On this International Women's Day, PlantVillage pays tribute to two women who have made remarkable contributions to the organization's success in Kenya: Ms. Consolata Tata and her daughter, Faith Aroni, who have played pivotal roles in empowering women, families, and the Dream Team workforce.
Faith, a member of the PlantVillage Dream Team and a gender specialist, has been working towards promoting gender equality in the organization's operations. She believes that women in marginalized communities face significant challenges, including limited access to technology, which the PlantVillage Nuru application is helping to address.
Her mother, Mama Tata, was one of the 113 lead farmers who pioneered several projects, including cassava, integrated pest management, and agroforestry. She attributes her success to her involvement in the PlantVillage community, which has empowered more than 3000 farmers in Busia County alone.
Consolata Tata with her fellow lead farmers during the PlantVillage AGM in Eldoret, Kenya, in September 2022
Through the empowerment projects, Mama Tata, who has been raising her three children as a widow, has been able to educate them, keep her home in order, and ensure a steady supply of food. She has also managed to venture into other activities, such as poultry farming, using the profits she gets from selling her farm's produce.
"It (PlantVillage) has brought me from nowhere to somewhere. It has brought my children from grass to grace. So, I'm so happy about PlantVillage because before, we were starving a lot in our county here because, initially, we were depending on cassava, which was not doing so well," she said.
By using the PlantVillage Nuru application under the guidance of Dream Team field officers, Ms. Tata says PlantVillage helped them beat starvation by assisting them to grow healthy cassava that proved tolerant to drought, pests, and diseases.
Lead farmer Consolata Tata peeling her cassava at her home in Busia County, Kenya/Photo Credits: Consolata Tata
"Now we can access the clean seedlings for our cassava. We know the benefits of cassava. We have food. If you move around the farms in Busia County, you’ll see most of them are growing cassava now because they have learned about clean seedlings," she said.
Through the empowerment projects, Mama Tata has been able to educate her children, keep her home in order, and ensure a steady supply of food. She has also been able to venture into other activities, such as poultry farming, using the profit she gets from selling her farm's produce.
"PlantVillage does a lot in farming, and in fact, it's changing our farming because most of the time we have been using inorganic fertilizers for our crops, which were spoiling our soils. And now that PlantVillage has introduced to us organic solutions such as the use of biochar, which is good for the soil and has boosted productivity," she said.
PlantVillage’s role in bridging the gender gap
For Faith Aroni, 24, International Women's Day is an opportunity to appreciate the achievements that women have made in the cultural, social, political, and economic spheres.
"It is a day that we urge people to challenge gender stereotypes, call out discrimination, draw attention to bias, and seek out inclusion to take action to drive the gender parties," she says.
Faith Aroni delivering her presentation during the PlantVilllage AGM in Eldoret, Kenya, in September 2022
She notes that since she joined PlantVillage in 2021, the organization has been at the forefront of promoting gender equality in different dimensions.
"We have 108 Dream Team members, with a female-to-male ratio of 24:25. This illustrates that we, as PlantVillage, promote equal opportunities for both female and male young people. The Dream Team has been engaging farmers, both men and women, through training on various aspects of agriculture," she added.
To Faith, the PlantVillage Nuru application, key among the organization’s technologies, has been an important tool in empowering women on the farm.
"Just until recently, women in marginalized communities did not have access to smartphones and other technologies compared to men. Men knew about commercial farming because they could get knowledge from the internet on how to practice it, but with the PlantVillage Nuru application, an equal platform has been created for both genders to explore."
From left, PlantVillage Dream Team officers Agnes Kadzo, Sophie Nadzua and Binti Ibrahim during the PlantVillage AGM in Eldoret, Kenya, in September 2022
Her work for farmers is inspired by her background, having grown up in a farming household. She believes some of the challenges her mother used to experience on the farm, such as pests and diseases, are the driving force behind the growth of PlantVillage.
"PlantVillage targets small-scale farmers by helping them improve their production through the use of different technologies. The challenges that my mother and other farmers experience in their farming will make PlantVillage want to come up with solutions to address those issues," she said.
PlantVillage has given women and girls from different communities a platform where they can learn through seminars, short courses, and fellow Dream Team members. The knowledge gained has helped give women a chance to lead in their areas of expertise.
"A good example is Melodine Jeptoo; she is a Dream Team member who is leading the ASALs region on matters of climate change and drought management. Enriching young women and girls with knowledge is the goal of PlantVillage because these are the future leaders that the world needs." Faith concluded.
Women easily fit into PlantVillage’s model
PlantVillage associate director, Annalyse Kehs, commends the work of Ms. Aroni and her mother, Ms. Tata.
“The success of Consolata and Faith’s work, individually and together, is not unique within PlantVillage, and more examples can be found across any of our operational countries (currently nine) because we engineer our focus from the ground up on the societal expectations and the real responsibilities put on women by their families and communities,” she said.
Ms. Annalyse Kehs planting a tree during her visit to Bungoma County, Kenya, in June 2022
Ms. Kehs noted that Ms. Tata is an example of farmers who easily fit into the paradigm of PlantVillage and help steer the organization’s objective towards communities free and able to fight climate change.
“This means that our decisions and new programs start with women farmers and climb upwards and outwards. The importance of keeping farmers at our core cannot be understated, as we measure our success by those who are able to adapt and thrive in a changing climate, and if we ignored the current gender roles and barriers related to farming and business, we would fail. It’s as simple as that.
“This theme is echoed throughout the organization with intention and direction towards a future where women and men alike can thrive in a climate-changed world by working together and recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the individual—not by society's expectations or business norms,” she added.
On why Faith and her mother are examples of farmers, and particularly women’s ability to fit into the PlantVillage ideology: “As a non-hierarchical organization with farmers at the center of everything we do, it is not a matter of who you are but rather where you are located, what your soil quality is, and how much rain you are going to receive, and that is how I met Faith. After a visit to Consolata, as we were leaving, Faith arrived straight from university, and we swapped numbers.”
“We kept in touch as she finished her bachelor's, and she saw the need for her expertise to be incorporated into our organization. Since then, Faith has successfully interwoven her knowledge into all of our programs, and we are now working on implementing an organization-wide tracking system for raising awareness with a bias towards action,” she concluded.
- Written by Sam Oduor