The commercial kitchen gardens changing Kitui women's fortunes

One of the commercial kitchen gardens in Kitui County.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Regina and other members of Muoo wa Kateleni group have learnt how to use technologies like raised bed and Zai-pit in their kitchen gardens.
  • Every week, she makes at least Sh3,000 from the sale of the produce from her kitchen garden, thanks to climate-smart agriculture.
  • Besides economic empowerment and food security, the kitchen garden project has saved women the agony of trekking in search of vegetables.

When Regina Maithya, from Kitui County, lost her husband in 2015, she was devastated. As a housewife, she could not figure out how to provide for her family. Her husband had been their only breadwinner and his absence was a major blow.

Soon after his burial, the mother of four plunged into a serious financial crisis. Putting food on the table and her children through school became a challenge.

Determined to end the suffering, she immersed herself into farming, starting off with green grams, maize and cow peas. However, the yields were minimal, given the harsh climatic conditions of the area. She then  got wind of a training opportunity in climate-smart agriculture in 2020, and quickly availed herself.

The training took place under the four-year Gender-Responsive Climate-Smart Agriculture Project in the arid and semi-arid lands (Asals), spearheaded by UN Women Kenya and Food and Agricultural Organisation, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives.

Dubbed the Kenya Economic Empowerment of Women through Climate-Smart Agriculture in Arid and Semi-Arid Central Areas 2020-23, it aimed at increasing investments in women’s capacities and enhancing their productivity. Among other things, it covered commercial kitchen gardening.


Regina and other members of Muoo wa Kateleni group learnt how to use technologies like raised bed and Zai-pit in their kitchen gardens.

Raised bed is a technique of building free stand crop beds above the existing level of the soil. It is a key component of climate-smart agriculture. On the other hand, Zai pits, also known as planting pits, is a water-efficient technology used in Asals to maximise water uptake by crops.

Regina Maithya waters collards in her commercial kitchen garden at  Kateleni in Athi ward, Kitui County, on July 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie I Nation Media Group

Through these technologies, Regina is growing collards, cabbage, spinach, tomatoes, green pepper, coriander and pawpaw. As a result, the 58-year-old can now smile all the way to the bank.

“Every week, I make at least Sh3,000 from the sale of the produce from my kitchen garden. The new farming technology has also seen the production rise tremendously, resulting in more sales,” Regina tells Nation.Africa.

She also has a constant supply of vegetables in her family diet for better nutrition. Previously, she would spend at least Sh50 on vegetables daily, a sum she now saves.

Despite the good returns, however, challenges in this type of farming still abound.

“Lack of certified seeds is a major problem. If one is lucky to get them, they are very expensive. The pesticides are also so costly that at times farmers do not apply them on crops, thus low yields,” she says.

Her plea to the government is to lower the prices of farm input to reduce the cost of production.

Over 800 farmers in Kitui have received training through the project, which is supported by the Korean International Cooperation Agency (Koica).

Grace Mati from Matulani village in Kitui South also practices commercial kitchen gardening. She farms tomatoes, collards, cabbage and cow peas. When we arrive at her home at around 3.30pm, she is busy in her garden. A customer has just come to buy tomatoes.

Grace Mati in her garden at Matulani in Mutomo, Kitui South, on July 6, 2023. She also practices commercial kitchen farming.  

Photo credit: Kamau Maichuhie | Nation Media Group

She tells Nation.Africa that she has sold vegetables worth Sh650 today, adding that the figure will rise before the day ends. The 72-year-old is full of praise for the Asal project.

“Courtesy of the commercial kitchen garden, I now have my own money. I always used to ask for money from my husband to cater for my needs and other household necessities, but now that is no longer the case,” Grace says.

She now uses part of her savings to educate her grandchildren.

“From the proceeds of the kitchen garden, I have been able to save more than Sh36,000, which I have used to pay school fees for my two grandchildren whose education I’m catering for,” she says.

“I use some of the money I get to buy food and take care of other household needs.”

On a good day, Grace makes Sh1,000, while on a bad day, she makes Sh400, she says. Last month, she made about Sh10,000 from the garden. Her customers are mainly from Kitui and Mutomo towns. Her neighbours also buy from her garden.

Elizabeth Obanda, Women Economic Empowerment specialist at UN Women Kenya, says the organisation, with the support of Koica, has ensured women are part of Kitui's production system to make them part of decision-making so that their voices are heard.

“Courtesy of women 's economic empowerment through the climate-smart project, women are more knowledgeable, more involved, earning money from their enterprises and, most importantly, more resilient than before,” she says.

Patrick Mutuku, a county agricultural officer based in Athi Ward, says climate-smart agriculture increases production and helps families tackle malnutrition, which has been blamed for many cases of stunting in the area.

“Before the project, the state of food insecurity was severe, with women and children bearing the brunt. The project has helped women to have dignity and ensure their voices are heard,” he tells Nation.Africa.

Country Director, Koica Kenya Dr Jang Hee IM,  notes that gender inequality is addressed when a husband plays a part, and acquisition of climate-smart agriculture technology intensifies when couples are involved.

“Food security has become a direr agenda to Kenya than ever before, as the country is still trying to recover from the worst droughts in scores of years, more badly in pastoral communities. A future project is hoped to prepare rural residents – wife and husband – against the climate change issues,” says Dr Hee.


The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2022 released recently named Kitui among the 14 counties with more than 20 per cent prevalence of stunting. Kilifi has the highest percentage at 37, with West Pokot standing at 34, Samburu 31, while Meru and Kitui are at 25 each.

Turkana and Kwale have stunting levels of 23 per cent each; Elgeyo Marakwet, Narok and Bomet (22 each); Tharaka Nithi, Trans Nzoia, Baringo and Tana River (21 each); while Embu and Makueni have 20 per cent each.

Garissa and Kisumu were listed as having the lowest stunting percentages of lower than 10 per cent at nine per cent each; Murang’a (10), Kirinyaga and Nairobi (11); Kakamega (12); Homa Bay, Nyeri and Laikipia have (13); while Uasin Gishu has 14 per cent.

Besides economic empowerment and food security, the kitchen garden project has saved women the agony of trekking in search of vegetables.

“I can get the vegetables these days from my kitchen garden. If I do not have any, I get them from my neighbours,” Rael Miwa from Kandae village in Mutomo ward, observes.

Long known for hunger and poverty, Kitui County is rapidly moving away from the dark past, thanks to climate-smart agriculture.