Kenya: Poor farm succession planning means women farmers struggle to make a living

| August 16, 2021

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When Kenyan farmer Dorothy Achieng divorced her husband, she lost all access to and ownership of the family farm. She was lucky that she could afford to buy two acres to support her children. But other women are not so lucky. Poor farm succession planning and a lack of shared decision-making is common: as farmers age, there is sometimes no plan for who will take over the farm, and women are often excluded. Some believe that ownership and decision-making power should be limited to men. But others disagree. Albert Cheruiyot, a father of four, says that decision-making on his farm is gender-equal. He explains that, when everyone in his family agreed that farming benefits all, regardless of gender, they began sharing decision-making. Now, he says, the farm runs smoothly.

Dorothy Achieng stands with her hands on her hips in her pawpaw field on the shores of Lake Victoria. She looks at the beautiful green, ripening pawpaw fruits and smiles because her dream of owning productive land has come true.

She says, “I am happy to have my own piece of land because without it, I would still be suffering with poverty. I am able to cultivate pawpaw and other crops in order to feed my five children.”

Mrs. Achieng lives in Lambwe village in Kenya’s Homa Bay county. She and her husband divorced in 2017, and because it is difficult for a woman to inherit land in her community, it was not easy for her to make a living.

To turn her situation around, Mrs. Achieng purchased two acres of land and planted pawpaw and crops like maize, sunflower, and pumpkins.

She explains: “When women have no ownership of land, they can’t produce food. In my case, when the children need anything, they cry to me as their mother. I am responsible for their basic necessities such as food, clothing, and school fees.”

Mrs. Achieng is among the few lucky women in Kenya who own land, produce food to feed their family, and have surplus for sale to support their children’s basic needs. She says that most women in her area face a particular challenge: there is no succession plan which states how the family farm will be passed on when the husband dies or after a divorce.    

She explains that, because there was no succession plan, the land belonged to her husband, in keeping with culture and tradition in the area.

She says, “In my area, traditional and cultural beliefs have been a barrier for women when it comes to land ownership, especially through inheritance. This hampers their capacity to be economically active.”

Twenty-six-year-old Christine Cheptoo hails from Kericho in Kenya’s Rift Valley and faced a similar problem. Her efforts to inherit land from her father did not materialize due to family conflict. She explains: “My elder brothers blocked me from farming at my father’s farm immediately after my father passed on. Instead, I leased an acre not far from my home where I started to grow tomatoes.”

She says that decision-making on family farms is most often handled by male children, adding that this hampers women’s contribution to reducing food insecurity.

According to John Omondi, a farmer from Aringo village in Homa Bay county, land ownership is for men only, and male children are the rightful inheritors of their parents’ land.

Mr. Omondi asks, “My daughters contribute to family farming activities while still at home, and I know they will get married, so why should I divide land for them?”

Albert Cheruiyot, a father of four, says that decision-making on his family farm is gender-equal. He explains: “We sat down with my wife and children where we agreed that things to do with family farming benefit all, regardless of gender,” adding that things are smooth now that everyone in the family is engaged in farm planning.

Betty Anyango is a 31-year-old economics graduate who gave up her career in 2018 due to a lack of employment and started farming. She lives in Kanyira village in Homa Bay county and is another lucky farmer who has worked around the cultural norms that make life harder for women.

Ms. Anyango, who is unmarried, says that her culture does not allow women to inherit land from their parents. Left out of her family’s farm succession plan and unable to get employment in a competitive job market, she decided in 2018 to purchase her own land for farming. She grows watermelons and vegetables, and is happy with farming because she is makes a living from it.

Faith Alubbe is the Chief Executive Officer for the Kenya Land Alliance. She says that, although there are laws that protect women’s right to land, there are gaps between policy and practice because many people still adhere to traditional, cultural beliefs that land ownership is for men only.

Mrs. Achieng says that it’s important for every farming family to make a good succession plan that designates who should own the land after the death of the male landowner. She says that, if she didn’t work hard and make an effort to buy her own land after her divorce, she would still be struggling with poverty.

She adds, “I have enough food in my house now. We are still eating produce from the previous season. I feel proud because if you have enough food, you don’t worry anymore as a mother.”

Farm Radio International is working with the Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Activity (KCDMS) of USAID, implemented by RTI International, to co-create radio content resources aimed at advancing youth entrepreneurship in agribusiness. This activity is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with technical assistance from RTI International. The contents are the responsibility of Farm Radio International and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

Photo: Grace Msictwa, Eva Visima, Agnes Mgzya and Lilian Nyambulzpi are discussing their stories in Njombe, Tanzania on April 19, 2017 while Johnabu Kiombo calls a local farmer to tell him what he’s learned from the women. Credit: IDRC/Bartay.