After spending a week and a half observing, asking a lot of questions and contemplating, I see that the woman of the Ruuju Womans Group and the Muchui Womans Group are some of the most resilient woman I have ever met. Many of the woman in these two womans groups live a subsistence existence, where they are working hard each day to provide the basic nutrition and health to their families. Many of them do not have anything extra to speak of, a knife, a pen, paper are all luxuries that do not make it into their lives unless they are a gift. Some of the woman in these groups have jobs outside of their daily tasks on their farms. They wake at 4:30 AM to prepare for the children, the farm and then get themselves off to work. The food is basic, not processed and packaged. They eat what is grown on their shamba (farm) or vegetables or cereals from a shamba next door. They walk everywhere, or if they have the shillings they pay to hire a motorcyle to drive them they will go out of the rural area where they live to do their business in town. For some this happens once every couple of months or only when the children need shoes or someone needs medical attention. Most of the homes I have visited do not have power.
I have been conducting focus groups with the woman in the two womans groups. The purpose of these focus groups has been to learn from them what is of benefit to them in their womans groups, what challenges they face in the groups, what changes they would like to see and the real point has been how they envision carrying on with the iniatives of their groups once the CIDA Funded FHF project is complete in 2014. The woman for the most part are all saying the same thing in the four different groups – that being a part of the group has provided them with great benefits of tanks to hold water, screen houses, stoves that reduce smoke and fire wood use, and farming skills that increase the vegetables grown on their farms (shambas). They also value greatly the community in their groups. The major challenge identified by all groups is having a market for their products. If they can make more shillings then they can fund more of the work that their womans groups have started. For reference, the price of a green cabbage is 5 -20 shillings – that is less than one cent in Canadian Dollars.
In a region where so many people are just surviving, it is difficult to see where or how the market price can improve. The culture of very cheap food is borne out of necessity for the most part, but just like everywhere else I have visited, it is still on the backs of the small scale farmers. There are much larger farms here in Kenya. Farms that have 100's of acres of tunnel houses growing crops for export. Those farms appear to be doing well (and are not owned my Kenyans). I question as we travel past the large acrage of tunnels if those farms have difficulty accessing water year round like the woman in the villages do. I don’t know the answer.
In Nova Scotia we have many citizens who are aware of the issues facing the family farm and who are willing to pay fair prices for their food from farmers. Many people are making choices in their daily lives that support farmers directly both in Nova Scotia or in other places by choosing fair trade products. More than ever before I can see how critical these choices are to the lives of others. I have not found this same population here in Kenya yet (that want to pay a bit more to support the health of small farmers). Some say there isn’t such a group, but I believe there must be. Now that many young professionals have moved away from their family farms into the city to work for higher pay, they may see or feel the disconnect, we just need to start talking with them and find out more.
Four observations so far that I suggest require action are:
1) the woman farmers having a consistent variety of vegetables to sell every day of the year
2) more one on one hands-on skills development in the areas of farm management, crops, composting, pest control - non chemical interventions (because they are expensive), and problem solving
3) collaboration between groups and between woman to have a large enough volume of product available for sale
4) marketing and sales person for both Ruuju and Muchui womans groups
The woman I have talked with have indicated that they wish they could sell more vegetables for more money because they are selling at a loss many times.
Today, Wednesday February 6 2013 I have spent the day talking with two groups of woman who are members of the Muchui Womans Group. We have started the discussion of business planning.
(Disclaimer: I am constantly grapling with a concern with my observations and ideas impose my ideas or values from where I come in my life. I suppose there is not much I can do about that except be aware of it.)