Women Smallholder Farmers Rising to the Challenge: Firsthand Perspectives from Kenya and Thailand
We see this potential firsthand as we work with female farmers in the field daily. In this blog, we want to tell you about the impact that women can have when they rise above cultural barriers to be successful farmers, nation builders, business people, mothers and wives. But first, let us introduce ourselves:
Diana: Jambo from Kenya! I was born in a smallholder farming family and we experienced many of the challenges smallholders face every day. As a child, I was focused on finding solutions to these challenges and keen on learning everything there was to know about farming. In school, I studied agriculture and, after getting my degree, I chose a job that would allow me to bring all my knowledge and passion to smallholders. I have worked with smallholder farmers for 12 years and have managed Bayer smallholder farming initiatives in Kenya for two years now.
Chuenjit: Sawasdee Ka from Thailand, where I was born in the capital city of Bangkok. My educational background is in agricultural and environmental science. I spent the first 13 years of my career in the crop protection industry in regulatory and technical affairs. Two years ago, I got the opportunity to join the smallholder farming initiative, and I accepted immediately because it is such a wonderful opportunity for me to work directly with farmers. With my education and work experience, I do believe that I can contribute to enhance their farming capabilities. As smallholder farming manager, I am working in Northeastern Thailand.
Women make up nearly half of the smallholder farming workforce
Diana: Women make up a large portion of the smallholder farmers I work with in Kenya. Across the counties, for all farmers we engage, women make up 30 to 60 percent. Though they attend the initiative meetings, half the men in attendance are delegating their work to women. Outside the smallholder initiative, the percentage could be higher – as high as 60 percent – as most women shy from registering themselves in farming groups.
Chuenjit: In Thailand, I would say that women are involved more in farming now than in the past. About 40 percent of the farmers I work with are women. Women smallholder farmers can farm as capably and efficiently as men if they have the same knowledge and technology access or background.
Navigating everyday farming challenges while overcoming traditional gender roles
Chuenjit: From my view, women work on every aspect of farming, but most of the time the decision-making rests with men. One reason is probably that in [Thai] culture we honor men as the family leader; on the other hand, technology and knowledge access is lower for women, because they spend most of their time focused on the huge role of caring for the family as well.
Diana: Finding balance between managing a home and managing a farm business is a real challenge in Kenya. Most assets are owned by men unless a woman is widowed. Women take care of everything from rearing livestock to farming, but after selling, all money goes to men. Most women still find it difficult to actively participate in meetings, with the belief that men should talk first, which denies them opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes. Housework like milking cows, cooking, and washing is also done by women. As many women juggle between several roles, there is little time to receive training and build technical know-how, so most are less informed.
Empowering women smallholders means reaching them on and off the farm
Diana: Families can become stronger if women have access to training and financial support on inputs. When women smallholder farmers have more financial capabilities, it will give them a platform to engage in building economies.
The Bayer commitment to women smallholders means that they are directly reached – that Bayer technologies reach women farmers and make a difference at the household level. That we go beyond business values to address this important segment, evaluating all touchpoints that can be addressed to ensure women smallholders are successful.
Chuenjit: From my experience, women are very keen to get new knowledge, which could improve their farming practices. That creates big opportunities that will allow them to develop their families’ livelihoods.
Our hope for the future: cultivating new realities for women, together
Chuenjit: I hope that women smallholder farmers will be recognized for their contribution to farming and be more involved in discussion and decision-making to support their families and community to achieve farming success.
Diana: A great example of the big impact women smallholder farmers can have on their families and communities is one woman smallholder farmer in Isiolo, Kenya, who grows tomatoes. In 2018 she was able to build her own rental houses where she gets monthly income. She has also been able to employ two permanent employees to help her in her day-to-day work on the farm. She is now able to cater for all her needs: medical, household and all her family bills comfortably. She says the community has benefited a lot through the demo plot, where they gather for lessons on how to produce more from small pieces of land.
Chuenjit: I know one woman smallholder farmer who became a leader of farmer group in a village that produces rice supplied to the government as rice seed. She is enthusiastic, knowledgeable and open to new technology. She is a good representative, and her group of farmers is very strong. This is an example to show that women smallholder farmers are capable of doing anything as well as men – if they get the opportunity.
In Kenya and Thailand, these dreams for the future of women smallholder farmers are starting to materialize. We can see first-hand how empowering women smallholder farmers helps women create better lives for themselves, their families and their communities – that’s the Smallholder Effect.