Last week, I attended the Laikipia Innovation and Entrepreneurship fair, organised by the county government at Nyahururu Stadium.
Curious, I visited the exhibition stands keen to find out whether there were any women. I was not disappointed.
About a third of the innovators — as they were called — were women, both young and old, as well as people with disabilities. The women, in groups and individually, exhibited items from themes including manufacturing, agriculture, energy, water, commerce and the creative economy.
Of particular interest was a women group with a project to make wine, jam and juice from the prickly cactus. The women, from Laikipia North, explained that they aimed to add value to cactus with a view to making money and reducing the presence of the thorny plant.
There was also the Ririchwa Witeithie Environmental Women Group with products ranging from water receptacles to watering troughs made from recycled tyres and attractive mats made from bottle tops.
Investing in women in these areas, without a doubt, strengthens not just the rural economy but the national one.
Counties must support women financially to build the economy without the token mentality. They need to work with women as partners with an open mind that they are helping to build families and the nation.
Women, especially in the rural counties, are generally the drivers of families. They are the ones you see tilling farms and tending to livestock, even as they take care of children.
HEADED BY WIDOWS
Many rural homes are headed by widows, or young mothers who have to feed their children and unemployed husbands, some of whom have opted to take to the bottle and idle away at shopping centres. They toil to not only put food on the table but also take children to school and meet other needs.
In farming, the government support should not only be in subsidising inputs but also access to markets. They must also protect these vulnerable women from heartless middlemen, who have become outright thieves in the name of doing business.
The counties must also ensure that independent entities otherwise known as “co-operative societies” pay for deliveries on time and offer fair prices for farm produce such as milk, potatoes, coffee, tea and maize.
Thankfully, in some areas there are non-governmental organisations that empower small-scale women farmers to fight off the middlemen and market their produce.
SMALL SCALE FARMERS
A case in point is Ms Angelina Francis of Kitui County, who says since she joined Groots Kenya, an organisation that operates in 14 counties, she and other small-scale farmers can sell their tomatoes and maize directly to the market. Nowadays, she rides her motorcycle to and from the market.
This brings me to what is clearly a case of daylight robbery, especially of vulnerable elderly women, mostly widows and those desperate for money, including in my home county, Nyandarua. Here, potato middlemen fall over themselves to get the produce from the women at a pittance.
But worse is the packaging. The scavenging middlemen repackage the potatoes, in 50-kilogramme or 90kg bags, to double the capacity at the price of one, in what they call “kata nyoka bila sumu” — squeezing the best out of the farmer but leaving them with enough energy to keep producing.
Mercifully, the county and national governments appear to have been seized of the matter.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri says from next month potato dealers will have to pack the produce strictly in 50kg bags. The rules include pricing regulations in 14 counties, including Nyandarua.
The county, too, plans to set up potato processing industries to add value to the crop.
The counties should have programmes and projects to exclusively empower women — preferably managed and run by the beneficiaries.
Ms Rugene is a consulting editor. [email protected] Twitter: @nrugene