By Sharon Atieno

It’s a calm Monday afternoon in Oloika village, Kajiado County, though for a couple of months the region has been dry, the rains have started pouring and the green grass is beginning to bounce back.

In Silvia Sumare’s compound, we find a group of women colourfully adorned in their traditional Maasai attires and ornaments exchanging small talks and laughter. They belong to the Oloika Women group. A group made up of fifty women from different parts of the village.

They have gathered here today as evidence that women empowerment especially in vulnerable communities, such as the Maasai who depend on pastoralism can go a long way in making communities resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Latia Foundation brought these women together. The non-governmental organization is empowering women in Kajiado County by training them on poultry rearing and kitchen gardening.

A member of Oloika group feeding the chicken in an improved coop

Kajiado County is one of the 29 arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) in Kenya. The county is mostly semi-arid with annual rainfall ranging between 550 mm and 850 mm per year and high temperatures throughout the year, according to the State Department for Development of the ASALs.

With the droughts, women are often left behind to take care of the household as men move with livestock in search of pasture and water. As such, the task of putting food on the table is left to the women, who at times are forced to sleep hungry with their children when the money and food they had runs out before the dry spell is over.

In Oloika, women now have something to smile about after receiving training and chicken donations from the organization. From the training, the women and their children have become food sufficient and they are earning a profit from selling eggs.

“I was just rearing chicken (indigenous) but I didn’t know it could bring me money. I didn’t know that chicken would make my children eat good food in the morning but now I can boil or fry eggs for them. Now my children are having a balanced diet,” Sumare says.

She adds that from the sale of eggs at shs. 20 (about USD 0.2) each, she is able to acquire at least shs. 200 (about USD 20) which she gives on a weekly basis as savings in her table banking group made up of women from the area.

Sumare notes that school fees for her children will also not be an issue because she is able to help her husband raise the money from her business.

Silvia Sumare in her compound

Purity Paringo, a member of Oloika shares similar sentiments, saying, “Even if my child has been sent home for school fees, I can’t lack shs. 300 or shs. 500 to give them. I don’t have to wait for my husband to come back, I can sell the eggs or chicken and get it.”

“Now we can’t sleep hungry, unlike before when men would go looking for money and come back with nothing and since there was no other option we would sleep hungry. Now, we have become open-minded through these projects.”

Paringo says except maybe for flour which they use to prepare ugali – a local delicacy used as an escort for vegetables, they are no longer dependent on their husbands to bring food because it is already available.

She adds that she no longer has to go to Kitengela or Isinya, a journey which would cost her shs. 600 (about USD 6)to and from her home in search of vegetables.

Though poultry keeping is not a new concept in the Oloika, the women had no knowledge that chicken could be a source of money or food. They were just keeping their indigenous chicken anyhow without much regard to their welfare.

“We didn’t know how to take care of them, what to feed them, which medicine to give them, how to put up a house for them and the appropriate time to slaughter them,” Paringo says, adding that they would just put them in a makeshift pen which is not properly cleaned, release them in the morning to go and fend for themselves and lock them up again in the evening.

But now, they have known disease control, construction of chicken coops, and general maintenance of hygiene for chickens for example cleaning the coop regularly, the right timing for chickens to lay eggs and even to slaughter the chicken among others.

Purity Paringo (left) with a member of the Oloika Women group

According to Shadrack Kaimenyi, a trainer at Latia, the training involved setting up a demonstration farm in one of the homes of the trainees. The hosting home had to be somewhere central where the other women could easily access it. Also, the home had to have enough space to accommodate the group and water-sufficient.

The six-months training was conducted on a fortnightly basis where the women would meet every Friday for three hours. They would be taken through practical lessons in the demonstration farm including basics of keeping chicken, kitchen gardening as well as entrepreneurial skills.

In Kajiado county alone, 10 women groups made up of 50 women each have been trained on kitchen gardening and poultry keeping.

With the fifth United Nations (UN) sustainable development goal(SDG) calling for gender equality, women empowerment is critical to achieving this goal.