Supporting groups of smallholding women substantially contributes to strengthen rural operations economically. The organisation and associated group activities can help to reduce extreme poverty and improve the food situation.
The Institute for Development and Peace (INEF), which was founded in 1990, is an institute of the University of Duisburg-Essen (Faculty of Social Sciences) with a strong focus on policy-related and policy-relevant research.
Kindernothilfe (German for "Supporting children in need") was founded in Germany in 1959 as a Christian organisation to support vulnerable and marginalized children and youth to develop their full potentials. Today Kindernothilfe is one of the largest Christian children's rights organisations in Europe. We partner with local non-governmental organisations to implement more than 600 projects in 32 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Self-help groups (SHGs) offer a foundation for social and political empowerment. Being part of an SHG not only provides the women with increasing household incomes, it also helps them to gain more respect and a voice of their own, both within the family and in their communities. Since 2006, the German Kindernothilfe initiative has worked in partnership with the local organisation Kitui Development Centre (KDC) on a project to strengthen the self-help concept in Kitui County, about 160 km east of the capital Nairobi in the centre of Kenya. The SHG structure of the project provides for political representation of interests to improve the living conditions of women. The Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) of the University of Duisburg-Essen studied the project as part of the research project “Ways out of extreme poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity” funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
The human-rights based SHG approach originated in India, among other locations, where it is making a substantial contribution to the fight against poverty. Its explicit intent is to unite the very poorest members of society, mainly women. Participants are chosen by the villagers themselves with the aid of participative poverty analyses. One prerequisite for participation in an SHG is a daily income of less than 100 Kenyan shillings (less than one euro). Unique about the approach is the high level of independent responsibility of the groups, as they do not receive external material support but are merely offered training at the beginning.
The overarching goal of the groups is to improve the standard of living for their members and the communities around them, as well as to promote solidarity. To that end, economic, political and social empowerment is to be supported. Each SHG chooses its own activity from a wide variety of possibilities. Aspects they all share are collective savings, loans issued from the group funds, mutual support and participation in various training on the SHG approach (e.g. bookkeeping and conflict resolution), agriculture (e.g. growing drought-resistant cassava varieties, beekeeping or chicken farming) as well as entrepreneurship to assist with building small businesses.
Political organisation of self-help groups
The organisational structure is built in several steps. First, about 15 to 20 women come together to form an SHG, in order to improve the economic situation of each individual and household. Next, the cluster level associations (CLAs) are formed. This is a superordinate structure of about 10 SHG representatives. The CLAs establish a network among the groups and encourage the formation of new SHGs. They also work with local authorities to support the broader development of the community. The highest level of the organisation is a federation of 10 CLAs, which represents up to 2,000 women. The main goal at this level is political advocacy for regional concerns. The intention is to break down barriers preventing the extremely poor from articulating their interests. The institutions have grass-roots democratic structures, where the most important functions like presidency rotate regularly and decisions are made by consensus. The federation in Kitui, for example, is working in agreement with the local administration to fight for the abolishment of child marriage and female genital mutilation, and is actively committed to combating domestic violence and the production of the local alcohol pombe.
Results of the project
At present, there are more than 210 SHGs in Kitui, consisting of about 3,500 members. As an empirical study with surveys of over 400 households (see Mahla / Gaesing 2017) shows, those households with women who are SHG members are now in better economical situations than comparable households in Kitui County. The women say about themselves that they have managed to “climb the ladder” from extreme poverty to poverty. Very few, however, have advanced beyond that point, which shows the limitations of the approach. The women are using the loans from the SHG or their increased household income primarily to allow their children to receive continuing and advanced education. They also invest in improving their living situations, for example by replacing straw roofs with sheet metal, or in various activities to generate income like opening small businesses or buying goats and cows. When income is generated, for example by selling a chicken, part of the money is usually used for repaying the loan with interest (rate varies, around 10%), part is used for the weekly savings and part is considered personal profit.
In the survey of households (see ibid.), the members of the SHG stated that they had gained both entrepreneurial (17%) and agricultural (19%) skills. In addition, joint water tanks have been procured. There are groups who exchange seeds and have begun to grow vegetables to contribute to improved food security. Especially tomatoes and sukuma wiki, a popular cabbage variety, were not widely known before the founding of the SHGs. Today, they are fetching good profits at markets and contributing to balanced nutrition. In reaction to periods of drought, the SHGs have established food banks, which are also used as meeting rooms for the SHG. Availability of food has improved as, after an adequate harvest, foods are available to the villagers all year round at fair prices.
The SHG approach is based on the grass-roots, democratic self-organisation of the women, and their formation of such an alliance alone can be seen as a political act of self-empowerment.
As most rural villages do not have electricity, the Tisuka federation has initiated a collaboration with a solar manufacturer (D-Light), which allows women in the SHG to buy solar lamps at reduced prices with their loans. With these lamps, they can continue to work on income-generating activities after dark, for example, or their children can still study or read in the evenings.
The SHG approach is based on the grass-roots, democratic self-organisation of the women, and their formation of such an alliance alone can be seen as a political act of self-empowerment. In principle, the SHG activities are intended to strengthen the women’s self-confidence. This self-confidence is the foundation for women to stop viewing themselves as the stigmatised “poor”, but realising in their understanding of themselves that they also have rights. With increased self-confidence, the women develop the courage to articulate their interests outside of the protective circle of the group. The CLAs in particular influence political decision-making processes to effectively represent the women’s interests. One example of this is the cooperation with government authorities to improve not just the security situation, but also the water and health situations in the villages. For instance, the Kuma CLA was instrumental in the establishment of a Care Centre in a rural health station. Also, some SHG members from Kitui were even elected to serve on political committees at the county level.
In sum, the networking of women across the whole country and beyond Kenya’s borders represents political capital for the future. Social empowerment emerges due to the fact that the groups promote collective solidarity. The women and their families support one another with building homes, field work, or in the event of illness or a death in the family. Interest-free loans are also issued in special emergencies. Many groups also engage in charitable activities, for example by paying school fees for orphaned children. Education is a key issue, which was an immense financial burden on many families before women began to join SHGs. Now, thanks to the groups, the number of school dropouts has fallen and the number of children receiving advanced education has risen. Moreover, many women emphasised that the SHGs have helped them to expand or strengthen their social networks.
Conclusions about the development cooperation
The SHG approach creates a sustainable, well-connected organisational structure and enables that structure to work toward the development needs of its members and communities without any outside support. This establishes the foundation for sustainable development.
In the Kindernothilfe SHG approach, borrowing from external credit sources, e.g. micro-financing institutions, is not intended below the cluster level association. The small amounts of savings within the groups are generally not enough for necessary larger investments in agriculture or other commerce. With regard to better financial inclusion of the households, networking the SHGs (with the aid of the existing cluster level association or federation) with rural financial service providers is one way of overcoming this limitation. Financial linkage, however, should only be pursued where sustainable SHG structures exist and diligent checks of creditworthiness are being performed, in order to prevent excessive indebtedness of the smallholding households.
In this case, instead of corrupting the well-organised self-help structure and ownership of the women and their communities with generous infusions of capital, it is sensible to finance and technically implement necessary accompanying measures in cooperation with state technical and financial cooperative organisations. The scarcity of water (both drinking water and water for irrigation) and lack of integration into markets are two of the main problems of the region, hampering its development. With participatory planning, measures to increase the water supply, small-scale irrigation and market integration could be planned, financed and implemented as needed. Such measures could, for example, boost the emerging vegetable farming to a higher level, provide credits for production equipment and contribute to the creation of value chains. To complement such efforts, support of the emerging infrastructure-building would also be very useful.
The SHG structures are ideally suited for bringing programmes and training on important topics like nutritional counselling (Kitui has an extremely high stunting rate) to the population.
Mahla, Anika / Gaesing, Karin (2017): Der Selbsthilfegruppen-Ansatz am Beispiel von Kitui in Kenia. (The Self-Help Group Approach in the Example of Kitui in Kenya) Armutsbekämpfung durch Empowerment. (Fighting Poverty through Empowerment) Institut für Entwicklung und Frieden INEF (Institute for Development and Peace), University Duisburg-Essen (AVE study 6/2017, Ways out of extreme poverty, vulnerability and food insecurity).
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A contribution by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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It began with clicks at a trade fair and ends with concrete reforestation: a campaign at the Green Week in Berlin is now enriching the forests of the Yen Bai Province in Vietnam. A chronicle of an education about climatic relevance to concrete action - and about the short distances on our planet.
A contribution by Dr. Kathleen Mar and Dr. Nicole de Paula
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, health is receiving unprecedented public and political attention. Yet the fact that climate change is also affecting the environmental and social determinants of health in a profound and far-reaching way deserves further recognition.
A report by Bettina Rudloff and Annette Weber (SWP)
The Corona-Virus exacerbates existing crises through conflict, climate, hunger and locusts in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. What needs to be done in these regions? To face these challenges for many countries, all of these crises need to be captured in their regional context.
A report by Alexander Müller and Jes Weigelt (TMG)
As the climate changes, the population of Africa is growing and fertile land and jobs are becoming scarcer. New ways are currently leading to urbanisation of agriculture and a new mid-sized sector in the countryside
Agnes Kalibata, AGRA president since 2014 and former minister of agriculture and wildlife in Rwanda, is convinced that Africa's economy will only grow sustainably if small-scale agriculture is also seen as an opportunity.
Nutrition experts from all over the world are coming together in Rome. They are not only distilling 2000 ideas to improve food systems - they are also preparing for the big UN summit in New York in September. An interview.
Journalist Jan Rübel spoke with Joao Campari ahead of the UNFSS Pre-Summit. The Chair of Action Track 3 highlights key challenges in transforming existing food systems towards sustainable production and shares his expectations for the Summit.
In this article, the author describes what we know about interlinkages, what role agriculture has to play in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and what the necessary changes in agricultural systems might look like, both on small and large-scale farms.
The oceans are important for our food supply, but they are overfished. To halt this trend the global community is now taking action against illegal fishing. Journalist Jan Rübel spoke with Francesco Marí, a specialist for world food, agricultural trade and maritime policy at "Brot für die Welt," and others.
A contribution by Dr. Karin Gaesing and Prof. Dr. Frank Bliss (INEF)
Especially in densely populated areas, land pressure leads to overexploitation of available land and a lack of conservation measures. The West African country of Benin, with heavily depleted soils in many places, is no exception.
Publication of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and TMG ThinkTank for Sustainability.
The global community is failing in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. This is shown in the factsheet "Poverty Makes Hunger" published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the TMG ThinkTank for Sustainability. Read the full report here.
An Interview with Francisco Marí (Brot für die Welt)
Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) did not attend the UNFSS pre-summit. Instead, the organisation took part in a counter-summit that took place at the same time. A conversation with Francisco Marí about the reasons, the process - and an outlook for the future
Interview with Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ)
After the summit means pre-summit: It was the first time that the United Nations held a summit on food systems. Martina Fleckenstein, Michael Kühn and Christel Weller-Molongua reviewed the situation in this joint interview.
Vitamin-poor nutrition must become more expensive, in-vitro meat is not a panacea, and agricultural systems should be more decentralised. Bioland President Jan Plagge in an interview about the challenge of (future) world nutrition.
Genetically modified bacteria become edible proteins, cows graze on pasture, and no waste is produced in an industrial circular economy. Journalist Jan Grossarth sees a silver lining for the future of world nutrition
A Contribution by Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs (IPES-Food)
While having failed to solve the hunger problem, industrial agriculture appears to be causing additional ones both in environmental and health terms. Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs call for a transformation.
A Contribution of the 'Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains' (INA)
Fair Trade organisations and the Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains (INA) have launched the #ichwillfair campaign during COP26 to highlight the link between global supply chains and climate change.
Out of 40 consortia that applied from all over the world, 14 were invited to present their innovative concept on agroecological approaches in the form of an online pitch and to face the questions of an international jury of experts. Find out which six semi-finalists were selected by the jury and what happens next in this article.
Fish is important for combating malnutrition and undernourishment. But it is not only notable for its nutritional value, but also secures the livelihoods and employment for 600 million people worldwide.
The world’s population keeps on growing; with this rise comes an increased need for food as well as productive employment opportunities. Offering young people in rural areas better employment prospects is one of the objectives of the sector project. The young population is the key to a modern and efficient agricultural economy.
Three quarters of the world's population do not have secure land rights, which hinders investment and innovation. The project "Improvement of Livelihood and Food Security" supports smallholder farmers in acquiring land.
The future is rural. Young African entrepreneurs gave their generation a vocie during the G-20 conference in Berlin. "World Without Hunger" asked six of them, how more jobs can be created in rural areas.
"One World no Hunger" (SEWOH) becomes one of the five core themes of the BMZ. Dirk Schattschneider, SEWOH Commissioner about previous approaches, future areas of action, and the political will to end hunger.
Every one degree Celsius rise in temperature increases the risk of conflict by two to ten percent. The climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis, as the photos by Christoph Püschner and Frank Schultze illustrate.
At the climate conference in Glasgow, activists from various groups protested again – Leonie Bremer from ‘Fridays for Future’ was there too. How can climate protection and development cooperation work hand in hand?
In March 2022, the virtual conference ICTforAg summons leading actors in the agrartechnology and food sector from low- and middle-income countries to exchange ideas advancing resilience, nutrition and agriculture-led growth.
Since early February 2022, two of the biggest grain and oilseed exporters have been at war. An overview, which countries are affected most severely by the destabilized grain markets, and what comes next.
Indian farmers restore precious soil material combining traditional with innovative approaches. A case example how governance, agriculture and development cooperation can work together to combat climate change.
Development cooperation needs to place good governance and a sustainable agri-food systems transformation at its center: After the first 100 days in office have passed, Dirk Meyer from the German Development Ministry (BMZ) spells out the goals, guidelines and priorities of the Ministry’s new lead.
The finals of the Innovation Challenge “Advisory for Agroecology” took place on 17 May - 2022 featuring six innovations in advisory that provided the basis for a discussion on how to bridge the gap between science and practice.
The Import Promotion Desk (IPD) accompanied organic producers from developing and emerging countries to Biofach. In an interview, Dr Julia Bellinghausen, head of the IPD, explains the importance of organic certification in export promotion.
Healthy, productive soils are a prerequisite for global food security – one of the priorities of German development cooperation. State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth on Germany’s efforts to support sustainable land management and why the VGGT are more important than ever today.
A Contribution by Adrian Muller, Catherine Pfeifer and Jürn Sanders (FiBL)
Taking Biodiversity Focus Areas under production or abandoning lower yielding, more extensive production systems is the wrong approach to mastering the looming global food crisis, say the authors of the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL).
An Artikel by the Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains (INA)
A study published by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) examines the differences between globally traded agricultural commodities and domestic niche products in terms of economic, environmental and social impact on the region of origin. The results provide new evidence to make supply chains more sustainable.
This year's United Nations World Drug Report highlights for the first time the nexus between illicit drugs and the environment. In view of climate change, it is time to feed the debate with facts and make drug policy greener
How can we reach more people with successful approaches to food security? In Berlin, an international conference organized by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationaler Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) addressed this issue.
Based on a scientific study by TMG Think Tank, the authors highlight various challenges in the fight against the hunger crisis. The findings show that climate change, conflict and covid-19 are increasing food and energy prices.
Saskia Widenhorn, Head of the Cotton Component in Cameroon and the Sub-Saharan Cotton Initiative at GIZ, reports on the Bremer Cotton Week, which brought together international industry experts. The agenda included supply chain transparency, sustainability and new forms of cooperation between the private sector and partner countries.
Regarding deforestation free supply chains, there are challenges and opportunities for smallholder farmers as well as for international forest governance. Also, responsibilities for companies and potential incentives for manufacturers to use materials from fair trade and sustainable sources need to be explored. But what does “deforestation-free” actually mean?
Martin Frick has been director of the WFP office in Berlin for a year – since then one hunger crisis has followed another. What are the diplomat's answers? A conversation about opportunities in agriculture, the interplay of multiple crises, the importance of resilience and tighter budgets.
The Africa Agriculture Trade Monitor 2022 (AATM) was published by IFPRI and AKADEMIYA2063. The report analyses the short- and long-term trends and drivers of African agricultural trade flows, including regional policies and the role of global markets.
On the podcast ‘From the Field to the Shelf’, Marie Nasemann calls for new attempts to promote fair fashion. An evening about burnt returns, filterless washing machines and a lot of room for improvement.
Why are short- and long-term responses important to address current and future global crises? Sebastian Lesch, Head of the Agriculture Division at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provides answers to these and other questions in an interview with the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD) and explains how much Germany welcomes all donors pulling together and acting in concert.
The global trade in spices currently has a volume of over 10 billion euros. But at what price do these spices refine our Christmas cuisine? On closer inspection, aspects of the value chain leave a bitter taste.
Data security, financing, the automation of loans and the use of alternative data - the digitalisation of financial services in the agricultural sector has many facets, which an international conference with representatives of the agricultural finance sector in Zambia addressed. But how does the digitalisation of financial services contribute to rural development and the inclusion of women?
How to maintain functioning food markets in global food supply chains in the face of vulnerability and disruption? Markets that support local and territorial food systems are part of the solution. Thomas Forster presents proposals for these markets to cope with future shocks.
In October, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) adopted policy recommendations ‘Promoting Youth Engagement and Employment in Agriculture and Food Systems’. Anke Oppermann answers five questions on youth employment in the agricultural sector.
A Year of Multiple Crises: Russian war against Ukraine, extreme weather events, high prices for energy and fertilizer, food crisis had severe implications for food security and agriculture globally and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. A Transformation of the food systems is needed.
After a two-year break due to Corona, the doors of the International Green Week (IGW) in Berlin are opening again. From 20th to 29th January, visitors from all over the world can discover, marvel and taste the produce. But the event is not only feasting and fun. The BMZ stand asks questions about where food comes from & where it goes – and in the process becomes a crash test for many habits.
A contribution by Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge
In the video format "#99SecondsWith" of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS), Prof. Dr Anna - Katharina Hornidge talks about the new Africa-Strategy of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Interview with Caroline Milow and Ramon Brentführer
Groundwater resources remain dormant in the soil of African regions. Where does it make sense to use them – and where does overexploitation of nature begin? Caroline Milow (GIZ) and Ramon Brentführer (BGR) talk about potentials in the future and lessons from the past.
How can the challenges related to water, rural development and climate resilient agriculture be addressed? What innovations need to be promoted? The Water and Energy for Food (WE4F) initiative presents strategies and innovations for sustainable, integrated water management in German and international cooperation.
Priscilla Impraim is one of the first women in Ghana to enter the chocolate business. Despite some hurdles, she founded the company Ab Ovo Confectionery Limited in 2006 with currently six permanent employees and 25 seasonal employees.
During the trade Grüne Woche, school classes visited the BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development), Brot für die Welt and Misereor. Each class spends one hour at their stand to learn about the global challenges posed by food systems. A review by Jan Rübel.
Three female entrepreneurs from Mozambique, Sri Lanka and Uganda tell their stories about starting organic businesses from scratch, now selling Baobab Oil, Gotukola powder and Shea butter in international markets. And they explain why their business is almost 100 percent female.