How are our women farmers in Western Kenya doing during the Corona Pandemic?

29. 04. 2020


BBV-LIZ completed its first project in March 2020 and successfully launched the Women Farmer Association of Kenya (WoFaAK) in the three counties in Western Kenya. Building on this, a solid foundation for a strong, capable rural women's association will now be established from April 2020 to March 2021. This second project is again funded by the special initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) "One World without Hunger". It is integrated into the Green Innovation Center of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) in Kisumu in Kenya.


The concrete implementation of the planned measures, primarily seminars and workshops, is currently difficult in Kenya as well because of the Corona pandemic. Kenya is affected by COVID-19 just like all other countries in the world. People have contracted the disease, some have recovered and others have died. So far, Kenya has recorded 374 confirmed cases, 124 recovered people, and 14 people who have succumbed to the virus (deaths) as of April 29, 2020.

The Kenyan government has taken measures to contain the spread of the virus. People who have tested positive are isolated, while those who have interacted with them are quarantined in isolation centers for 14 days. They are then tested for the virus: if they test positive, they are isolated for treatment; if they test negative, they are released home. Severely affected are the two largest cities, Nairobi and Mombasa, which are quarantined (neither entry nor exit is allowed). No cases have been reported in the western region of Kenya (Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, Vihiga, and Siaya).


To control the Covid 19 pandemic, the government ordered everyone to stay home, all facilities where people gather are closed (churches, bars), everyone exercise in public places such as stores, supermarkets, hospitals, etc. at a distance of one meter. Hand washing with soap and wearing masks in public places is mandatory. Some county governments (Bungoma, Kakamega) have purchased and distributed masks to vulnerable people. It has been ensured that those in need receive free food rations.


How are they experiencing the Corona pandemic? We asked Dr. Mary Stella Wabwoba and Florence Omutimba.



Dr. Mary Stella Wabwoba



Dr. Mary Stella Wabwoba, an ecotrophologist at the Ministry of Agriculture in Bungoma, tells us how she is experiencing the Corona pandemic in Kenya. Ms. Wabwoba has conducted four nutrition trainings for BBV-LIZ. She is a member of the rural women's association "WoFaAK" in Bungoma County. She manages a small farm with her husband.



Mrs. Wabwoba, can you briefly describe who lives in your household?

In my household, I live with my husband, a child, a herdsman, a laborer for farming and for my store, each living in his own house but on the same plot of land.


What do you usually do?

Normally I am in charge of extension and training at the Bungoma Department of Agriculture. Last year, I held 160 courses.

Now I am at home, doing housework and farm work. I plant sweet potatoes, sunflowers, mucuna beans and vegetables on my farm. In addition, I buy raw products from other farmers and then process them into sunflower oil, sunflower cake, mucuna beans - drink powder, and fresh vegetables.  I supply my products at a wholesale price to other stores who sell them at retail price. All of this was done by employees before the CORONA pandemic.


What impact has the Corona pandemic had on you personally?

I use this time to do chores and search online for new ideas for our food and research on cures for diseases. I definitely find it positive that I have more time to try new recipes in the kitchen.

Also, I can personally supervise the activities at home. This has improved my income - because I have time to sell my farm produce and homemade products made from it, such as fat cookies, chips and potato chips made from sweet potatoes. I also make soap at home for washing hands for neighbors.

Negative impacts for me are: phone and internet expenses have increased a lot. We consume more food since all meals are taken at home. And that I am at home most of the time - have to stay: I miss the meetings with the women's groups we train in agri-nutrition - I just miss the exchange.


Has your family life changed?

Yes - you can say that. I do more with my family because everyone spends most of their time at home, we even eat dinner together as a family now. We also pray from home because the churches have been closed.


You are in a responsible position at WoFaAK. How do you keep in touch with the rural women?

It is really difficult, we are not allowed to meet anymore, so activities as a group are not possible at the moment. Nevertheless, we try to sensitize the members to implement hygiene measures in their environment, for example in the kiosk to sell vegetables there. We are trying to run small savings and loan programs online through M-Pesa. But communication is quite difficult due to power outages and weak network.


How do you manage to feed your family on a daily basis?

I grow a lot of food myself on the farm, such as corn, beans, roots and tubers, and various vegetables. We sell the surplus in our small store. With the income, I buy at the market what we don't produce ourselves on the farm.


Do you still have enough food?

Yes, there is enough; it is still available at markets as well as supermarkets. Here - as in all public places - the minimum distance of one meter from other people and the wearing of a mask applies.


Are the corn mills open so that you can at least prepare ugali, the traditional corn porridge?

Yes, everything is the same as before. In fact, the mills are busier now. You also notice here that people are eating at home more often.


What rules and regulations has the government ordered?

The most important rule: we have to stay at home.

If we are in public, we must wear a face mask and keep a physical distance of one meter from other people. Gatherings of any kind are forbidden. All public places, churches, bars, etc. are closed.

We are required to use general hygiene measures at all times, especially washing hands with running water and soap or using desinfectant.


Where do you get actual information about the pandemic?

Primarily through social media, radio and television. There are also posters in strategic places - on the way to the market, or along the street.


In our country, the police control the observance of the ban on assembly. How does it look in your country?

Yes, they do that here, too. We also have a curfew between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., which means that everyone has to be at home, even just walking around is not allowed. The police checks after 7pm if the curfew is followed. If a person is found outside their home, they will be apprehended and quarantined for 2 weeks at their own expense.


Do your children still go to school?

No, they are already adults. All educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities) have been closed effective March 15, 2020 until today. By the way, the first case was registered in Kenya on March 13.



Mrs. Florence Omutimba works as a trainer at Anglican Development Service Western, a non-governmental organization in Kakamega County. She has conducted several nutrition trainings for BBV-LIZ. She is the regional spokesperson for the Rural Women's Association "WoFaAK" for Kakamega-County. She manages a small farm with her family.
She described her situation to us in four voice messages via WhatsApp.


Frau Omutimba


Good morning, Ms. Omutimba, tell us what has changed for you as a result of the Corona pandemic?
The Corona pandemic has affected my work quite a bit because on March 16, we were told to work from home now. That's a practice we've never had before. I work directly with the farmers. I visit their farm and give trainings on good farming practices including technical knowledge and value addition. I support the farmers directly on the ground. I usually reach a group of about 30 participants per day, but now it is 1 to 3 farmers per day. Working from home not very easy, although I try very hard to continue to advise my farmers. On a minimal basis, I make farm visits, but only with protective clothing, mask and disinfectant.
At the moment I am working with laptop and cell phone. There are always power outages and we can't charge the phone and laptop. Sometimes the network is so bad that we can't use the social media (SMS and Whatsapp) either. So that really affects my work a lot.

Can you briefly describe who lives in your household?
In my family, we are currently five people, that is my husband, our two children and a worker. Our children are at home now, they were sent home from school on March 16. Yesterday, the government announced that school children will also have to stay at home for the whole month of May. Our children's education is interrupted. They got some online lessons, but not many families in my country can afford internet because of the high fees. Most families do not own a laptop or smartphone. They also don't have access to electricity, so online learning is impossible for them. Many children, including ours, now help out at home.

How do you provide for your family? 
I have a large vegetable garden and can feed my family well with it. The corn mills are still working and I have my corn ground fresh there every day. So I can cook "ugali", the corn porridge, which is our staple food.
I am lucky because I can work from home, I have a regular income. That makes a lot of things easier.

Do you go shopping? Are the stores and the markets open?
Yes - the stores are open. Now in Kenya, when you go to any public place, you have to wear a mask. We use disinfectant and soap to wash our hands whenever we go to the market or stores. In every store now there are hand washing sinks and soap for washing hands. This is something new for our people, and they are really trying to implement it.

How are the business people doing? Are they feeling the outgoing restrictions?
Yes - this pandemic is primarily hitting the small business people, including many from our trainings. They were selling their home-produced goods to schools, and now the schools have closed. I spoke to some of them, and they told me that business has dropped by up to 70%.

Ms. Omutimba, you are also in a position of responsibility at WoFaAK. How do you keep in touch with the rural women? 
It's hitting us very hard here, too, because we can't visit our groups to offer counseling, train them and help them. It has really become a problem, most of the communication is only by phone or text message. I look forward to the day when we can all gather again. We would so like to have a countrywomen's day again.

Have the people, especially the rural women in Western Kenya found creative ways to deal with Corona in these challenging times? Can you give us examples?
Our rural women have become creative. For example, they made a makeshift faucet out of empty jerry cans, poles, nails and string to have running water to wash their hands.




You fill water into the canister and when you step on the small pedal that is attached to the canister by a string, the water comes out of the tilted canister and people can wash their hands without having to touch the canister.


WasserhahnHände waschen





The women have also learned to make their own liquid soap. The liquid soap is filled in used plastic water bottles and is sold for 30-50 KES (about 25 cents). For home use, we drill a hole in the top of the bottle. When you squeeze the bottle, soap comes out.



We also make our own hand sanitizer. We mix the household cleaner "JiK" (sodium hypochlorite) 1:5 with water and also fill it into used plastic bottles.






Where do you get actual information about the pandemic?
The government is doing its best and trying to educate the population through radio, television and even social media, including in the many local languages. Every day, our President Uhuru Kenyatta or the Ministry of Health provides information about the current status of the pandemic. What I like are the cartoons on TV about the Corona pandemic. With these, the government is trying to convey important information and rules of conduct to children in a way they can understand.

We have to observe a curfew from 7pm to 5am. Anyone who does not comply and is caught is put in mandatory quarantine for 14 days. The alternative fine has been abolished.
We have mandatory masks - the challenge is that everyone has to buy their own mask. The government has promised to give out free masks to the poor, but they have not yet arrived at the really poor people in the communities. So you see the poor vacillating between buying food for the family and buying the mask.

Something else I want to mention about social distancing. The government has imposed the following regulation: When a person dies, they must be buried within 48 hours and the number of people attending the funeral is limited to 15.
Here in Western Kenya, the funeral usually takes place after three days. During this time, many people come to the house of the bereaved family to express their condolences. Traditionally, the guests are very well catered for. This causes high costs and is a big financial burden for the bereaved family.
At first, it was difficult to accept this new regulation, but in the meantime, the people are complying with it. They even like it: many people in the communities say this should continue after the pandemic.

In western Kenya, hardly anyone owns a vehicle - all transport is by minibus or motorcycles. Does that still work?I
We still use public transport, there used to be room for 15 passengers in a minibus, but now a maximum of 8 passengers are transported. The operators have to make sure that people wash their hands and use their masks before entering. The prices have increased accordingly.