Climate-smart farming pushing Kitui women to financial freedom

Avia Munyao from Ndiang’ui village, Mutomo ward, Kitui South, inspects her pigeon peas on July 5, 2023. She planted the pigeon peas using the Zai-pit technology. 

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • They are beneficiaries of a four-year gender-responsive project spearheaded by UN Women and Food and Agriculture Organisation.
  • Some keep animals as others grow crops from which they earn incomes and meet the nutritional needs of their families.

It is minutes to 7am when we embark on a journey from the dusty Mutomo town to Ndiang’ui village, Kitui South, tens of kilometres away.

We are to meet with Avia Munyao, who has become the talk of the area, thanks to her consecutive bumper harvests despite the area’s harsh weather conditions. We drive through a rough road, leaving a trail of dust in our wake. Along the road are tracts of land carpeted with low, stunted, dense thorn bushes with thick undergrowth and occasional baobab trees.

As we meander through the road, we meet a number of young herders taking their goats and cattle to the vast grazing fields on both sides. After about a 45-minute drive, we reach Avia’s home. She is just about to leave for her farm.
Kalivu musyi (Welcome home),” she says, handing each of us a plastic chair.

She is set to harvest her maize. “Today will be a busy day for me.”

It’s a bumper harvest this season, thanks to new farming technology. After brief introductions, Avia leads us to her farm, about 300 metres away. The crops include maize and pigeon peas. Avia’s joy is evident on her face. Two other women help her harvest the maize.

Avia Munyao on her farm on July 5, 2023.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

“This season I am a happy farmer. I have never witnessed such a bumper harvest of maize. I estimate to harvest about four bags, which I will keep and sell once the prices are up,” she tells Nation.Africa.

Zai-pit technology

She attributes the bumper harvest to Zai-pit technology introduced in the area in 2021. Zai-pit, also known as a planting pit, is a water-efficient farming technology used in arid and semi-arid lands (Asal) to maximise water use.

It creates a micro-environment that increases drought resistance and improves crop yields. Zai-pits are most suited for Asal areas, where farmers face constant challenges as they seek to produce enough food to feed their families and generate income.

Avia is one of 16 members of the Kawelu Farmers’ Self-Help group. They have been trained in climate-smart agriculture to develop new farming techniques.

Members of Kawelu Women’s Group at their store in Ndiang’ui village, Mutomo ward, Kitui South, on July 5, 2023. They are beneficiaries of a four-year Gender-Responsive Climate-Smart Agriculture Project in the Arid and Semi-Arid Land.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

Kitui is one of the counties benefitting from the four-year Gender-Responsive Climate-Smart Agriculture Project in the Arid and Semi-Arid Land spearheaded by UN Women Kenya and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives.

The project, dubbed the Kenya Economic Empowerment of Women through Climate-Smart Agriculture in Arid and Semi-Arid Central Areas 2020-23 (WEE-CSA) and supported by the Korean International Cooperation Agency (Koica), focuses on increasing investments in women’s capacities in agriculture and equipping them to cope with climate variabilities.

Last season, Avia harvested 65 ninety-kilogramme bags of green gram and sold them all at Sh120 per kilogramme. She earned Sh702,000, part of which she used to expand her farming. She used the remaining money to pay school fees for her three children, one in university and two in college.

This season, she has harvested 80 bags of green gram, which she hopes to sell at Sh150 per kilo. She expects to make more than Sh1 million.

Galla goat farming

Galla goat keeping is another kind of farming that women here have embraced in droves. The goat is adaptive to the dry weather and therefore ideal for the area.

Galla goat farming was introduced in the area by FAO through the WEE-CAS project. Avia is among those keeping the breed. She started with four does and one buck in 2021. Her herd has now grown to 76, excluding the kids and the bucks.
Every day, she milks eight litres and uses two at home and sells the rest to her neighbours. One litre goes for Sh35. Each day she makes Sh210 from goat milk. The milk is popular here, she says.

A Galla goat farmer milks at her home in Kawelu village, Mutomo Ward, Kitui South, on July 5, 2023.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

To ensure her animals stay healthy, the mother of three has been trained in how to vaccinate and detect a sick goat. “I can tell if any of my goats are sick – failing to chew the cud and removing mucus. This has helped me to act on time and ensure they are treated or vaccinated, thereby having a healthy flock.”

Just a few days before our visit, she had sold eight goats at Sh12,000 each and made Sh96,000, she says. “I can only term Galla goat farming godsend. It is well paying and does not require a lot of capital. It has economically empowered me and many other women here.”

Galla goat farming is, however, not devoid of challenges, she says. Lack of pastoral land is a major problem. During the rainy season, the goats also contract several diseases. In the last rainy season, Avia lost two mature and three baby goats.

Tens of kilometres away, Grace Mati from Matulani village has also embraced Galla goat farming. Before the breed was introduced here, she kept indigenous goats, which, she says, took a long time to mature and would only fetch a meagre Sh3,000 to Sh4,000 in the market.

She started in 2021 with five does and one buck but now boasts 67 mature Galla goats that are ready for the market. She also has 20 does and bucks in her herd.

Avia Munyao at her home in Matulani village, Mutomo ward, Kitui South, on July 5, 2023. Grace started keeping Galla goats in 2021 and now has a herd of 67 goats.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

“Galla goat farming is fulfilling. They are big and fetch high prices. I recently made more than Sh100,000 after I sold only eight goats,” Grace tells Nation.Africa.

Every day, she gets at least five litres of milk. She sells some and uses the rest. A litre here goes for Sh50.

Mr Christopher Malusi, FAO project coordinator in Mutomo ward, says Galla goats survive the harsh arid area climate and are resistant to diseases. He says FAO introduced the breed to improve the livestock sector. A female Galla goat, he notes, produces two or three kids per birth. A goat gives birth twice per year.

“The Galla goat has become a game changer for women and other residents. The least one can sell is Sh10,000. The goat weighs between 20 and 30 kilogrammes, depending on its gender.”

He notes the milk has high nutritional value, especially for babies.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 report released recently named Kitui among the 14 counties with a prevalence of stunting above 20 per cent.

The survey named Kitui among counties with a high percentage of stunted children at 25 per cent. Stunted growth is usually caused by malnutrition.

Galla goats farmer Grace Mati at her home in Kitui County.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Natoion Media Group

In Mutomo ward, 225 residents have benefitted from the Galla goat project, among them 223 women. Some 125 goats were distributed to groups. As the goats multiply, each member gets a doe and a buck.

Elizabeth Obanda, Women Economic Empowerment Specialist at UN Women Kenya, says the project has drastically empowered the women economically. She says her organisation, with the  support of Koica, has ensured women are part of Kitui’s food production system. Their voices are heard and they are part of decision-making, Ms Obanda says of the groups.

“Courtesy of women’s economic empowerment through climate-smart projects, women are more knowledgeable, more involved, earning money from their enterprises, and, more importantly, more resilient than before.”

Commercial kitchen gardens

In Katilini village, Athi ward, hundreds of kilometres away, Regina Maithya’s story is no different. Regina and other members of Muoo wa Kateleni group also use farming technologies like raised bed and Zai-pit for commercial kitchen gardening.

Raised bed farming is the technique of building raised crop beds. It is a key component of climate-smart agriculture.
The mother of four boasts a commercial kitchen garden that has become the talk of the village. She grows collard greens, cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, green pepper, coriander and pawpaw.

Avia Munyao waters her kitchen garden on July 4, 2023.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

“Every week, I make at least Sh3,000 from my kitchen garden. I now have my own money, which has helped me sustain my family,” the 58-year-old widow, who lost her husband in 2015, tells Nation.Africa.

She also uses the farm produce to prepare family diets. She saves between Sh50 and Sh100, which she used to spend on vegetables per day. However, despite the good returns, challenges in this type of farming still abound, she says.

“Lack of certified seeks is a major challenge. If one is lucky to get them, they are very expensive. The pesticides are also costly and at times make farmers not apply them, thus low yields.”

Her plea to the government is to come up with interventions that lower the prices of farm input. Besides the kitchen garden, Regina uses the Zai-pit technology to farm maize and green gram. Last season, she harvested eight bags of green grams from a quarter acre that she sold at Sh20,000.

The new farming technology has enhanced the family’s food security and increased her earning, enabling her to open an agrovet shop at the local shopping centre. She makes an extra income from these investments. Residents are happy that the project has created employment opportunities.

Antony Musyoka is one of the beneficiaries. He has been employed to herd the goats here in Mutomo by one of the farmers. Every day, he earns Sh250. “The money has helped me to take care of myself. I am also saving so that I can buy a few kids and a buck, and venture into Galla goat farming,” he says.


Poultry keeping is another climate-smart agriculture project that women in Kitui have embraced in droves. Mary Nzioki from Matinga village in Kauwi ward, Kitui West, is one such woman. For decades, the mother of 10 has been a housewife. However, when the project was introduced in 2021, she quickly embraced it and underwent requisite training.

Mary Nzioki, a poultry farmer in Matinga village, Kitui East, on July 4, 2023. 

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

Every three months she keeps at least 100 chickens, which she sells at Sh400 and Sh600, depending on the size. Last year, she sold 300 chickens at Sh600 each and pocketed Sh180,000. Two weeks ago, she sold all the 100 chickens she had at Sh600 each, netting Sh60,000.

She used the money to pay school fees for her children. “Poultry farming has been a game changer for me. I now have my money and no longer bother my husband whom I relied on previously,” she says.

She lists costly chicken feed as one of the greatest challenges they face. Her husband, Bernard Nzioki, is full of praise for the project, which, he notes, has brought development in the family.

“The chickens have been a quick source of income as they take only three to four months to mature. Women economic empowerment is the way to go. When a woman is economically empowered, it is for the good of the family,” Nzioki says.

Mary’s dream is to have an incubator and become a distributor of the chicks to the local farmers.

Most farmers here keep the Improved kienyeji (Rainbow Rooster breed), which they get from Eldoret. Some are also rearing the Kari Kienyeji breed. Besides individual women, groups also rear chickens.

One such group is the 27-member Katalwa women’s group in the Kauwii area of Kitui East. They keep and sell chickens as a group to hotels in Nairobi at Sh350 per kilo.

Rael Miwa, a poultry farmer in Kandae village, Kitui South, on July 5, 2023. 

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

To lower the cost of chicken rearing, the group leads the way with the manufacture of chicken feed through the support of FAO. The women recently received a formulation machine (feed crusher and mixer) used to make the chicken feed.

Ida Muthui, the group’s secretary, says they use green gram, sunflower, cowpeas, black beans, maize and omena to make the chicken mash. Members buy the chicken mash at Sh50 per kilogramme. This is half the market price.

“This project has helped to raise our economic standing. Many women in the group were housewives but now have their money. They assist in taking care of their families,” Ida tells Nation.Africa.

Partners on the journey

Purity Mutua, the FAO field officer for Kauwi ward, notes that poultry farming has performed well in the area as it is not dependent on rain.

“The women now have income daily, weekly and monthly through the sale of eggs and chickens,” Ms Mutua says.

She is confident that the women will continue with it even after the end of the project, which seeks to build the capacities of national and county institutions to engender and implement climate-smart agriculture policies, which will ensure the sustainability of such efforts.

Over 800 farmers in Kitui have been trained through the project supported by Koica.

Mr Jang Hee IM, the Country Director Koica Kenya, observes that food security has become a direr agenda to Kenya than ever before, as the country tries to recover from the worst droughts in scores of years, a situation worse in pastoral communities.

Stephen Kimwele, the County Agriculture and Livestock executive member, says the project has empowered women. He notes that technology has helped increase yields and enhance food security.

“The county has set aside Sh40 million to provide drought-resistant and certified seeds to farmers, including the Galla goats. We are also offering capacity building to our extension officers through continuous training,” Mr Kimwele said.

Long known for hunger and poverty, Kitui, through its women, is now breaking the chains of poverty, thanks to climate smart agriculture. From the bedrock of hunger and poverty, it is turning into an area of hope and success.

Beneficiaries from over 40 women’s self-help groups are acquiring skills in business management and leadership, record keeping and financial literacy.

The other devolved units benefitting from the programme are Laikipia and West Pokot.