KENYA — Hunger, like so many other social problems, is discriminatory. Women, already disabled by sexual violences, limited health resources and economic barriers, make up a disproportionate 70 percent of the world’s poor. The Women Going Green Project, however, is changing that, one coffee bean at a time.
Dressed in an eclectic mix of traditional garb and T-shirts from town, a village of women in sub-Saharan Africa labor over their crops in the afternoon’s heat. Children, muddied and tired, carry water buckets and bits of black plastic.
This is the stomping ground of Rose Karimi – a doctoral student at Rutgers University, a Food Tank “Food Hero” and the founder of the Women Going Green Project.
After growing up on a coffee farm in Kenya, Karimi was all too aware of gender-biased food insecurity. Hoping to mitigate the effects of rampant climate change and poor market conditions, she established a five-year plan that seeks to build the capacity of economically disadvantaged women in agriculture.
The project, an extension of the Africa Sustainable Agribusiness Initiative, is aimed at promoting sustainable and inclusive growth development on smallholder farms, which constitute nearly 70 percent of the world’s coffee production.
These farms are inherently vulnerable to the coffee berry borer pest, as most solely grow one crop. Rising temperatures in East Africa, substandard capital and a dearth of education programs have only exacerbated the issue.
“In Kenya, this has serious implications for the livelihoods of small-scale women coffee farmers, who depend on coffee production for their subsistence,” Karimi said. “These women are the most vulnerable, because they have little capital to invest in possible adaptation strategies and/or pest and disease management, lowering their resilience.”
With this in mind, Karimi established “demonstration farms,” micro-projects where women could come and learn about alternative agricultural techniques. The program advocates the use of shade trees, such as avocado or macadamia nut. The new vegetation not only diversifies diet and income, but provides the Arabica plants a break from the sun.
Forums on drought-resistant tuber crops and solar-powered drip irrigation systems are commonplace. A savings fund has also been established, allowing individuals to take out loans and increase capital.
“[The project will] create awareness through meetings and demonstration farms about climate-smart agriculture,” Karimi said. “This will increase the number of people knowledgeable about affordable climate change adaptation strategies that will benefit rural households.”
The Women Going Green Project mobilized 88 women coffee farmers in its first year. The focus on agro-climatic techniques allowed dozens to pay school fees for their children, install piped water on their farms and build iron-sheet roofed houses. Donations are now being collected to finance drip irrigation and biogas digesters.
With nearly 53 percent of girls in developing countries dropping out of school to work to help feed their families, this initiative could have a cascading effect for generations to come.
“Overcoming hunger is a game-changer for a girl living in a developing country,” Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank, said. “Girls who stay in school are empowered to make positive decisions that affect their entire lives, such as waiting to have children and acquiring the skills they need to support to them.”
– Lauren Stepp