By Leopold Obi
Three hundred women in El Poloi have switched from the age-old occupation of goat-keeping to the new and far more lucrative activity of farming aloe, a plant with healing properties.
Along the way, they are transforming their economic status and creating educational opportunities for their daughters.
Drought-prone El Poloi lies to the northwest of snow-capped Mount Kenya in the Great Rift Valley. According to the Kenya Meteorological Department, the area receives less than 400 mm (16 inches) of rainfall annually.
Only a few hardy shrubs and savannah grass can survive on the harsh terrain. The community’s women say their men used to journey miles to Mount Kenya in the dry season seeking grazing for their herds, while the women and children stayed behind without enough food.
Knowing maize and vegetables would not produce good harvests in this climate, the women decided six years ago to cultivate Aloe secundiflora, a plant common to semi-arid parts of Kenya.
They formed four groups tasked with fighting poverty and gender inequality. Each group farms at least 3 acres (1.2 hectares) of the short-stemmed succulent plant.
Rosemary Putunoi, a leader of Twala Cultural Manyatta Women, said her group was given 40 acres (16 hectares) of dry, eroded land to farm by the men of the community in 2008.
* (Thomson Reuters Foundation)*