• Blog
  • Laying the First Stones towards Gender Equity

Laying the First Stones towards Gender Equity

Laying the First Stones towards Gender Equity
Women carry stones that will form the foundation of a new sorghum collection and storage center. 

As part of my role with Root Capital, I’m privileged to travel to remote areas in Africa and Latin America to meet with our clients and the smallholder farmers at the core of their business. Recently, I was in Meru, Kenya, with my colleague Erick Sakwa, Root Capital’s Women in Agriculture coordinator for East Africa.

On our drive to the village of the Rwanda Zone (Rwanda means dry in the local language), we see sorghum fields in all directions. On some, groups of farmers, mostly women, are bent over with flat backs, placing seeds into the soil before the first rains. There are no electrical wires in sight, though several houses have solar panels; watering holes are a few kilometers apart, and we’re told that women spend many hours fetching water for their families.

Erick and I, along with our colleague Christine Kanana from Root Capital client Shalem, approach our destination – a lot in front of the area’s modest Catholic church. We are greeted by 20 women, all of whom are dancing and singing:

Work hard every day, don’t be lazy.

Work hard every day, don’t be lazy.

One woman sings a verse, and the others repeat. The women invite us to join in. Then, as we’re swaying and clapping, two women jump to the front, spread a blanket on the floor, and curl up, pretending to sleep.

If you sleep and are lazy, a judge will come…

A third woman moves upfront.

And sentence you to prison for seven years.

She ties their hands with a rope and the two women look down in shame.

Work hard every day, don’t be lazy.

Everyone resumes their positions, and sing the chorus several times. It’s an amazing thing to witness.

This group of sorghum farmers epitomizes, working hard every day and not being lazy. To prepare for the arduous work of the imminent sorghum season – the sorghum labors are in fact the subject of a second song – the farmers, nearly all women, have worked all morning under the searing sun, collecting and carrying not sorghum, but stones. Stones that will form the foundation of a new collection and storage center for the crop.

In the meeting that follows the festive welcome, several farmers gather and share their excitement for the construction of the storage center. Until now, after harvesting the sorghum, they’d bring it to the road, settle in and wait, often for as long as 20 hours and into the night, for the truck that was supposedly coming from Nairobi to come and buy their sorghum. They’d pray for the rain and the thieves to stay away. Too often, one of these would take away the fruits of their labor.

And then, once the truck finally arrived, the agents would often use rigged machines to weigh their crop, and pay a few cents per kilo below the market price – just enough so that the farmer wouldn’t notice, but multiplied over 2,000 kilos, it would amount to a significant loss.

Shalem, a Root Capital client and sorghum aggregator sourcing from 14,000 farmers throughout Kenya, recently expanded into the Rwanda Zone, giving farmers there a sure and fair market, and better quality of life. With Shalem, farmers now know the truck is not only going to arrive, but that it will buy all of their sorghum, properly weighed and valued.

Farmers express in the meeting that they’re happy to be working with Shalem. Now that they have a guaranteed market, they’re even more motivated to make sure that they can cash in their hard-earned sorghum.

That’s why the collection center they’re building – mundane, perhaps, at first blush – has the potential to be transformative. The collection center is meant to keep the sorghum safer and give farmers the peace of mind that their crop will not be subject to rain and theft. Housing the sorghum in a dedicated facility will allow them to trade in their hard work for all the income that their yields are worth – on average, about $1,000 per year in net income, and 70-80% of household earnings, according to the project coordinator Christine Kanana. The collection center will also be equipped with an accurate weighing machine.

Why has Shalem waited until now to start the construction? Shalem, like many of our clients, operates on extremely thin margins and the credit from Root Capital, which meets an essential financing need, is used entirely for buying sorghum from farmers. Recently, Root Capital’s been trying something new to amplify the effects of our lending. Under Root Capital’s Women in Agriculture Initiative, and in partnership with the social enterprise Value for Women, we’ve launched a pilot grant program with several Kenyan clients, including Shalem.

The Gender Equity Grants, or GEGs as we’re calling them, are grants for up to $20,000 that help Root Capital clients pursue activities that advance women’s economic participation and leadership. It’s through this new grant program that Shalem is able to fund the construction of its new game-changing collection center.


The GEG process kicks off with a two-day gender assessment, during which we interview farmers, processing employees, and managers to understand where women are already participating and identify areas for improvement. From the diagnostic, we produce a summary report, which we review with the client in a one-day gender training and action planning workshop. The action plan the client develops in this workshop forms the basis for their application for the Gender Equity Grant.

In the application, the client also identifies how the business and the farmers will contribute to the project. For example, in the Rwanda Zone community’s case, they’ve decided to collect stones locally to offset the cost of transporting them from the city.

Beyond the collection center, Shalem and the community are also using the GEG funding to organize savings groups for the women, and are hosting demonstration plots in which farmers learn, by doing, how to improve sorghum yields and quality.

With their own funds, they’re also bringing together a group of men committed to championing gender equality in the community. These men will spread the message that women are important, and when women are free, for example, to join the savings groups, the whole family benefits.

We, along with Value for Women, are so proud to be on this journey with Shalem, the other participating clients, and the farmers of the Rwanda Zone. They’re working hard every day towards women’s empowerment, and so are we.

To learn more about our Women in Agriculture Initiative (WAI) and the Gender Equity Grants,

check out our latest WAI impact report.


This site is registered on wpml.org as a development site. Switch to a production site key to remove this banner.