The impact of COVID-19 on women farmers in Meru

By Teresa Mellish

Farmers Helping Farmers works with eight womens groups, three dairies and five schools in Meru County, for a new project funded by Global Affairs Canada. 

When COVID-19 started in March, the Kenyan government wisely put safeguards in place, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.  There was a curfew, from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m.  Everyone was to be physically distant.  Kenyans were supposed to wear masks. The government restricted travel in and out of Nairobi, where most of the COVID-19 cases occurred.

People were not allowed to meet in groups. The government closed all educational institutions, including schools.  Markets were closed. The number of seats in matatus ( small vans which provide public transport ) was cut in half to reduce crowding and resulted in the price of a seat being doubled. 

All of the training planned by the FHF personnel had to be stopped. However, our staff did meet with members one-on-one to plant lucerne (alfalfa feed for cows) and to install grow bags at women’s homes to grow green crops for vegetables for families, 

Salome Ntinyari, the FHF  Women's Empowerment Consultant,  recently reported: 

“The women's groups could not meet as they usually did each month.  The no gatherings regulation affected the women not only financially, but also socially. Financially, some groups had merry-go-round (where each woman contributes  a small of cash each month which is given to one woman in rotation) meetings weekly, where two women would receive some cash during that meeting and if anyone had a pressing issue, they would be considered to receive the cash that week.

With no meetings allowed, this cash to the women from amongst themselves dried up. Socially, during the meetings the women would discuss the challenges they are facing amongst themselves, thus offering each other some sort of a support system. With no meeting, this too cannot be. Also if a member was sick or grieving, the members of the group would come together make a contribution and visit the said member but now, it is no longer the same.” 

One of the women’s groups lives in a particularly dry area, where it is hilly and difficult to grow food.  During one small group training session, they said they did not wish to continue because they were having difficulty feeding their families. They noted that during their weekly contributions  (merry go round)  they usually set aside some money for purchase of seed during the planting season. Each member would get 2 packets of 2kg certified maize seed from their contribution, but now they are not sure where they will get seed to plant. 

The initial closure of open air markets affected the women who sold their harvest in the markets. Instead, the buyers who came to the farm offered the “take it or leave it price” (low price) to farmers who had no other option but to sell at whatever price was being offered, since they needed the money. 

Women who had children in school could not follow the children’s studies because they did not have the right type of phones to receive the lesson material.

 There were increased financial pressures on most families.   Some male head of families lost their jobs resulting in a loss of income for the families.

Children from relatives in Nairobi were sent to the rural areas to grandparents or relatives where they had to be fed. 

The families had to have more food in order to feed their children at home instead of them having food at the school lunch programs.  As a result, some cows were sold for cash income.  Thus the income from milk was cut down or disappeared altogether. 

Animal feed sales at the dairies went down because the women did not buy much dairy meal. They used their dairy income to buy human food to feed their families.

Our personnel reported that there were incidents of domestic violence, especially where the male head of the household lost their jobs.  Also, seeking health care among pregnant women and young children was affected due to curfew hours, and the fear of contracting the virus at the clinics. 

Although many of the effects of COVID-19 are not so different from the ones we see here in Canada, these women are already hard pressed, and do not have any buffers available to withstand these increased pressures. 

This is why Farmers Helping Farmers needs your support more than ever for our Holiday Campaign 2020.

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