From Climate to Finance Culture; Kenyan Women in Agribusiness Face Many Challenges

By Dominic Kirui

At the foot of Mount Kenya, about 170 kilometres (105 miles) north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a beautiful farm named Kilima View (meaning it views the Mount Kenya and the Abadare Ranges), which brings life to the dry area with its green crops and a number of activities going on.

The farm was started by Phoebe Wanja, a middle-aged woman who is formerly a banker who quit her job at the bank four years ago to concentrate on farming.

Wanja’s parents lived and worked in Nairobi and that is where she grew up all her life, though she would visit her grandparents who were farmers during school holidays. That is how she developed an interest in farming.

“It was not until last year that the produce made sense for me, after I got access to the international market. And I don’t regret anything, not even my bank job. I am comfortable and happy here,” says Wanja.

He biggest challenge now, she says, is access to enough water to grow crops and harvest a good produce.

“This year it only rained four times and you can imagine how much water I need to water my crops right from planting to harvest,” she says.

Quite literally, in Wanja’s area, farming is not for the fainthearted because as she puts it, everyone else would be farming and there would be enough food were it not for the lack of water that has made it impossible for many people to farm.

Wanja’s move to quit her job at the bank in the city and move upcountry to work in agribusiness was a bold one, in a region where many young people view agriculture as an outdated career, reserved only for either the elder members of the society and those who do not excel in academics and get white collar jobs.

Phoebe Wanja harvesting snowpeas for export at her farm in Naro Moru, Nyeri County. Photo_ Dominic Kirui.

Recent data by the World Bank places the percentage of women in agriculture in Kenya at 59%, but there is a huge disparity as most of these women only work on farms either as laborers or are working on land that belong to their husbands or that they jointly own.

Data by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) stipulates that even though about 32 percent of households in Kenya are under women, women in the country hold only 1 percent of land titles on their own, while 5 percent own land jointly with men.

The Gender Specialist at USAID Kenya Investment Mechanism (KIM), Ms. Lucy Mitei says that climate change effects, as well as lack of access to resources by women have stopped them from making it in agribusiness.

“In the recent times, the consequences of climate change have been felt in different corners of Kenya, and the limited access to productive resources such as land coupled with ravaging climate changes continue to hinder meaningful participation of women in economic activities. Strengthening financing irrigation for small holder farmers like Phoebe Wanja will ensure consistent production and build resilience,” Mitei says.

Recently, Wanja applied for a training course at the USAID KIM and she was selected. At the training, she was taught on how to formally run her farming business as a company and ways to raise capital to expand it.

“This was a very important training as it taught me how to keep books and actually run my farm as an established business. We were also taught on how to pitch our businesses for funding opportunities,” she says.

As part of the training, the organization brought together the women trainees with financial institutions who would potentially provide funding for their businesses to expand and stabilize.

Wanja was among three whose pitches were successful, and says that three banks have already called her expressing interest in providing funds for her to expand her farming business.

“My biggest challenge is water and since I’m sharing a borehole with a neighbor, I need money to drill my own so that I am not limited on how much water I can use to run the farm at any given time. I also need to expand to about 12 acres from the current five because my family members are willing to have me do it before they can come back and settle back here from the city,” Wanja explains.

In the long run, she wants to but her own land to farm on so that she does not have to worry about the ownership and when her family will take back the land.

“This is one step in the journey. What we’ve done is that we have connected you with these valuable service providers, we’ve connected you with a broader network here at Strathmore, the alumni, the professors, the faculty here; absolutely amazing,” said Rob Henning the Acting Chief of Party at USAID KIM during the pitching event held at Strathmore University in Nairobi.

He also advised the women to take advantage of the connections they have made while undergoing the training, and ensure that they cultivate them to ensure their businesses grow.

“Please take advantage of your time here to connect with alumni network here to help you build your capabilities and grow your business,” he advised.


This story was first published by Africa Climate Reports

Dominic Kirui is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. He writes on gender, climate change, access to clean water, food security, culture, conflict, politics, and global development. See his portfolio here 

Related posts

Leave a Comment