This story was originally reported by Kagondu Njagi and edited by Robert Carmichael for the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
For the women of Tuluroba village’s self-help group, the goal was simple: use their combined savings to buy cattle, fatten them and sell them to the beef industry for slaughter.
But there was a problem.
“We had no land to graze the cattle. Nor could we obtain a loan from a bank to buy land, because as women we do not own title deeds,” said Fatuma Wario, who chairs the 13-strong group.
That is common. Few women in Kenya have land title documents, and few are getting them: since 2013, less than 2 percent of issued titles have gone to women, the Kenya Land Alliance, a non-profit, said in March 2018.
And because getting a loan from a mainstream bank requires collateral – typically in the form of a land title document – most women are locked out of the chance to start a business.
In the end, the women of the HoriJabesa group borrowed money from an institution that loans money to women’s groups without requiring land title. Instead, the cash from their savings underwrites the loan.
In Wario’s case, that meant switching their savings account to the bank that was prepared to extend a $1,000 loan. Using that money and some of their savings, “we bought cattle and hired land to graze our stock”.
That was in 2017. Doing so meant the group could rent 10 acres (4 hectares) of pasture at a cost of 30,000 Kenyan shillings (US$300) annually.
Interest on the loan is 12 percent per year. In their first year they earned $10,000 from their investment – with each fattened head of cattle bringing in a US$30 profit.
The first step for Wario’s group was to become a partner with the Program for Rural Outreach of Financial Innovations and Technologies PROFIT, which is funded by the U.N International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
David Kanda, an adviser at the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation who has seen the impact PROFIT has had on women like Wario, said about 60 women’s groups in eastern Kenya alone were benefiting from the PROFIT program.
“Apart from livestock enterprises, the programme also supports women to do poultry and bee-keeping on hired land.”
The programme began in December 2010 and is scheduled to run until June this year. After that, it will be evaluated with an eye to continuing it, an official from AGRA said.
Getting a loan requires that the person be an active member of an agribusiness network. She can then apply to a farmer-lending institution for a loan as an individual – in which case her share in the agribusiness network is her collateral – or with her group, as Wario’s collective did.
The Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), a government agency, is one such lending institution.
To date, said Millicent Omukaga, AFC’s head of operations, more than 40,000 women in Kenya have benefited from non-collaterised loans. None of those loans has gone bad.
“Our aim is to double the number … of women beneficiaries. But the overall aim is to see them financially empowered so that they can fight for their land rights.”
That has proven the case for Mabel Katindi, a widow who lives in Kathiani village in Machakos county, 195 kilometres south of Wario’s village.
The 42-year-old lost her husband a decade ago. Since then she has had to fight off relatives trying to chase her and her three children from the one-acre plot she inherited.
The problem is that her late husband did not have a title deed. As it is ancestral land, it fell under one title deed held by the eldest member of his family, she said.
And without title, Katindi could not get a loan to finance money-earning ventures on her acre.
“Our land is not very good for growing food crops because the rains are not enough. Feeding my children alone has been the most difficult task,” she said.
But after joining the local women’s organisation in 2017, Katindi learned that, as an active member of the agribusiness group, she could use her share to apply for a loan.
In March of that year she borrowed 50,000 shillings from a savings and credit cooperative, and used that to plant drought-resistant brachiaria grass on half an acre of her land.
The grass has thrived, she said.
“Demand for the grass is very high because it makes cattle produce a lot of milk. It also does not require a lot of rain to grow,” said Katindi.
Each bale of grass earns up to 300 shillings, with the half-acre generating 100 bales each year. She uses the other half-acre to grow staple foods for the family.
“My children are all in school. I do not have to worry about feeding them,” Katindi said, adding that the financial returns from the loan had also helped to mend relations with her late husband’s family.
“I even use some of my money to support the relatives who wanted to chase me away from the land.”