Gender Imbalance Hampers Kenya’s Tea Industry

kenyawomanMOMBASA, Kenya – Kenya’s ministry of Agriculture has published a thought-provoking report describing the gender imbalance in agriculture and food production and recommending a sensible solution: share decision-making with women.

Globally 70% of the world’s food is grown by women, toiling on five-acre and smaller plots to feed their family and earn a living. In Kenya small gardens produce 60% of the country’s harvest.

“While women provide the majority of the labor in agricultural production, their access and control over productive resources is greatly constrained due to inequalities constructed by patriarchal norms,” according to the report which was drafted with the assistance of Kenya’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Researchers found that when their decision-making ability is limited, and women do not have access to resources and household income, they are more likely to accept lower wages.

The report finds that women are over-represented in jobs characterized by high job insecurity and low labor standards. This has become more acute as “youth are not significantly engaged in agricultural activities.”

Young people are seeking white collar jobs and other fast income-generating activities, according to the report.

“The key gender concern is the limited power over and ownership of assets and resources despite producing about 65% of the food consumed in the country,” according to Standard Media.

Kenya’s tea industry is experiencing a pivotal moment. Upheaval in traditional export markets such as Egypt and overproduction following a lackluster year drove auction prices to new lows. Since a majority of growers tend small gardens and sell their tea through the Kenya Tea Development Agency, there was little to be done when KTDA reduced its orders.

In response, middlemen began approaching growers directly, offering 25 cents a kilo, which a significant premium over the 16 cents per kilo is paid by KTDA. Several farmers in Central and Rift Valley regions have entered into contracts with multinational tea processors.

Chege Kirundi, the director in charge of KTDA Zone Three told The Star that, “Tea hawking is dangerous and no one should be allowed to buy the commodity directly from farmers because this will affect KTDA.”

Although prices are down 30% the auction still presents the best avenue for marketing the commodity, Kirundi told the newspaper. Farmers have in the past raised concerns over its inefficiency and costs, forcing them to seek alternative ways to sell their produce.

Because of their diminished position, women are less likely to benefit from technical training and extension programs. Yet, researchers have found that women tend to produce better-quality tea due to their greater diligence, attention to quality controls and willingness to invest in the long-term interests of their families, reports In2 East Africa (

Though small-scale tea farmers produce about 60% of the country’s output, they have few women representatives in their management authority, the Kenya Tea Development Agency, observes In2 East Africa. Only 20 of the 109 tea factories in Kenya are managed by women and there are no women on the KTDA’s board of directors.

The Journal of Management and Sustainability in May 2012 published a study warning that the tea sector is likely to face future challenges if women’s participation is not actively supported.

“At a time when women’s rights are regarded as criteria for trade, their violation might lead to denied entry of Kenyan tea in some export markets,” according to researchers at Africa Nazarene University, whose work was published by the Canadian Center of Science and Education.

If Kenya’s tea sector is to continue being one of the country’s biggest foreign exchange earners, more women will need to be involved in decision-making, according to the publication.

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