Women's farming groups in a semi-arid region of Kenya : a case study of Tharaka Division, Meru District
The thesis examines how far women's farming groups are able to foster self-reliance among peasant farmers in Tharaka Division, a semi-arid region of Kenya. This is a particularly impoverished, drought prone part of the country where population pressure is resulting in intensified land use. In the past development policies have increased the vulnerability of peasant farmers making local people increasingly dependent on cash cropping and off-farm sources of income. Many households are headed by women, and the majority of farms are managed by women. Three aspects of women's farming groups were investigated: participation; extension and innovation; and access to development resources. A comparison is made between the economic and social status of participants and non-participants in women's farming groups. If it is the case that poor women are excluded from these groups, then a policy of targeting agricultural services and inputs to women's groups actually discriminates against resource-poor farmers. The study compares the number of extension visits received and innovations adopted by participants and non-participants. It questions whether the dissemination of information takes place through groups, and whether or not groups facilitate innovation. It examines the distribution of services and inputs to groups by government and non-government development agencies, and identifies those factors determining which groups receive assistance. The study concludes that women's farming groups have the potential to foster self-reliance amongst peasant farmers. However at present poorer women do not join groups because of severe time constraints created by competing labour demands. Any policy supporting women's farming groups can only be consistent with a "people-centred", participatory approach to development when these constraints are overcome and poor women, particularly female heads of households, are able to participate. Present policy is biased in favour of groups from more fertile areas. It is necessary to formulate policy appropriate to dryland areas where women's farming groups may provide a valuable mechanism for reducing vulnerability and ameliorating the effects of drought and famine.