In conversation with Regina Ndulu Kwale Agribusiness Program Smallholder Farmer and Thomas Ngotho, Senior Program Manager, Crops and Agronomy
As Business for Development’s Senior Program Manager in Crops and Agronomy, Thomas approaches a field where he is watching Regina, a smallholder farmer, working her plot of land. Regina has been asked to tell us about her life as a farmer, just before starting her story she takes a deep breath and lets the air escape her mouth slowly. Her lengthy sigh highlights it has not been an easy journey.
Growing up in Kwale, Kenya as a woman can mean the odds are stacked against you. With little education, Regina had no choice but to follow the footsteps of her parents and become a smallholder farmer. Her marriage ended and she was left to rear three young children on her own. She could barely feed her children let alone send them to school.
“The number of school dropouts has risen over the years because of poverty levels. This is due to parents being compelled to provide for the children’s primary needs like food, school uniform, writing material, and personal effects, which I was unable to afford. When there is food on the table, the surplus will be sold to cater for the mentioned provisions, it is then the narrative changes” Regina shared with Thomas.
How could Regina change her narrative? Her cashew crop was being impacted by mildew, and the bixa (a tree harvested for its seeds, which contain bixin, used for colouring cheese, fish, salad oil, margarine and cosmetics like lipsticks) she grew could only be sold to a broker who took most of the profit. Regina’s family used to grow cotton, and she knew the basics of what was needed for the crop. When she heard the Kwale Agribusiness Program was focusing on cotton and they had a strong buyer with Cotton On Group, her interests piqued. What appeared to be an insurmountable situation, the potential of a change became plausible.
Over time, through training and access to finance to buy quality inputs, Regina’s confidence level grew. Confidence in herself, in her ability to farm and to provide for her three children. “My household income has improved, and I can now pay my three children’s school fees, meet household needs, and have a surplus to start saving. This is so rewarding for me and my family.”
Regina’s newfound confidence helps her cope with the tough times she often faces and make the most of the good times. She wants to share her good fortune with other members of her Kwale Community. “Many families live below the poverty line, and the program can touch so many more members of the community”. Currently, the program supports 5,500 farmers and has the capacity to scale-up to meet the increasing demand for the sustainably produced cotton.
“I still see the gap in the community when I look at my neighbours who still are practicing traditional farming and in-turn don’t get enough produce to cater for all the needs of the household. It pains me to see children dropping out of school, and feel it is time for the farming practices of the whole county and even country to improve,” Regina advises.
Regina reflects on how her life has changed since becoming part of the program – her narrative holds a brighter future for herself and her children. But she feels more can be done for her community. “This calls for change of mindset of the whole community from subsistence farming to commercial farming. This will therefore call for more work to be done to help move a step from the traditional farming to modern farming to address the issues of food security”, she suggests.
Her powerful insight that we need to shift the mindset of the community, to make everyone more confident farmers, will lead to the systemic change needed to address the poverty experienced in Kwale. Mindsets and confidence are two of those rare characteristics that are infectious. When leading with a positive mindset and true confidence you will inspire those around you. You become the contagion. Regina is on the right path.
With our partners, Base Titanium Limited and Cotton On Group, sustainable, positive, inclusive change can be achieved for the community now and into the future. Regina is a testament to the Kwale Agribusiness Program.
We will be in touch soon.
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