At Her Service

Article Date

21 November 2014

Article Author

David Snyder

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Behind the counter of her small ‘agro-dealership’, Evelyn Otieno bears the countenance of a woman well in charge of her domain. After 14 years in the business of selling agricultural inputs like fertilizer and seeds to farmers in rural Western Kenya, there are few questions to which she does not have the answer. And while in the past, those questions have traditionally come from male customers, many more are now coming from women.

“In the African set up it’s the women who take care of the families,” explains Otieno, who is taking part in a USAID-funded project aimed at making  Kenya’s agriculture-based economy more gender-equitable, productive, and beneficial to society as a whole by boosting food security. “So when it comes to agriculture the women must be involved.”

Recognizing the important role women play in agricultural production in Kenya, ICRW launched the Innovations in Gender Equality project – IGE-Tech for short – in 2012 to better cater to female smallholder farmers in two counties in Western Kenya. The project strives to provide women farmers with the knowledge, decision-making and leadership skills, agricultural inputs, and technology to farm more effectively.  With women comprising a significant proportion of the agricultural labor force in Africa, doing so is key to ensuring increased food security – the main goal of the IGE-Tech project.

“Most of our customers now are actually women,” Otieno says. “They buy in smaller quantities than men, but whenever they get a little money, they come to the shop to buy,” she adds, referring to the purchasing of agricultural inputs.

ICRW and partner agency AGMARK, a Kenya-based nonprofit that specializes in helping smallholder farmers  access information on better agricultural practices and farm inputs like seeds and fertilizers, have joined efforts to train 24 agro-dealers like Evelyn Otieno. She now uses her shop as an information and service hub for both men and women farmers. When the planting season arrives, both men and women in the region now have access to the information and products they need to make farming decisions that ultimately impact the food security of their families.

“AGMARK linked the dealers with the suppliers,” Otieno says. “They taught us the right types of seeds and fertilizers to use in the region. Then I can pass that information on to my customers. It’s a chain.”

Critical to the project are the Farmer Input Savings and Loan groups (FISLs).  IGE-Tech works with farmers in these groups to demonstrate the benefits of saving money in order to purchase agricultural farming inputs, and, importantly, how to use those inputs.

“Some agro-dealers have already been trained to develop demonstration plots for their customers,” says Tedson Nyongesa, Field Officer for AGMARK. “Through those they develop demand for their products and help farmers who can learn better by seeing [how to use the products].”

Agro-dealers can now show farmers how to optimally space and prepare their seedbeds, and which types of fertilizer and seeds to use for different types of fields and gardens. While she goes to great lengths to serve as a resource for her customers in the shop, Otieno says that her own demonstration plot is a far more effective tool in helping farmers understand how, when, and with what seeds to plant.

“I want others to learn from it,” Otieno says. “It has changed so many people. Once people see it, they come to me afterwards and say, ‘I want that specific type of seed.’”

With nearly 1,900 current members taking part in IGE-Tech, it is reaching deep into the rural communities it serves. For Otieno, business is booming as word of mouth spreads about the project, driving new customers almost daily to her counter. So successful has her shop become that she and her husband have opened a smaller sister shop down the road. And while they are proud that, together, they employ eight local residents, Otieno’s interest in the IGE-Tech project goes deeper than simply expanding her business.

“As a woman I know the challenges women have,” Otieno says. “So I am always interested in helping them if possible.”