Kenya: Pastoralist women find economic freedom through fruit and vegetable gardens (Trust)

| May 18, 2015

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The Samburu people of northern Kenya traditionally believed that, if a woman is not beaten by her husband, then she is not loved. Naserian Lyengulai is trying to change that belief.

Over the years, Mrs. Lyengulai’s husband beat his 59-year-old wife a number of times for borrowing money to buy food or medicine for the family. Mrs. Lyengulai says that men usually take care of the family finances. She explains, “The place of the Maasai woman is to raise children. Sometimes [my husband] does not leave money in the house, [and] I have to feed the children on stored milk.”

But these days, Mrs. Lyengulai has her own source of income, and the beatings have stopped.

The mother of six is a member of the Kibartane Women’s Group in the Samburu District of northern Kenya. The women formed the group because they wanted better meals for their children. They found it difficult to buy vegetables because the nearest trading centre is 20 kilometres away.

Now the women grow vegetables and fruit such as pawpaws on a half-hectare plot. Mrs. Lyengulai says, “All that I need to do now is to join my colleagues at the kitchen garden to get my share of fruits and vegetables.” The women sell the surplus produce for cash.

Irrigation water is scarce in this drought-prone region. Many families rely on springs fed by sporadic rain showers. But the NGO, International Medical Corps, built a system which pipes water into the village from the nearby Nkutoto Hills. Water from a spring drains into a storage tank. Villagers use the water for washing and cooking. Mrs. Lyengulai’s group also uses the water for their garden.

Governments in many parts of East Africa are pushing pastoralist communities to abandon their nomadic way of life. Supporters of a switch to crop farming say that such a move will improve food security, curb conflicts between herders and farmers, and free up land. But critics argue that switching from pastoralism to settled farming could make communities less resilient to climate change, including the worsening droughts.

Switching to permanent crop farming may prove difficult because land is often held communally. Pastoralist communities, and particularly women, will need land deeds to ensure that their hard work growing crops is not wasted.

Louise Towon is the director of the Girl Child Education Support Programme in Samburu. She notes that local women are not included in decision making. Ms. Towon warns, “[Crop farming] will not work because when it comes to ownership of the land, women have no right to property.”

She concludes: “Women are the backbone of families … They should first be given the right to contribute or make a decision on land before testing new approaches like fresh produce farming.”

But for now, selling fruit and vegetables gives the women an income of their own. They can spend their own money while their husbands are away for weeks at a time herding animals – and without the risk of a beating.

To read the full article on which this story was based, Kenyan pastoralist women find new economic freedom — from pawpaws, go to:

Photo credit: A Samburu woman from the Kibartane Women’s Group members work in the community women’s garden in Kibartane, northern Kenya. Credit: TRF/Kagondu Njagi