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Community-based integrated approach to overall sustainable women development of rural Kenya.


Bu makalede biz kirsal Kenyada kadinin gelisiminin ilerde surdurulebilir olmasi icin butunluksel yaklasimin bazi temel ozelliklerinin altini cizdik. Bu yaklasim kirsal Kenya'daki butun kadinlarin, dogustan ve geleneksel bilgileri, gorevleri, deneyimleri ve sorunlari hakkindaki endiseleri, ve toplumsal ihtiyaclari ki bunlar bircok nesilden beri ciddi sorunlardan olan toprak erezyonunu, yiyecek kitligini, beslenme, yakacak odun ve su konulari uzerinde durmaktadir. Dogussal bilgiler ve aliskanliklar genellikle yasamsal farkliliklari korumayi artirdigi olgusu goz onune alindiginda, tum bu faktorler esas olarak kirsal bolgeyi gelistirmede kullanilabilir. Bu geleneksel bilgileri ekleyip dokuman haline getirmekle, bu sistemli yaklasim ilerde kirsal bolgedeki ciftci kadinlara yardimci olabilir, kirsal ve milli ekonomik sosyal butunlesmeyi saglayabilir. Butunsel yaklasim surdurulebilir tarimsal gelismeyi, gelir uretim semasini, yeni teknolojik gelismeleri ve yeni kucuk gelisim derecelerini kapsamaktadir. Bu yaklasim bagimsiz ve surdurulebilir kirsal kesim kadin gruplarina katklda bulunmakta, bundan dolayi bu akim kirsal kesim kadinlarina geleceklerini ve icgudusel ve dogustan olan temel davranislarini kontrol etme olanagi tanimaktadir. Kirsal kesim kadinlarinin uzun surede kendi cocuklarinin hayat kalitelerini ve egitimlerini gelistirme yolunda kendi ailelerinin genel ekonomik objektifleriyle karsilasacaklari beklenmektedir. Simdiye kadar yapilan butun gelismeleri ve bununla beraber hala daha anda suregelen ve adeta gelismelerine engel olusturan sorunlarin cozumune calisilmasi hedeflenmektedir.

Anahtar Kelimeler: Afrika, Kenya kadinlari, Green Africa Network, surdurelubilir kadin gelisimi, geleneksel teknoloji, cevre bilimi, cevre sagligi.


In this paper we are going to highlight some of the fundamental features of the integrated approach (IA), as a way forward to sustainable women development in rural Kenya. This approach is based on integrated women's indigenous and traditional knowledge, tasks, experiences, and concerns about problems and community needs that are essential and, which they have been using for many generations, in tackling crucial environmental problems such as deforestation, soil erosion and the scarcity of food, fodder, fuel wood and water in rural Kenya. Indigenous knowledge and practices, often enhances the conservation of biodiversity and, can be used as the basis for rural development. By documenting and adding to their own knowledge, this system of approach will help rural women farmers integrate into the mainstream sustainable rural and national socio-economic development. The IA programme covers sustainable agricultural development and income-generating schemes, new technology transfer including access to credit and small-scale enterprises. It will contribute towards independence and sustainability of rural-based women groups, thereby allowing them to take control of their indigenous resource-base and also be more confident of the future. Further, it is expected that rural women, in the long run, would be able to meet the general economic objectives of their family, through improved quality of life and education for their children. We will also present the overall advances so-far made and obstacles that still remain to be tackled.

Key Words: Africa, Kenya women, Green Africa Network, sustainable development, traditional technology, environmental hygienic developement.

1. Introduction

The saying goes: 'No one knows the realities of over-exploitation of the land than women who till it, carry its waters, use its trees for food, fuel, harvest forests for healing herbs and medicinal plants and use their traditional and indigenous knowledge for the benefit of the community, in preserving species and ecosystems." Further, research has shown that the forest is central to lives of rural women in Africa, and hence, they play a major and critical role in conserving this storehouse. In addition, the time spent in forests, gathering woodfuel, has taught women the many uses of forest resources, including providing fibres for cloth, mat-making and basketry. Many indigenous forest resources are used as a source of food, offering vegetables, nut fruits and even vines. Women also know the uses of traditional medicinal resources of various plants. Hence, their role as managers and caretaker of the environment, community forest, and its biodiversity is an acknowledged phenomenon. However, the problems they must deal with today are complicated by exacerbating environmental degradation, pressure and loss of access to land and natural resources e.g., lack of water supply and woodfuel resources and economic policies such as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), which have made rural Africa increasingly prone to food security crises; are all new and extra burden to rural women (see, Fig. 1). But these issues also involve more intricate inter-relationships with politics and socio-economics and, larger circles of influence than what rural women have been exposed to in the past. One mark of political leadership is the number of water projects abandoned and/or sabotaged after they were completed and running well for years


In Kenya, for example, 40% of its population of over 29 million people lives below poverty line. Malnutrition among children in Kenya is also on the increase with up to 50% of rural children below five years of age being malnourished. About 80% of Kenyan natives live in rural areas, and 70% of them are women, while nationally, women comprise over 55%. At the rural level, women are the main social and labor forces. They prepare the land, work in the fields, feed and meet the requirements of other family members. Further, over 85% of all rural women contribute to sustainable national development through their work as small-scale farmers, providing the bulk of the nation's food supply. Moreover, their role as the gatekeepers to family and child welfare is also a common knowledge in Kenya and Africa in general (see Table 1). As such they are keenly aware of the connections between local poverty, the lack of available and affordable technologies, and the problems of socioeconomic in rural areas. For this reason, their role and status becomes a key critical factor in enviro-socio-economic and policy development in Kenya.

Paradoxically, however, women are rarely integrated as partners in the design, management and follow-up of development programs. They are usually systematically excluded from access to land, credit and formal training on skills and new technologies that could eventually lead to easing of their daily workloads. Other factors include, conflicting difficulties influenced by enviro-socio-economic problems and, outdated traditional and cultural practices which increasingly impoverishes them; many wives have the status of perpetual minor or otherwise merely seen as provider of 'social security' and producers of the future labor force. The girl-child is not spared either; in Kenya overwhelmingly most of the domestic workers are usually teenage girls.

2. Problems, Initiatives and Policy Implications of Sustainable Women Development

Since it is a well known fact that women are the biggest producer of food (e.g., 80% in Africa, 60% in Asia, and 40% in Latin America), and the biggest labor force in most developing countries, it is important that more human resources are invested in sustainable women development. In this program, GARN aims to increase the diversity of enterprises with the rural women farmers. The IA programme is also working with rural women to enhance their productive capacity, through capacity building via integrated training on the use of new and appropriate technology transfer, on techniques in improved farming methods for sustainable agricultural development, leading to increased food production and food security; help them to acquire food preservation techniques; assist them to have quality domestic water supply, improved cook-stoves and fuel for cooking and use of renewable energy sources; and finally to assist them to form cooperative movements so that they can get access to credit facilities to enable them start-up small-scale enterprises. The IA programme also provides group training, advice and assistance for improvement of rural community project design and management, in order to promote long-term accountability and sustainability of the projects. It is also helping to develop better and sustainable methods for transferring knowledge and skills to the rural people living within the community, and hence, help to reduce expectation and over dependency on outsiders.

Small-scale low-income rural women entrepreneurs require quick, accessible and simple financial services. Small loans make a difference to the lives of low-income rural women. Opening up for low-income women entrepreneurs' to get access to financial information and marketing strategy and; everything else changes. The information earned leads to better use of their skills (see Fig. 2 a & b). These women are the ones who will in the end change the realities of their families, of their communities. And any institution that works with them, will be changed too, for the better in terms of loan repayment or good inter-relationship, as women tends to be very good in money matters. Better income for women leads to more food on family table and also more girls go to school. Therefore women's empowerment is improved. However, there is a need to develop simple and cost-effective ways of assessing its ultimate impact on the overall general well being of the rural communities. Forming community-based women group, and networks of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs), and NGOs, is the best way of implementing this integrated approach (IA) to sustainable women development.


3.0 Importance of Grouping

In Sustainable Rural Development Programmes, the participation of target groups, in all phases, is prerequisite for a successful implementation of projects, through ways that involve rural communities as stakeholders, in order for them to derive direct benefits from it. Women's impact could be more easily achieved through groups and networks that call for visibility and recognition. Groups are good forums for giving or receiving information. Each member in a community has something to offer. In groups, members are free to share problems affecting them. GREEN AFRICA Rural Network (GARN) with the help of local theatre groups, have since developed entertaining and instructive dramas and songs, centered on folklore and meaningful proverbs, as means to achieve better communication and information flow with target groups. These have proved very instrumental in passing over very difficult issues like AIDS/HIV awareness campaign. GARN is currently working with grass-root women groups in various part of Kenya, to tap their indigenous knowledge and skills to generate income for them.

3.1 Clean Water for All: An ordinary improved clay-pot to filter water

The unavailability of potable clean water for domestic use is widely acknowledged as a problem in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa in general--a region that is designated as a high risk area in terms of waterborne diseases. The situation is even more desperate in the rural countryside, where tap water is almost non-existent, and if there are any, they are sparsely located that women and at times with their children have to trek long distances, spending several hours per day just to get a few gallons of water (Fig. 3). The use of polluted or insufficient fresh water supply is linked to the incidence of waterborne diseases such as malaria, cholera, diseases of the skin, diarrhea diseases, urinary tract infections, and intestinal worms. Waterborne disease, especially cholera, is one of the leading causes of illness and death in these areas, among the young and the aged.


However, there is a ray of hope for these rural folks. GARN is currently taking advantage of traditional women knowledge in clay-pot making. The answer comes from a very simple and oldest known and frequently used traditional cooking clay-pot The traditional cooking pot, which is found in virtually every rural household, and particularly reputed for cooking an excellent meal of maize (corn) mixed with beans, has found itself a new use which when fully developed, will drastically improve rural public health in drinking water. The improved traditional day-pot with reduced thickness, usually used for water-cooling in rural hot spot areas, has proved to be very effective in purifying untreated water. The reduced size is necessary as it enables water to flow through the pores, unlike the ordinary cooking pots, which must be thick enough to withstand the high cooking temperatures. And with external coat of just a thin layer of silver, the clay/ceramic pot virtually rid the untreated or contaminated water of most germs, such that it can be safely drank without boiling. The pot-for-a-filter, have been shown to remove up to 90% of bacteria contained in the untreated river water. How silver kills the microorganisms is still not very clearly understood, but we think it must be something to do with the toxic amounts of silver ingested by the microorganisms. However, for ultimate safety precaution, boiling of water is still recommended to kill the microorganisms that may still be present, before it can be considered ultimately safe for drinking. The research team of GARN is currently carrying out tests on other metals with a view to replace the more expensive silver by some chemicals (e.g., copper which is in the same category as silver), which is readily available and comparatively cheaper and affordable by the rural people.

The traditional technology for the fabrication of clay-pots is well known among the rural African womenfolks for time immemorial. The fabrication process is quite straight forward, after hand-moulding the pot-for-filter and firing (subjecting it to high temperatures for some pre-determined length of time) as earthware producers do with jikos (and building bricks), a very thin layer of a dilute solution of silver (3% silver nitrate) is applied on the exterior of the filter and fired a second time immediately. Silver can also be applied by dipping the pot into the silver solution, or by using an ordinary paint-brush (Fig. 4). These attributes, plus the fact that the fabrication / manufacturing and processing facilities remain exactly the same as with the cooking pots, make this innovation low cost, cost-effective and easily adaptable, as an appropriate technology to improve water quality at the rural level.


GARN is currently working with the rural grass-root women and community-based groups and other self-help groups on ways to exploit this proven innovation and its probable commercialization, as an effective low-cost water filter, that is affordable for most rural people, thus ensuring that they get clean and safe drinking water, and thereby, leading to improved quality of life, through improved public health and from income generation derived from selling of the earthwares.

4. Sustainable Farm/Forest Agricultural Programme

Sustainable farm/forest agricultural programme is a system of agricultural development which seeks to integrate the use of a wide range of pest, nutrient, agroforestry, soil, and water management technologies. In this programme, we aim to increase the diversity of enterprises with the rural women farmers.

4.1 Afforestation--Farm Forest Project

Green Africa Network in conjunction with Farm Forest Project (GAN-FFP) is run by Jackson Academy School and sits on 110 acres of land, 5 km from GAN Field Station. The project was originally started by the Academy's primary pupils and secondary students, who have jointly and with great dedication, effort, carriage and ambition have targeted to plant a million tree-plants by the turn of 2005, bringing the total tree plants to 2 million on its completion. The Project, however, is still far from completion and only 50% of trees have been planted. Many hectares of land is still not planted with trees, due mainly to lack of funds which would be used for the following: Purchasing of tree seedlings; Developing a working tree nursery which will provide local farmers with seedlings (Fig. 5 a&b). A water borehole is also needed to provide enough water for our nursery, and also to help provide clean drinking water to the local community to alleviate water problem. Fencing-off of young trees against destruction by wild and domesticated animals and; also to help in up-keeping some of our volunteers.


A major program is also underway to up-grade the project into a training center to provide on-site training to local farmers on improved farming techniques, and to local schools and community-based groups on environment and ecosystems management of indigenous resources, including commercial exploitation of indigenous forest resources. For this reason, GAN-FFP is currently working on an ambitious program to help make this project a reality, through soliciting of funds from local and international donors and well wishers.

4.2 Community-Based Sustainable FFP Programme (CSFP)

This programme is part of the GARN-FFP working group, which serves community-based women groups, and other CBOs, and also individual farmers on best ways to implement FFP-agroforestry's program at the farm level. Our CSFP team holds group discussions on a regular basis, which are aimed at sounding-out the underlying factors related to the tree and land tenure relationships, especially with women groups, whom customarily are not entitled to own communal land. The CSFP team also on a regular visits, oversees how new ideas are implemented on improvements to existing tree regeneration techniques and on how group members, especially the women group, use these ideas on their own to carry out these tasks. However, the most striking aspects of the work with these groups were the eagerness of the farmers to experiment with the new trees on the basis of their pre-existing knowledge. Various planting sites, e.g., cropland, woodlot and hedges were tested in combination within the farms. Follow-up of the farmers' activities was carried out regularly and the information collected from them was continuously analyzed.

The following is an example of the monitoring results that came out, two years after distribution of seedlings to the groups/farmers. One hundred nine respondents were interviewed, out of 520 farmers who participated. Out of 109 respondents, 83% had trees still surviving; of these 52% (96 farmers) had harvested the tress. Of these 65% (57 farmers) had harvested for fuel-wood, while 14% had harvested for fodder, and some farmers had also implemented full agro-forestry practices by inter-cropping trees in their agricultural fields. No adverse effects of the trees on the maize (corn) and beans crops were reported, and the trees were considered to be compatible with crops. A few farmers reported increased maize yields during the second year in the agro-forestry system.

4.3 Food Preservation and Integrated Paste Management (IPM) Project

Another FFP-agroforestry programme in conjunction with women group is currently going on in Trans-Nzoia District, in Northeast of Kenya, where efforts are being made to harness a 300-year-old technology developed by local women farmers to preserve milk, often before drinking for reasons of palatability and preservation, using certain species of trees. The local rural women farmers store milk in gourds that have been coated inside by burnt wood ash-dust of various tree species. Milk stored in such containers is considered "treated". Trees chosen for this purpose are multipurpose species. Cassis didymobotrya was found to be most popular for the task, 60% of women farmers have planted it around their homes. The farmer choose particular trees for milk treatment using certain criteria, by and large, the treatment itself is still subject to trial and error, but we hope to develop a more effective way to pin-point the right species. On the area of combating the on-farm pest menace, farmers use integrated pest management (IPM) system. IPM techniques is used to combat particular diseases and pests through the use of wood ash and extracts of pyrethrum, tobacco and Mexican marigold, which have been found to be quite successful and cost-effective in controlling most of the local on-farm pests, which affect common food crops.

The current study being carried out by GARN to sustain this type of indigenous knowledge is to look at ways, which will provide a basis for 'horizontal learning' and improving communication network, among the rural community-based women groups. For example, the possibility of the product market potential, and for research to help farmers raise seedlings to ensure their long-term supply of the raw materials. This study will also form part of an integrated approach to raise fuel-wood as well as serve as a basis for developing future forest conservation and tree planting strategies.

4.4 GARN-FFP Ethnomedicine Programme

A logical extension to the GARN-FFP programme is the monitoring of the use of ethnomedical resources/traditional medicinal remedies, which the local population uses, with mixed results, to treat a variety of ailments including malaria, dysentery etc. This part of the work is important, mainly because the inhabitants of rural Kenya rely heavily on traditional remedies for their healthcare needs, not only because of their cultural dispositions, but also because the healthcare infrastructures in these areas are poorly developed, and hence, cannot adequately cater for the inhabitants needs. For example, malaria and dysentery are endemic in some rural areas, and hence, there are chances of finding traditional remedies used locally and which could be scientifically standardized for a wider usage.

For the success of this programme, GARN-FFP have initiated a system for collecting information on indigenous knowledge-based systems from various rural communities around Kenya--by asking women and/or other rural residents about the medicinal, ecological and social values of various forest resources (Fig. 6). On the research side, an ethnomedicine survey is currently being carried out along side other studies to document and/or verify what have already been previously reported. The data obtained will be used to build-up ethnomedical resources database. The information from which will be correlated with the medical conditions in the area in order to assess the level of usage and possible side effects. Furthermore, the study will seek to establish the conservation status of the popularly used ethno-medical resources, with the view to establishing baseline data to be used in setting up suitable strategies to foster the sustainable utilization and conservation of these indigenous resources.


5. Use of Renewable Biomass Energy and its Environmental Implication

Biomass fuelwood is the most affordable form of energy for rural inhabitants, and it has been persistently the commonest energy option for these people. Wood provides over 95% of fuel to over 80% of the country's rural households, being also the basic fuel for low income urban households who consume on average 2 kg of wood a day. The dependence on biomass contributes to a wide range of economic, health, and environmental problems. Indoor biomass smoke resulting from traditional cooking methods contains respirable particulates, carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde and hundreds of other organic compounds, which have serious health implications on inhabitants (Fig. 7).


This, in turn, have been linked to acute respiratory infection (ARI)--which is the most passive cause of chronic illness in Sub-Saharan Africa - in particular pneumonia, eye infections, burns, cancer, and adverse pregnancy outcomes like still births, neonatal deaths, and low birth weight. It can also ultimately result in cor pulmonale, a condition of right heart failure.

Since, women are responsible for domestic cooking and are in the kitchen for longer hours than men, they are more vulnerable to the health impacts of indoor smoke emissions, and by extension small children who stay by their mother's side while they cook. ARI is the leading health hazard to children in developing nations, and in the general population results in an estimated 4.3 million deaths per year (Kammen, 1995; Smith, 1993; Rabah, 1995; Bradly, 1991). Preliminary studies in rural Kenya have shown that 38% of women below 60, who use the traditional three-stone fire-places had ARI. While for the children, 59% were found to have acute respiratory diseases (Kinyanju, 1996; Mutere, 1996). In the Gambia, for example, a study of 500 children found that girls aged below five who were carried on the backs of their mothers as they cooked in the smoky huts, had six times higher risk of ARI. Despite this indoor pollution menace to women and children, domestic cooking is not even recognized as an occupational health hazard. Professor M. R. Pandey, cardiologist and President of the Nepal Heart Foundation, attributes this to the low political and economic status of the women in developing countries. However, the use of the redesigned cook-stoves can have a dramatic effect on the energy usage, the environment, ecosystems and community health (Fig. 8).


5.1 GAN-Community-based Rural Energy Program

By now it should be clear that there is a need for improvement to the current traditional cookstoves (Khamati, 1987) (Figs. 7 and 8). The new stove should be able to reduce all the harmful effects of the traditional cook-stove. It should be environmentally friendly i.e., be able to save on fuel and time, be clean and smokeless and without other harmful indoor pollution. All these parameters must be incorporated into the new stove. The new stove is found in the name of Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ) (Fig. 9).


GARN is currently working with rural women group on the fabrication of the jiko's inner ceramic lining and production of KCJ. The fabrication process for the ceramic lining is similar to the clay-pot one and, are undertaken under the same programme. A complete KCJ jiko cost !4-5 US$. The ceramic liner must be replaced every 6 - 8 months under normal use, at a cost of 0.5-1.5/KCJ. US$. Homesteads which adopted KCJ jikos reported a saving of between 30-40% in wood and charcoal use, and a reduction of 90% in smoke emission.

GARN holds regular training workshops, follow-up protocols and a network of support services country-wide for community-based women groups and other CBOs, in the use and adaptation of the new energy technologies, including continuous analysis and upgrading of these energy saving and environment friendly devices. Income generation from the commercialization of the improved jiko is currently going on very well. GARN undertake studies on the impact of the "new" technology transfer, demonstration and its implication on the rural people's quality of life. In other renewable energy systems, GARN is currently undertaking development, production and promotion in rural Kenya of solar PV and thermal ovens, biogas, wind-power and to a limited extend small-hydro power schemes.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion it could be said that without any reasonable doubt that the realization of sustainable women development will lead to promotion and empowerment of rural women--an effort that will have a clear impact from rural-to-national development, through more manageable population growth rates and enhanced human welfare, leading to improved quality of life from rural, national to international level.
Table 1: In Africa women perform the lion's share of food systems
tasks. (Smith, 1993, K.R.)

 Workload %Share

Clearing Land 5
Turning soil 30
Plating 50
Weeding & hoeing 70
Harvesting 60
Carrying crops home 80
Storing 80
Processing 90
Marketing 60
Carrying water & fuel 90
Domestic animal care 50
Hunting 10
Cooking & family care 95
Small--scale farmers 85


Bradley P. N. (1991). Woodfuel, Women and Woodlots: The foundation for a Woodfuel Development Strategy for East Africa, Hong Kong: Macmillan Ltd.

Kammen D. M. (1995). Cookstoves for the Developing World, Scientific American, 273, 72-75.

Khamati, B., (1987). Improving Cookstoves, Kengo Wood Energy Training Series, Nairobi, Kenya: KENGO.

Kinyanjui, M. M. (1996). A Study on the Influence of Improved Stoves on Acute Respiratory Infection, Conjunctivitis and Accidental Burns, Wood Energy News, December, 1996 / April 1997.

Mutere, A. (1996). Domestic Air Pollution in Kiambu District (Kenya), Wood Energy News, December, 1996/April 1997.

Rabah, K. V. O. & Mwangi, W.J. & Ndirangu, N. R. (1995). A Study of Indoor Air Pollution from Biomass Fuel, University of Nairobi, Department of Research Report.

Smith K. R. (1993). The Health Impact of Cookstove Smoke in Africa. In African Development Perspectives Yearbook, 3, Oesterdiekhoff, P. (Ed.), Kenya.

Kefa Rabah, Assist. Prof. Dr. Kefa Rabah, Department of Physics, EMU, Gazimagusa, North Cyprus, Via Mersin 10, Turkey. e-mail: Prof. Kefa Rabah is the founder and CEO, GREEN AFRICA Nelwork (GAN) and GARN. This article is part of the research work conducted by author, and not a collective document of GARN. Photographs
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Author:Rabah, Kefa
Publication:Kadin/Woman 2000
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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