Addressing economic empowerment of Kenyan smallholder tea farming families

In most productive sectors in Kenya, especially in agriculture, women provide a significant amount of the on-farm labour. Despite their contribution, only a small percentage of these women have ownership or control over the proceeds of those enterprises. Additional barriers to women’s financial empowerment and inclusion include the lack of access to finance and other factors of production such as land ownership.

A 2018 study by BSR and IDH shows that even when women are financially included, they are often not empowered to make financial decisions. Additional research shows that social norms and the gender power relations at the household level have a significant effect on how men and women make financial decisions.

Holistic economic empowerment program

Gender disparities in financial decision-making at the household level are an important inhibitor to women’s economic empowerment and an indicator for gender inequality. This is the context in which the KTDA Foundation and IDH have joined forces to address the issue of financial inclusion in smallholder tea farming families in Kenya.

This cooperation took place as part of the Gender Empowerment Platform (GEP), in which IDH has convened Kenyan tea producers, technical experts and civil society organizations to address the complex and sensitive social sustainability issue of gender discrimination and violence. One of the objectives of GEP has been to improve the financial inclusion and decision-making at the tea farm household level.

The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) is a company owned by around 650,000 smallholder tea farmers across 17 Kenyan tea growing counties. KTDA supports tea farmers with training on good farming practices as well as a range of services such as transportation, processing and marketing. To improve the business skills of its farmers, the KTDA Foundation has decided to start providing training on business skills and financial literacy. By 2018, KTDA trained over 105,000 smallholder tea farmers on these topics.

The goal of the cooperation under the GEP has been to expand KTDA’s financial literacy training into a holistic economic empowerment program for smallholder farming families. The first key step of this initiative was to carry out a gender-needs assessment. This allowed IDH and KTDA to map out gaps and opportunities on issues affecting women, youth and men in tea farming families related to different areas of economic empowerment. Second, IDH and KTDA Foundation developed a gender-responsive training curriculum based on the findings coming out of this assessment.

The gender-needs assessment

The assessment findings have indicated that there were gender disparities at the household, factory, marketplace (i.e. tea value chain) and macro policy levels. This state of affairs existed despite the availability of laws and organizational processes that protected and promoted women’s involvement in the tea value chain.

The specific objectives of the assessment were:

  1. Determining how gendered inequalities manifest in the context of smallholder tea farmers.
  2. Assessing how these inequalities affect the economic empowerment of smallholder tea farmers.
  3. Recommending strategies to integrate a gender transformative approach into the holistic economic empowerment program.

The division of labour in the tea value chain is gendered. Women provide over 60% of the on-farm labour yet they benefit least from the tea incomes. Additionally, gender and generational power dynamics structure how women, men and youth can gain access to benefits and ownership/control of resources. Gender-blind services that do not consider the different needs of men and women and do not account for gender inequalities can exacerbate harm and risk for women and worsen their economic disempowerment.

At the household level, women are directly engaged with resources such as land and cash crops. However, they have limited control over these productive resources. According to the assessment, even though 31.7% of females farmed tea, very few owned land. This has confirmed the original hypothesis of the programme that women are often excluded from property and land ownership despite their central role in agriculture production.

Another goal of the assessment has been to learn more about the dominant gender perceptions around leadership, decision-making and women’s economic empowerment. Decision-making power is the ability to make choices and influence one’s life or that of others. It is commonly used as an indicator of women’s bargaining power[1]. Factors that influence household decision-making include: income disparities, socio-cultural background and education levels. On the whole, the assessment responses have highlighted regional differences in decision-making.

In most of the surveyed households, men were the final decision-makers. This has been a dominant gender norm across the tea growing communities. Women have taken up intra-household decision-making in situations where men have abandoned their obligations due to alcoholism or because they do not have income.

In general, the assessment has shown that men made the majority of big financial decisions: school fees, constructing a house, investments like buying land, reinvesting in tea, abandoning tea farming, diversification and buying farms inputs. The gendered division of labour influenced the decisions men and women made. For example, women made the bulk of the decisions involving household expenditures like food, clothing, and cleaning items. Decision-making ability was also influenced by ownership of a resource, asset, or income. The implication of this has been that women typically end up with no productive assets in the household and have no fall-back plan in case of any emergency.

Creating a gender-responsive financial literacy curriculum

The KTDA financial literacy curriculum, which was reviewed against the findings of the gender-needs assessment, revealed that it was heavy on business finance literacy as opposed to basic financial literacy. Household members needed help to grasp the concept of money and to develop their ability to manage financial resources. It has also appeared that the content of the curriculum was not suitable for learners whose education levels were not advanced.

As a result of the curriculum review, the consultants have collaborated with the project team to develop an audience-responsive trainer manual with plenty of illustrative features to support learners whose education levels were not advanced, especially those with primary level of education.

The curriculum content has been adapted to better meet the needs of its beneficiaries and the context of the program ensuring that gender, entrepreneurship and financial inclusion are well-ingrained.

  • Social dynamics: the aim is to promote inclusion and equitable participation of women, men and youth at the household and community levels.
  • Financial literacy: the course content will introduce the concept of money and basic skills for managing money for all members of the household.
  • Entrepreneurship: the course content focuses on providing skills for generating business ideas, implementing them and managing business enterprises profitably.

The new holistic economic empowerment curriculum has been anchored in inclusive transformative approaches and in behaviour change. Its focus has been to unlock value for farmers across the tea value chain. To integrate the project in KTDA’s broader service delivery to farmers, IDH and KTDA have agreed for KTDA’s extension staff to deliver the training. The two partner organisations have developed a capacity-building model to ensure continuous support to farmers through the KTDA field and extension services. The staff has received a 3-day training on the curriculum from the consultants that have conducted the analysis and curriculum review.

The training

Between January and June 2021, KTDA’s extension workers have reached close to 20,000 tea farming households with this training.

During the implementation, extension staff could ask feedback or support one another through WhatsApp groups. They have also benefited from guidance and supervision from the KTDA Foundation and regional managers as well as contact with the consultants.

The HEE programme methodology of using Tea Extension Service Assistants(TESAs) as ToTs has transformed how farmers view us, before they only thought we cared and were knowledgeable about tea husbandry only. Now they know us as subject experts in other matters like financial literacy and social dynamics. In my case it has also it transformed my attitudes and behavior towards finances at a household and personal level because I have learned and internalized the methodology.

Daniel Rop, TESA Kapkoros Tea Factory

Key Results

The findings from the baseline and end line assessment suggest promising results. If scaled up and sustained, the program has the potential of improving wellbeing of beneficiaries in various dimensions. Please see the most important results below:

  • Households develop a shared family vision
  • More inclusive decision-making in the household
  • Increased household budgeting
  • Households develop a shared family vision: Overall, the greatest impact was observed in attitude of beneficiaries towards development of a shared family vision. At the end of the project, 97.39% of the respondents stated that they had a shared family vision compared to 70.58% at start.
  • More inclusive decision-making in the household: Findings suggest a shift to more involvement of family members in day-to-day financial decisions in the household. Overall, 83.86% of the respondents involved their family members in decision making about money compared to 67.83% at the start of the project. Overall, 91.73% of respondents stated that other family members were involved in making decisions about savings compared to 65% at the start.
  • Increased household budgeting: Proportion of respondents reporting development of household budgets increased from 62.32% to 96.27%. This may be attributed to the capacity development that emphasized development of budgets as one of the strategies for achieving financial security.

Key learnings going forward

A gender-needs assessment is key for programs of this kind

Although many of the findings of this gender needs-assessment have been confirmed by similar studies in Kenya and East Africa, its distinctive contribution to this field of research has been the focus on a specific target group: the tea farmers. The assessment has provided comprehensive information about tea farmers and has highlighted regional differences for different components of the study. To ensure that the findings of the assessment would be well-integrated in the curriculum, the same consultants have managed both the gender needs-assessment and the curriculum expansion projects.

Ensure extension workers receive support throughout implementation

The extension staff have been responsible for giving this training to the tea farmers. They received training at the beginning of the project to support them to roll-out the curriculum and have benefitted from peer-to-peer support during implementation. Nonetheless, they have indicated that they needed more support on the ‘social dynamics’ component of the curriculum. In the future, field trainers could receive additional support during the implementation phase (e.g. bringing in experts or relevant organisations could provide a support mechanism for topics related to gender and household dynamics).

Integrating key sustainability issues into extension services improves stakeholder relations

KTDA works with over 650,000 smallholder tea farmers; its close working relationship model is crucial towards sustainable tea farming. Sound management of the smallholder tea farmers’ resources and the involvement of other members in their household benefits their businesses beyond the tea value chain. The use of conflict sensitive approaches as part of engaging the farmers across gender, age and ethnicity in the programme has been key to the delivery of the project.

Looking ahead

With climate change challenges, small land holdings, declining tea prices and rising cost of production, KTDA Foundation concludes that tea farmers are further disenfranchised. From the concluded HEE programme opportunities to address such challenges are eminent. Diversification of livelihoods while promoting environmental sustainability is one of the most effective strategies for coping with economic, social and environmental shocks and could be instrumental in poverty reduction. Livelihood diversification tends to move away from traditional farming approaches to other business systems that offer flexibility and well-being to livelihoods by widening the subsistence options in order to complement tea incomes.



[1]Leigh, A. C., Reynolds, T. W., & Gugerty, M. K. (2017). Husband and wife perspectives on farm household decision-making authority and evidence on intra-household accord in rural Tanzania. World Development, 90(February), 169–183.