Lean on me: the farmer in Kenya empowers vulnerable women – Kenya

The Living Program, supported by the World Food Program, enables Habiba to reach people who have problems in their community

From Martin Karimi

This article marks International Women’s Day 2021: “Women in Leadership Positions Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World”

“My religion doesn’t allow me to fill my stomach when my neighbor is hungry,” says Habiba. “So I have to help as many as possible with what little I have. For me it is sadaqah [the Islamic notion of ‘voluntary charity’]. ”

The 45-year-old farmer is an influential figure in Wajir, the capital of Wajir County in arid northeast Kenya.

The World Food Program (WFP) works with the Wajir County government to ensure farmers like Habiba have access to the technical expertise they need to diversify their livelihoods. In Kenya, the WFP supports around 390,000 people with livelihood initiatives – 51 percent are women.

Habiba describes herself as a community activist “with the heart to help other women”.

The mother of seven children currently protects 14 women from starvation. Together they form the Habiba Farmers Group.

Men will ask, “Why invest in their education when she’s going to get married and leave anyway?”

“As a manager, as a mother, I have no money to give,” she says. “I’ve decided to open my farm [to vulnerable women]. ”

In 2000, Habiba bought just over 3 hectares of farmland. She worked for a local charity raising awareness in the community about gender issues and women’s empowerment. She is determined to protect women from the abuse she has experienced over the years.

“In our culture, women generally don’t get the recognition they deserve,” she says – “even in this day and age.”

Habibas Group was founded in 2017. A devastating drought in the north of the country killed livestock and left families destitute. Women were always more vulnerable.

“It’s humiliating when a woman can’t afford to buy it [menstrual] Pads because they don’t have any money or property of their own, ”says Habiba. “Others, especially the young girls, have nothing to return home to and they can easily be lured into drugs to join extremist groups.” They’re also exposed to violence and sexual assault, she says.

“In this [Somali] Community raising girls is still seen as a waste of resources, ”she says. “The men will ask, ‘Why invest in their education when she’s going to get married and leave anyway?'”

Given such attitudes, many girls are married off early with little or no education. They rely on their husbands for everything – a situation that leaves them vulnerable to abuse.

Fardosa is one of the members of the Habiba Farmers Group. She is 23 years old, she suspects. She has been married for five years and has three children. She never went to school, even for a day, just because she was born a girl. She was married to a donkey cart driver at the age of 15.

Now she lives in a barrack on the outskirts of the city. Her husband gathers firewood from the nearby thicket and sells it at home or in the local market for an income. Fardosa knew no other way of life until she met Habiba.

Urgent need

“Usually we meet once a week as a group and think about what the group is about,” says Habiba. “We won’t meet again until next week – but Fardosa wanted to meet me at the farm today, which means she must have an urgent need.”

As Habiba suspects, Fardosa’s supplies have run out and she has come to see if she can get tomatoes.

“Group members are free to harvest produce, especially kale and tomatoes. We grow these [vegetables] to feed the members healthy, ”says Habiba.

Fardosa is happy. “Now my kids are eating well because of this farm,” she says. She has been a member for about two years. “I get free vegetables here. I also get some money every month that I use to buy other groceries like flour. “

In addition to growing kale, spinach, and tomatoes, the group also grows papaya and watermelon.

At the end of each month, the women meet and go through the books with the help of 25-year-old Farhiya, the group’s secretary. The profit from the sale is shared.

Fardosa uses this common profit to meet her other household needs.

On average, each member takes home 5,000 Kenyan Shillings (US $ 45).

“I’m a graduate, but I haven’t found a job. Habiba brought me here to keep records. It keeps me busy and I make some money ‘

With this money, some of the women were able to pursue a variety of livelihoods, including running small businesses. For example, six members of the group have opened restaurants using savings from Habiba’s farm.

“Some of our members run restaurants in the city, but in 2020 the coronavirus hit their businesses,” says Farhiya. “When the restaurants closed, members started selling fresh produce from the farm so they could continue to make a living.”

“Any member in need can come here and collect fruit or vegetables and sell them at the market,” says Habiba. “If they sell 100 shillings [US$0.90]You keep 30 shillings and transfer 70 shillings to the group. “

Habiba’s Farm makes around $ 900 every month. After paying the farm laborer and paying the electricity to pump water from the shallow well to the crops, the group always makes a profit.

“This farm is a haven for all of us,” says Farhiya Ahmed. “I’m a graduate, but I haven’t found a job. Habiba brought me here to keep records. It keeps me busy and I make some money. “

Farhiya is the first of nine children raised by a city worker and housewife and raised through scholarships. Today she helps her parents to feed the family.

Work out a plan

Habiba has big dreams for the group.

“We have to build a poultry farm,” she says. “If we can raise enough money to set up a hatchery and sell day-old chicks, birds for meat and eggs, each of us will take home a handsome pay at the end of each month.”

“We work in partnership with national and regional governments to drive development,” said Lauren Landis, country director for WFP Kenya. “Our main role is to help the government provide food and nutrition security for all Kenyans while staying on hand to respond to emergencies.”

Adan Rago Hassan is the Wajir County Animal Health Officer and designed a hatchery for Habibas Group. He is ready to help them build once the necessary funds have been raised.

“Every time we introduce a new crop or want to face a challenge, we call the county advisors to help,” says Habiba.

Habiba believes that every member of the group, young or old, trained or not, will thrive under their wings and eventually ascend to greater heights.

Learn more about the work of the WFP in Kenya

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