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New deal to empower women farmers in East Africa

02 April 2013, Coastweek Kenya

In Kenya, farmers lack proper information on best farming practices which has been contributing to the dwindling farm harvests

Special report by Xinhua Correspondent Ejidiah Wangui

Nakuru (Xinhua): Veronicah Kihanya knows no other tools of trade apart from her two-acre piece of land and her jembe.

Her small farm at the heart of little known Gilgil in Nakuru County has been the source of her income in her entire life. There have been disappointments in her "farming career" but Kihanya has never given up.

Kihanya is among millions of women in Kenya who rely on small scale farming for upkeep. Like Kihanya, many of these farmers lack technical know-how or even modern tools to upscale their farming. They still practice traditional farming which has done nothing much apart from helping them put food on the table.

Women according to development organizations could play a big role in replenishing empty food stores given the right support and recognition.

Kihanya is among other thousands of women farmers in East and Horn of Africa who will benefit from an information sharing tools launched by Airtel and UN, in a growing trend that is recognizing the pivotal role of women in agriculture and the need to arm them with timely information.

Women form the largest percentage of those actively engaged in agriculture but are still grappling with information access which is ultimately affecting food production.

In Kenya for example, women provide 80 percent of farm labor and manage 40 percent of smallholder farms in Kenya.

Yet they own only 1 percent of agricultural land, receive only 10 percent of credit and only access about 1 percent of information that is necessary for their crop production. In Horn of Africa, women produce 90 percent of all food, yet do not share equally in the economic benefits.

The Farmer's Information System will help the users find real time weather and farming policy updates, in order to support the development of women entrepreneurs.

The UN Women body will identify the farmers to be covered, while Airtel will deliver the appropriate mobile solutions during the two-year partnership. Airtel will also co-finance projects promoting the empowerment of women and girls.

According to the agreement, UN Women will identify the farmers to be covered under this initiative, whilst Airtel will package and deliver the appropriate mobile solutions to support their livelihoods and enhance their efficiency.

Andre Beyers, the Chief Marketing Officer, Airtel Africa said the empowerment of women is essential to economic development, especially in rural and agricultural economies.

"We are pleased to partner with UN Women and contribute to their agenda of gender equality and empowerment of women by leveraging the possibilities mobile telephony has to offer," he told Xinhua.

According to Handfarm International report, two in every 10 Kenyan farmers are women who are still struggling with access to seeds and better farming practices.

Lack of seeds is attributed to lack of information about their existence since thousands of these seeds lay in research institutions.

Even though Kihanya learnt of the development, she said it has come at the right time and hoped it will bridge an information gap between farmers and research organizations.

In Kenya, farmers lack proper information on best farming practices which has been contributing tothe dwindling farm harvests.

The effects of climate change have been felt mostly by the farmers especially due to dependence on rain-fed agriculture. The changing and unpredictable raining seasons has greatly affected their ability to plan their farming activities.

Areas which received adequate rainfall now receive insufficient rainfall reducing the land that can support agriculture. The new initiative seeks to address this.

Although Kenya has a well-developed agricultural research system, use of modern science and technology in agricultural production is still limited.

Inadequate research–extension–farmer linkages to facilitate demand-driven research and increased use of improved technologies continue to constrain efforts to increase agricultural productivity as farmers continue to use outdated and ineffective technologies.

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