Thursday, June 27, 2013


My name is Jackie Jepkemei. I am 27. I grew up on my late grandfather’s farm in Torongo village which is in the highlands of the Rift Valley. Joyful memories of my childhood life were helping my grandmother with chores around the homestead and therefore got very used to chores around the farm. Tilling land was a chore but milking cows was the highlight of my days.

From a tender age I have always been interested in farming because it was a way of life, a livelihood. I guess farming for me was always taken for granted. I remember as a young girl of 8 years my grandmother gave me a calf of my own. It had been born immaturely and was meant to be killed. I asked to take care of it and was allowed. I had to attend to it like a baby; warming it up in the kitchen by the fireplace and feeding it by the bottle. It survived and became my first treasured possession. This may have been the thing that really cemented my interest I livestock agriculture. I was privileged to go to school as I wished. I am a graduate of Industrial Chemistry. I am currently in the throes of writing my MSc thesis in Disaster Management and Sustainable Development.

When I studied Industrial chemistry, I had assumed that I would find a job in the manufacturing industry as I love controlling big machinery and making things work. That has been long in coming and while I was studying for my MSc, I got the opportunity to work with a consultancy in agribusiness. I had to learn the ropes on the go and work very hard and diligently as I had not gone to any agricultural school. Since then one thing has led to another within the agricultural subsector. My first attempt at arable farming came in 2011 when I hired land to plough and plant pepper and vegetables for sale. I was irrigating and learning the rigmarole of farming while studying and working. My hands were full, but managed to supply Uchumi and Nakumatt supermarkets in Nairobi for at least eight months. The peppers however were all stolen before I could harvest. Disagreements with the then landlord also brought the business to a halt. Finding more land not far from the dammed river became increasingly strenuous and therefore decamped elsewhere.

My experience is that many men assume that as a young woman you may not have the requisite knowledge for the practice of agriculture. Land is an important asset that is required for agriculture. It is predominantly in the hands of the males although some women now own some land. Some of my attempts at agribusiness have been thwarted because the land I needed was being held by a man who was not willing to fully cooperate. The capital cost for primary production agriculture is relatively high and requires agility of the mind to capture the right market at a profitable price.

Young women planning to go into agriculture must look at agriculture from a wider perspective. They must always think about agriculture in terms of value chains. They must not start any agricultural enterprise without finding out the real market for their product. They should also be very aware of the opportunities that are there along the value chain. They however do not have to be the primary producers. Information on most general agricultural production is also readily available when one is seeking to find it.

I have been privileged to attend training by Young Women Leadership Institute and am part of the 2012\2013 alumnae. I have gained insight into the gender mainstream. I have better understanding of the challenges women go though because they are women. I have also learnt about women rights and further reinforced the fact that women can do much more and better when we believe in ourselves. During the institute, I made a decision to do something with a women’s group in agriculture. This is a special project in Isinya about 100KM from Nairobi in Kajiado County. This is where there is a group of Maasai women who are harvesting sheep milk for sale. At the onset of the project, I had to find the men who own the animals and the land to negotiate on behalf of the women ownership of the milk money.  I have negotiated a price that allows me to offer the women a price that is better than they would find in the local market. I organize training on clean milk production. I also bought them a freezer to keep the milk so that it can be accumulated over a period of days. I collect the milk on a weekly basis. I meet the women periodically to train them on other issues other than sheep. We get to talk about issues concerning them as women. They also put away savings from the milk proceeds and use it to beautify their houses ad purchase things that their husbands do not normally purchase for them. This will soon be sustainable business.

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.