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Whatever the cost, I will not go back to the office

Blogpost by Maureen Agena, Social Reporter for the Gender and Climate Smart Agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa Workshop, 2-4 November 2016, Nairobi, Kenya.

November 3, 2016

Confident about what she was about to share with the participants, Mrs. Peris W. Njenga walked to the front of the room and greeted the team with an infectious smile. She had come to share on how climate change had affected farmers and particularly female dairy farmers. This was at a Programme design workshop on gender sensitive climate smart agriculture in Eastern Africa, organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in Nairobi, Kenya.  

She started with an interesting narrative about her up-bringing...

"Growing up, my father was a dairy farmer and he had a number of cows. When I was getting married, he gave me a young heifer as a gift to go with to my new home. That was the beginning of my passion and love for dairy farming.

Peris worked as secretary with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in the veterinary department and learnt a couple of important tips about diary farming, especially disease outbreak and control. She later on quit her job to venture into full-time farming. Now a model farmer and a chairlady of Kiambaa Dairy Cooperative Society Limited, Peris says she has no regrets.

"I had to dig deeper to see what these animals can do for me, because I had quit my job and I had to put it in my mind that, whatever the cost, I was not going back to the office but to concentrate and move on".

To be the farmer that she is today, she says that her biggest struggle was with animal feeds. She used to go to the city park market to collect the left overs of cabbage and other vegetables to feed her animals. After selecting the better feeds for her animals, she used the non-palatable ones for manure. It however, increasingly become hectic to collect the vegetable left-overs as her animals increased in numbers. So the resorted to silage the good harvest, something that was introduced to her by SNV. It has kept her going because she has learnt how to silage her feeds when the harvest is good. She says that dairy farming is a business just like any other.

From one cow, to now 40 heads of cattle and from previously supplying 4,000 litres of milk per month to currently 11,000 litres, Peris chairs a cooperative of over 4,000 dairy farmers, 80% of which are female. However, as a woman dairy farmer, she says most women do not own property and hence are unable to get collateral to secure a loan from any bank or Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (SACCO). She encouraged all female famers to join SACCOs. She says that men should accept that women can do farming like them if not better, they just need to be given the chance and space.

Peris has made bold moves to use technology in her dairy farming such as water harvesting during the rainy seasons to save for the dry seasons. Her farm a demo farm for neigbours to visit, see and replicate her best practices at the farm. Among other technologies she has adopted are the production of biogas, milking machines which milk 3 cow simultaneously, modern pens, a modern cow shade, a digital weighing machine for her milk, electronic drinkers among other. She says they are costly but they reduce the burden of work for women.

Women play a very important role in our society and if empowered, they have a very positive contribution to our economy. Nobody can be forced into farming because it's a passion. Cows communicate and I communicate with my cows it's called the "Cow Signal". Peris says that whereas farming is a tough call, it's equally rewarding and fulfilling and young people should be encouraged to venture into it.

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Photos from the workshop
CTA Flagship Project Making Southern African cereal and livestock farming climate resilient

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maureen aboutAbout the author and the workshop

Maureen Agena is an independent consultant from Uganda working in areas ranging from knowledge management to Web2.0 training and ICTs for agriculture. She participated as a social reporter in the Programme Design Workshop on Gender-Sensitive Climate Smart Agriculture in Eastern Africa, held from 2 to 4 November 2016, in Nairobi, Kenya. The workshop, co-organised by CTA in close collaboration with CCAFS and AGRA, brought together key regional actors with interest and expertise in the promotion of gender-aware climate smart agriculture. It enabled participants to agree on a practical course of action to add value to countries' own efforts at empowering women in climate-resilient focused agricultural development programmes.