Why it's not enough for women to own land

A resident of Mwariki tills land adjacent to Lake Nakuru on April 13

Photo credit: File I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya has laws that allow women to own or inherit land.
  • Land ownership enhances economic opportunities and enables owners to create food-secure households and escape the poverty trap.

Kenya has progressive laws that allow women to own or inherit land, an asset land actors say enhances economic opportunities and enables them to create food-secure households and escape the poverty trap.

But is owning land and having the right to use it befittingly enough for women? 

A 2020 analysis of the status of poverty among Kenyans by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that more than 65 per cent of women are multidimensionally poor compared to 56 per cent of men. 

multidimensionally poor woman or manis one who is deprived in three  or more of the dimensions analysed, namely nutrition, education, economic activity, information, water, sanitation, and housing.

Esther*, a widow in Kinango, Kwale County, has a life interest in the five acres owned by her husband. The Law of Succession Act Cap 160 grants a widow life interest in property such as land and houses, in cases where there is no will.

She is, however, multidimensionally poor, a deprivation disabling her from making maximum use of the huge parcel.

She is employed to sell second-hand clothes at a daily wage of Sh20. At the end of 30 or 31 days (she works throughout the month), she takes home Sh600 or Sh620, barely enough to buy one-kilogramme bar soap and 2kg of sugar, let alone certified farm input.

She says she grows maize in three-and-a-half acres using indigenous seeds, and without fertiliser. After six months, she harvests just two bags. 

With quality input, she would reap up to 20 bags per acre, going by the average yields of other farmers in areas like Njoro and Nyandarua.

Esther says the cost of certified seeds and hybrid fertilisers is out of her reach.

“A two kilogramme packet of certified seeds goes for Sh700 and I’ll need three of them per acre. The 25-kilogramme bag of fertiliser is about Sh4,000. I don’t have that kind of money,” says Esther, who lost her husband seven years ago.

She buys the indigenous maize seeds at Sh170 a kilogramme. For every acre, she uses three kilogrammes.

She says had she had money to buy quality input, she and her children would be leading a comfortable life as she would produce enough for home consumption and extra for sale to raise adequate income.

“I'd be grateful if someone offered me money to buy the certified seeds and quality fertiliser. That would help me get out of poverty,” she says.

Esther’s case proves that for a woman, owning land is not enough; they need economic empowerment to turn it into a life-changing resource.

*Namechanged to protect her privacy.