Distributing high-iron and zinc bean varieties to women farmers during COVID-19

by Eileen Nchanji

Achieving food and nutritional security and economic prosperity is possible within an equitable system where structural barriers are removed and traditional gender norms and stereotypes are broken. With additional stress on food security caused by social and economic disruptions of the pandemic, it is key to continue working with women farmers to ensure healthy and reliable harvests to support their families during the crisis.

From left to right: Agricultural officer Florence Mwachugha providing farmer-to-farmer crop management training; Smart Logistics, a woman-owned enterprise weighing the seeds for purchase from local women farmers. Credit: CIAT

One structural barrier influenced by cultural norms is access to productive resources – land, seed, technology and information. Women, compared to their male counterparts, have limited access to good quality seed, information on the nutritional and yield potential of improved seed varieties, crop management and market access. Men attend most farming workshops and training sessions as ‘household heads,’ even when women are encouraged to attend the sessions.

Bean farming activities by men are generally related to land clearing and preparation. Women, however, primarily do most bean farming activities like planting, weeding, spraying, harvesting and threshing. Men, on the other hand, do more of the land clearing and preparations. Because they generally do the planting, Alliance researchers work to get improved seeds directly to women.

One place where we do this is in the Elementeita ward in Nakuru county, situated in the Central Rift Valley of Kenya. Known for its wildlife, including flamingos, the area includes Lakes Elementeita and Nakuru, which are protected areas but are undergoing increased pressure from human activity, underscoring the need for more sustainable use of natural resources in the area.

Nakuru is one of the many counties where the Alliance carries out Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) II activities funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). We work with farmers, especially the Ushiriano women’s group to provide information on the importance of using quality seed, bean crop management, gender inclusion, nutrition and market linkages. These activities are carried out in collaboration with Florence Mwachugha, an agricultural extension officer from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO).

Last year, Mwachugha visited the women’s group in Nakuru to give them information about available bean seed varieties suitable for their agro-ecological zones, such as Nyota, Angaza and Faida. In addition to providing higher yields, they are high in essential micronutrients iron and zinc.

From left to right: Florence collecting beans from women groups, and talking with a headmaster from the local primary school who is interested in a school feeding program that includes beans. Credit: CIAT

Micronutrient deficiency is a worrying health problem in Kenya. Anemia, which can be due to low iron intake, afflicts 41.6 percent of pregnant women, 27.2 percent of women of reproductive age and 26.3 percent of preschool children. In addition, zinc deficiency affects 83.3 percent of preschool children, 80.2 percent of school children, 82.3 percent of women and 74.8 percent of men. Poor rural households have higher prevalence and this often results in poor growth and development and impaired immune systems.

Seed solidarity during the pandemic

At the start of last season in September 2019, women interested in farming beans were encouraged to purchase certified seeds from KALRO, upon which they were provided with additional seeds to sow on their available land. This encouraged access to certified seeds and lowered the women’s investment risk.

Thirty-six women bought 65 kg of certified seeds and were given an additional 340 kg to increase and provide excess produce to sell. The harvest was good, and the women had average yields of 271 kg per acre. After the harvest, 25 percent of women sold their grains to Smart Logistics, a woman-owned enterprise that makes pre-cooked beans and bean snacks from high-iron and zinc bean varieties. Smart Logistics bought the bean grains at a premium price of USD 60 (Ksh. 6000) for 90 kg as opposed to the market price of USD 50 (Ksh. 5000) per 90kg . The rest of the harvest was sold to friends and neighbors.

During this pandemic, Mwachugha asked the group of women who received the 340 kg of seed – and still had some left over – to set aside 2 kg each to share with other women farmers who could not afford seed this season. Graciously, some women set aside more than 2 kg of seed.

So far, Mwachugha has been able to help 46 farmers obtain 131.5 kg of Nyota seed for this season.

Bean field visited by extension officers in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: CIAT

Through the current crisis, she continues working in the field, providing training to farmers on crop management and collecting data on what farmers need in order to be able to ensure farmer resilience for now and beyond the pandemic.

Moving forward we are looking at training women groups on producing bean flour to use in sauces and for porridge at home to reduce micronutrient deficiency and food insecurity, as they are the primary direct beneficiaries from a micronutrient-enhanced diet,” said Mwachugha.


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