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Notes from the field

Vladymir Rivera, VSO partnerships lead for Resilient Livelihoods, recounts his experience of visiting VSO's agroecology project in Siaya, Kenya

After an hour’s flight from Nairobi, and a 30-minute drive from the city of Kisumu we meet Millicent and other members of a VSO-supported women’s group - Frontier - in Sirembe village. Since 2018, this group produces a range of vegetable and fruit food staples including maize, beans, kale, and root crops such as cassava and sweet potato. This food is in regular demand locally and fills the gap in supply at the local markets.

The women formed themselves into this collective group to improve their incomes to support their own families. All members engage in cultivating individual plots of land. Many members are engaged in a contract growing scheme where they can access seeds and fertilizer inputs on loan. This helps make ends meet. 

They build on this income, with collective farming – dividing work and income equitably. Together, they practice rotational multi-cropping of fruits, cereals, root crops and vegetables without harmful chemicals and pesticides. Part of these earnings goes to a saving scheme called ‘table banking’ enabling each member to contribute to a money pool, from which they can also borrow.

Carolyn (centre) donates part of her land to share it with other women: a form of solidarity that’s catalysing a culture of self-determination in her group.

Close to Frontier, another women’s group Greenlink, led by Carolyn, has organised around providing employment and a decent living to women facing difficulty earning an income or finding a job. Each member also cultivates their own plot with vegetable and fruit crops, and Indigenous food crops. Some women engage in contract farming, others with their own kitchen gardens. Unsold agricultural produce can also be bartered. A few sacks of maize can be exchanged to importantly pay for children’s school fees.

Carolyn donates part of her land to Greenlink for its use as their collective farm. She tells us that she will do so for as long as it is needed. The women draw strength from each other and have created a culture of self-determination.

Millicent and each member show the innate capacity of women to rise above difficult circumstances, find power in each other, and cultivate resolve to chart their own destiny. These groups are creating green jobs for themselves, while saving, exchanging, and conserving indigenous seeds.

Greenlink members preparing to take us to their communal farm.

Thanks to VSO supporters, both VSO volunteers support both groups to improve their skills, widen their networks such as linking them with government ministries and social services, and harnessing their potential by delivering projects that generate climate-resilient sustainable livelihoods. VSO has also provided support such as a solar-powered irrigation pump to supply the collective farm and seedlings of fruit and wood trees. 

It is through the development of their skills, the awareness of their rights, and their new-found confidence that the women say VSO has helped transform their lives and empowered them to be active citizens. 

Women pass on indigenous knowledge, skills and survival strategies of the rural farmers for developing sustainable agriculture that conserves the environment.

As we head back to Nairobi, we continue to ask ourselves what would it take to repair broken systems to shift some balance of power. What big steps and small strides lead us to sustainability based on social, economic and climate justice?

There are estimates that only around 30% of arable land in the world is accessible by smallholder farmers – like the women of Frontier and Greenlink – to produce around 70% of the world’s food. Think about that. Imagine how much food could be grown, how many people could earn a decent living and be employed if only people living in poverty could access much more of the world’s arable land. The impact could be enormous and increase the power of the world’s poor and hungry – now numbering over one billion people.

Be part of the climate change solution 

These women powerfully demonstrate how things CAN change with access to resource and empowerment. This lasting change can only happen with the kind help of VSO supporters. A gift from you today will help empower communities to feed their families today, tomorrow and in the future. 

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