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< prev - next > Social and economic development discovering technologists (Printable PDF)
Gender and Technology Training Guidelines
SESSION 15 - Case Studies
2. Indigenous vegetables in Kenya
Traditionally mostly women have carried out the cultivation and marketing of
indigenous food plants through out Kenya, until the colonial administration insisted
that local farmers grow cash crops. But over reliance on cash crops is dangerous
because when a crop fails it is like having a famine.
Unlike the exotic cash crops, indigenous plants are disease-and-drought resistant, are
not as prone to major pests and are cheaper to grow since they can do without
expensive fertiliser and pesticides. Crop management of indigenous plants is
relatively easy and makes fewer demands on women's time and energy. Indigenous
crops often grow faster than exotics, and can be harvested in weeks rather than
months. Moreover the preservation of diets rich in indigenous food plants means
better nutrition. Indigenous food plants also tend to be environmentally more
Women's farming, food processing and marketing in Kenya, as in many other
countries is perceived as haphazard and small scale. Women, who grow indigenous
plants, are not credited with any value as producers. Agricultural policies and
extension services often deny the importance of women's knowledge of local food
plants by targeting male commercial farmers. Even when women do get involved in
agricultural schemes, they have received little support for growing indigenous plants.
Recently some women's groups in the Saiya district have taken the initiative to grow
indigenous vegetables on a commercial basis, and in doing so have upgraded
production and processing technologies. Women have proved that indigenous
vegetables do very well without fertiliser. They used cattle manure and compost to
enrich the soil. Women are gradually adapting this method in the production of exotic
crops as well.
Traditionally women depended on rain to grow indigenous crops or simply collected
edible plants in the forest. Now that indigenous plants are threatened by extinction,
women found that with a constant water supply the vegetables fared better. Thus by
using the water pumps provided by the Indigenous Food plan Programme, a
programme run by 2 national NGOs in collaboration with an international NGO to
support the women in their efforts, crops are being watered daily, and improving.
Women have also started to use horticultural management practices. For example the
use of inter cropping local varieties with others which overcame some of the
disadvantages of mono-cropping such as vulnerability to disease, weather and soil
erosion. It also extended the period of time over which women took different crops to
sell at the market.
Recently the women have started collecting, drying and packaging their own
indigenous seeds for sale. By increasing their own seed crops they hope to retain