Despite being illiterate, Ganze women farming their way to economic freedom

Degudegu Drip Irrigation Farming  group in Kilifi County display produce affected by an unknown disease. Lack of sufficient water has also affected their yields.

Photo credit: Maureen Ongala | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A group of illiterate women in Kilifi County are practicing irrigation farming after the region experienced prolonged drought, which dried up rivers, streams and water pans.
  • High illiteracy level among women in Mitsedzini Sub-location has resulted to majority of the families to live in poverty.
  • A sponsor donated irrigation machines to the group, which unfortunately broke down, forcing them to water acres of land manually.

The desire to be food secure has driven a group of women in Degudegu village, Ganze, Kilifi County, to engage in irrigation farming. Through support from Plan International, the group acquired generators and drip pipes to get water from Degudegu River.   

Chairlady Ms Esther Mwambogo says high illiteracy level among women in Mitsedzini Sub-location had resulted to majority of the families to live in poverty. 

“We are illiterate because our parents did not see the value of taking the girl child to school. They instead educated our brothers with the little resources they had. As a result, many women in Mitsedzini are unemployed with many burning charcoal for commercial purposes to earn a living,” she says.

She says the idea to start irrigation farming was born after the region experienced prolonged drought, which dried up rivers, streams and water pans. The only source of water in Ganze was Degudegu River.

Horticulture production

“We used to submit our meeting reports to our administrators and this is when our assistant chief approached Plan International, which was implementing a project in the area then,” she adds. 

In 2013, the 32 members formed the Degudegu Drip Irrigation Farmers group and started practicing horticulture and crop production on eight acres of land they leased from a villager for a period of ten years at a fee of Sh8,000 per month. 

Each member contributes Sh250 monthly, towards the group management including land fees. 

However, despite their commitment to farming, lack of equipment affected their productivity, for six months, after the generators they were using to pump water broke down.

Carrying water

Today, the women carry water from the river to irrigate their crops at the farm, they use buckets and tins to sprinkle water on the crops. 

“Our biggest challenge is availability of sustainable water for our crops to yield properly. We did not want to stop our farming activities and thus, decided to be physically carrying water to irrigate our crops,” she says.  

Ms Mwambogo says poor crop production has affected supplies to their customers.   

“We signed a memorandum of agreement with some companies for the supply of some produce like the red pepper, but lack of sustainable water source has affected our supplies and currently, we are unable to meet their demand,” she notes.   

Jumwa Katana, a member of Degudegu Drip Farming group watering her seedlings.The farmers carry water on their heads after the generator that pumped water from Degudegu River broke down.

Photo credit: Maureen Ongala | Nation Media Group

Before the machines broke down, they used to harvest thousands of tonnes of vegetables, fruits and maize for sale for the local markets within Ganze and in Kilifi town according to Ms Mwambogo.  

She says the challenges currently facing the farmers is a big blow because it comes at a time when they had started embracing the project, and the profit was good due to high yields. 

“We used to get food for our families and at the same time, had money for other needs including our monthly Sh150 for table banking; but now we are stuck because the yield is small,” she says. 

Jumwa Katana, a mother of seven and a member of the group, says it is hectic to carry water from the river uphill to the farm every morning and evening. They have to wake up at 4am to be on time to water the crops.

Domestic chores

“We have to walk in a group for fear of being attacked and raped. This is not an easy job because apart from fetching water for irrigating our crops, we must go back home and prepare food for our children and perform other domestic chores,” she says. 

The women come from as far as Matanomanne village, more than 20 kilometres from the farm. 

Mr Sinaton Kadenge, one of the three male members of the group, says the generators started experiencing mechanical problems before eventually breaking down. 

“We went through very difficult times using an erratic generator, which could stop pumping water any time, yet the crops need enough water,” says Mr Kadenge.  

Apart from the challenging equipment, the farmers have never accessed extension services from agricultural officers since they started the programme.  


Mr Kadenge says due to illiteracy among the farmers, they have been unable to operate the pipes and valves, and also fix them when they malfunction, forcing them to manually sprinkle the crops in areas where the pipe waters cannot reach.  

“An expert would have shown us how to manage the pipes and the valves in case they malfunction after staying long without being used due to lack of water, but we work on our own. Sometimes we plant uncertified seeds, giving us low yields. We do not even know how to control crop diseases,” he says.  

Currently, the group can’t control diseases in the farms; tomatoes, capsicum, water melon and egg plants have been affected by diseases unknown to them.  

Last week, Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire donated a generator to the group.  

“We need more support from donors and well-wishers to fully resume our farming,” said the chairlady during the presentation.  

Mr Mwambire said the farmers have failed to prosper despite their efforts towards addressing poverty and food shortage in the area due to lack of expertise support from the County government. 

Reliable market

“These women spend most of their time in the farms, but they do not get an income because they have no one to direct them on how to use modern farming methods to get high quality yields, which will earn them more money,” said Mwambire.  

He asked the county government and partners in the agricultural sector to assist the group, noting that the county government should help them get reliable market for their produce outside the locality.  

“It is unfortunate traders from Ganze Sub-county must travel all the way to Kilifi and Mombasa to pick imported farm produce from Tanzania, Taveta and upcountry to come and sell here while they can access the same from the local farmers,” added Mr Mwambire.