It is the crack of dawn when Elizabeth wakes for her morning prayers at 5:30 am. She is roused by the first birds chirping for the day and starts to get her seven children ready for school.

Once the children are on their way, her farm work begins where Elizabeth cuts a trench with a practiced swing of her hoe. She toils for hours – weeding, planting and harvesting her crops. It can be backbreaking work and at 40 years of age, it does not get any easier.

Her next big task is to collect firewood. Like most African women this burden falls on her and she spends hours collecting for cooking and heating in the absence of electricity or gas. She also needs to walk about 4 km daily to go to rivers and springs because of the lack of piped water and wells near her home.

At around midday she goes home to prepare lunch for her children who are coming back from school for lunch.   It’s a welcome reprieve from the daily grind of being a farmer, but as soon as lunch is finished, she is back in the fields again maintaining the small plot of land.

Tired from the day’s activities she returns home to prepare dinner by 6.00 pm so that the children can eat early before they get too sleepy. It is a simple meal of ugali (a stiff cornmeal porridge) served with chicken, prepared with love and care over a wood fire stove.

The children are fed and asleep. Finally, some peace at 8:00 pm when she recites the last Islamic prayers for the day.

Elizabeth was like many women farmers in Africa – working from dawn to dusk and beyond to survive as a subsistent farmer. But in 2015 at a village meeting, she heard about a new initiative to encourage farmers to grow cotton.

Living on the breadline meant that Elizabeth was wary of any new initiatives that did not guarantee a good return. There was too much to risk for the family. Elizabeth relied on cashews as a cash crop, but over the years the price had plummeted. There was no reliable buyer, leading to her living a vicious cycle of risk and poverty.

Her ears pricked up when she heard that there was training, support in land preparation, provision of seeds and assistance with marketing from Base Titanium – a mining firm that was supporting farmer development near their Kwale mine – and Inclusive Business partner Business for Development.

She was excited about joining the local co-operative and was provided with all the inputs she needed to start growing cotton. She learnt that the costs of the inputs are deducted after the sale of produce – therefore reducing the financial risk to farmers.

It was the training that Elizabeth found to be the most useful. Armed with new knowledge, she felt confident in applying the new approaches, and achieved an excellent yield for her cotton and improved her income. She then applied similar techniques to her corn, sorghum, soybean and cowpea crops.

Now, thanks to a combination of cotton, sorghum and soybean, the family has three cash crops to earn them a decent income. Elizabeth can now provide food security for her children, pay for school fees easily and give them a good education, use the extra money to improve their standard of living through improving the house and getting regular medical check-ups etc.

Elizabeth still works from dawn to dusk, but now her efforts are finally reaping rewards and she is now able to provide a better life for herself and her family.

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day. This is an important day to celebrate and recognise all the work that women like Elizabeth are doing, and that it is integral to support them to achieve the SDGs.

Women are often viewed as the backbone of smallholder agriculture. Thanks to Inclusive Business models which provide them with training and tools, they are given the support needed to get out of the vicious cycle of poverty. Which not only means they can support themselves,  but also support their whole family to live happier lives.