birds, I didn’t know they could bring me money. I collect 30 eggs every day. I sell some to the nearby army barrack, some in the local markets and the rest are for my family’s consumption. Through the project, we were trained on the nutritional value of eggs to children. Now my children have access to a balanced diet,' says Santana.

The project's impact extended beyond Santana's individual success. The Chemichemi Women Group plans to establish a hatchery where they can supply eggs from their individual farms. This collective effort will allow them to capitalize on the market and further expand their poultry farming activities. The project's support and training have brought about a revolution in Suguta Marmar and proves how empowering women can contribute to the overall resilience of communities.

Enhancing productivity through Good Agricultural Practices

Julia Mugaa is a 71-year-old farmer from Isiolo County and a member of the Bidii Women Self Help Group in Burat Ward. According to her, since 2020, the region has been facing drought due to changes in rainfall patterns coupled with economic downturns brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The area has experienced failed rainfalls in the past five seasons, and to make matters worse, the local Isiolo River used for irrigation has been experiencing an increase in abstraction by upstream users.

The LISTEN project has focused on empowering women in the region through knowledge sharing and the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices, with a focus on introducing water-efficient technologies. Women, who make up more than half of the agricultural labour force, often face gender-specific restrictions that hinder their productivity and access to resources, such as insufficient training on what constitutes acceptable agricultural output, land ownership concerns, and a lack of financing.

The project recognises the crucial role women play in agriculture and aims to bridge the gender gap by providing training to women like Julia, enhancing their productivity and resilience to climate change.

Members of Bidii Women Group harvesting cowpea leaves.

By collaborating with the Isiolo County Government's Department of Agriculture, the project established demonstration farms and provided Julia’s women group with training on good agronomic practices. These include climate adaptation, variety selection, soil nutrient management, soil and water conservation techniques, integrated pest management, post-harvest handling, value addition, marketing, and gender mainstreaming.

As a result, Julia and her group experienced a significant increase in agricultural productivity, with their harvest of green grams from the 10m-by-10m demonstration farm doubling from 20 kilograms to 40 kilograms.

‘I have opened my eyes and can now see through a clear lens the changing technologies, adoption of improved practices in agriculture production, and incentivization farming model.’

Julia showing off some of the traditional vegetables harvested from the group mother demo farm.

This success has inspired them to expand their production and collaborate with other farmers to access better markets and prices. They have transitioned to sustainable farming practices and are actively engaging in value addition activities. The project's integrated approach, community engagement, and collaboration with the county government not only benefits the individual women involved but also contributes to the overall resilience and food security of Isiolo County.

Towards a resilient and sustainable future

Funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Kenya, the LISTEN project's comprehensive approach to strengthening resilience to climate change in Laikipia, Isiolo, and Samburu counties is making a significant impact. By empowering women and promoting sustainable agricultural practices, the project is enhancing food, nutrition, and water security in the region. Women play a pivotal role in agriculture and rural development and hold the power to become agents of change in their communities. By investing their knowledge, capacity, and empowerment, we can create a more resilient and sustainable future for the communities in Kenya's arid and semi-arid lands.

Learn more about the LISTEN project