Women at the helm of change – one-on-one with the Kyanika Adult Women Group

Women at the helm of change – one-on-one with the Kyanika Adult Women Group

Kyanika Adult Women Group has been a significant stakeholder in Bioversity International’s work in Kitui region, Kenya, for almost two decades. Irene Induli, Communications Officer at Bioversity International’s Kenya office, caught up with the leadership of the group and sought their views on Bioversity International’s engagement with them, the achievements so far, any notable challenges and their expectations regarding future activities and collaborations.

Bioversity International: Please share with us a brief history of your group, what has been keeping you busy and how you have been collaborating with Bioversity International over the years?

Kyanika Adult Women Group: Our group was formed on 20 April 1989. It started as a self-help group involved in tree planting (with the help of the Ministry of Agriculture), beading and weaving sisal ropes and baskets, locally known as viondoo (facilitated by the National Museums of Kenya) which were sold for income. At the beginning, we had 26 members, but currently the group is made up of 24 members.

Bioversity International started collaborating with us in 2000. It started with gourd farming and tree planting, and then later progressed to farming of traditional leafy vegetables in 2002. The vegetable farming initiative was embraced by the group members because it presented an alternative and reliable source of livelihood. Vegetables are a fast-moving and basic commodity, hence an assured source of income in addition to nourishing our households thus ensuring improved nutrition and health status.

Through numerous trainings facilitated by Bioversity International, our members mastered the art of selecting healthy tree and traditional vegetables seeds for conserving and selling.

Vegetable farming is practiced at individual level in kitchen gardens – small, personal gardens often located right outside our kitchen windows. Whereas as a group, we are involved in the cultivation of sorghum, beans and mung beans which are sold and the earnings shared among members and also re-invested in the farming activities.
Poultry keeping is also an activity the group members engage in for both domestic and commercial purposes. After the sale of farm produce, members are encouraged to invest the money in poultry keeping. They place chicken as a source of quick income. That in the case of an urgent need for money, we sell chickens and eggs to meet the need.

We are proud to have used the proceeds from the sale of gourds and tree seedlings to purchase a plot of land on which we will put up a shop to grow our gourd and seed business.

Bioversity International: Tell us a bit more about your group’s activities.

Kyanika Adult Women Group: Self-help groups are undoubtedly channels through which many lives have been transformed for the better in many African communities. Most development organizations work closely with such groups to facilitate socio-economic growth at the grassroot level.

Apart from agricultural activities for income generation, our group engages in table banking*, tree planting, and home banking for income. In home banking, each member has a piggy bank in which they are expected to deposit 20 Kenyan shillings (less than US$1) daily. This is aimed at raising funds for the purchase of a cereal-popping machine, yet another source of income as popped cereal can be sold at the market to customers of all ages.

In line with agricultural production, the challenges regarding yields have been destabilized by unreliable rains that led to losses and high costs of inputs like fertilizer. However, the group has adopted mechanisms like farming along riverbanks and digging of water pits for water storage, which has helped in reducing losses resulting from lack of rainfall and also ensured food availability even during dry seasons.

“We as a group can confidently vouch for Bioversity International as an organization that is results-oriented, with the keenness to improve both nutrition and economic status of a community. Therefore, any groups desiring to enhance their agricultural and nutritional status should definitely contact Bioversity International!” - Kyanika Adult Women Group

Bioversity International: How has working with Bioversity International and partners made a difference?

Kyanika Adult Women Group: Working with Bioversity International has put the group at a whole new level of recognition and status, not only in the locality but on the Kenyan map! You linked us to agricultural specialists who equipped us with knowledge and skills that have enhanced our production.

One of our members and the group’s secretary, Ms. Peninah Mwangangi, visited various parts of the country to share with other self-help groups the knowledge and skills gained from Bioversity International. The group has also participated in food fairs to create more awareness of the preparation and consumption of traditional locally available foods in various forms for dietary diversity. For example we learnt that cassava leaves are edible and Bioversity International taught us how to prepare them. We also learned how to make cake using sweet potatoes, sorghum and millet flours, and we shared this knowledge with other self-help groups.

Eating and selling traditional leafy vegetables – in exchange for other crops and meat – has added to our health and incomes. We add to our income also by planting and selling tree seedlings, poultry keeping and cereal popping.

The improved health is also evident among our family members. Ms. Emily Mbindia, a member of our group, indicated that there has been drastic reduction in the number of times she and her family visited the hospital because they enjoyed good health and felt better resulting from good nutrition practices.

In addition to nutritional and financial benefits, we have gained medically from the trees that have been provided by Bioversity International. We knew of the existence of  a number of trees whose bark and other parts can used to treat ailments ranging from sore throat, flu and kidney infection but their seeds were not available to us. We informed Bioversity International of our need for these seeds and their importance to us. The organization provided us with the seeds and we are now enjoying the benefits!

Apart from medicine, condiments are also derived from the leaves, barks and roots of these trees, thereby saving us the cost of buying, for example, tea leaves. Berchemia discolor (Kisaaya) fruits are alleged to treat kidney disease. Garcinia livingstonei (Ngaanga kanywa) fruit has lemon-like taste and is hailed for treating tonsillitis. Zanthoxylum chalybeum (Mukenea/Mukanu) and Acacia nilotica (Musemei) bark and leaves are used for making tea and serve as remedy for chest infections.

This work in Kenya is part of Bioversity International's research initiative on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems and is supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan and CGIAR Trust Fund Donors.

*Table banking: A form of banking where money is collected and loaned to members of the group at a small interest percentage, usually less than 10%, and is to be repaid within a specified time. The money is not taken to the bank but is used by the members to meet their financial needs while at the same time it earns interest.