Beatrice Mwingi is a chicken farmer in Makima, Isiolo. She is the chair of the Makima Improved Chicken Farmers, a Community Based Organisation that she and others founded several years ago. She speaks to the government on behalf of the organisation, and represents the farmers she works with at regional farming forums. Beatrice is a leader and role model for the women in her community, many of whom she mentors and helps to develop their confidence.
Five years ago, Beatrice Mwingi was struggling. She was working as a casual labourer on the land of farmers who lived near her home, in Makima, Kenya – a remote, rural village four hours’ drive east of Nairobi.
Despite working hours and hours each day, Beatrice was earning just over $2.50AUD a day, and barely making ends meet. She was finding it difficult to feed her five children, let alone pay their school fees. Before long, each of her children was forced to drop out of school.
Beatrice didn’t know what to do. She was timid. She lacked confidence. She didn’t have the farming skills she needed to grow enough food to sell at market, and didn’t know what else she could do to raise the money she needed to support her family.
Then in 2011, Beatrice joined a community group, who were being supported by ActionAid to establish a farming collective. The group were trained to build their skills in sustainable farming, and in business and marketing.
Initially the farmers’ group started with few skills, and very little capital. They decided the best thing to do was to pool the little resources they did have, and support each other to buy some chickens. Each person started with one or two, and together, they sought ActionAid’s support to develop their skills in how to rear and breed them.
Five years later, the group have established themselves as a registered Community Based Organisation, called the Makima Improved Chicken Farmers. The organisation has seven departments, and is recognised by the county government.
Beatrice is the organisation’s chair.
She herself has a whole farm of chickens, which she raises and sells at market. At one point, she had 265 chickens. Her family are well fed, and all of her children have completed their education, or have returned to school.
Beatrice says her confidence has grown enormously. She undertook leadership training through ActionAid, and learnt to appreciate herself as a woman.
Now, she is speaking up for other farmers in her community. She represents other farmers in negotiations with the government and represents her cooperative in regional farming forums. When she raises her voice, it is loud, confident and clear.
She is now sharing her story and experience. Beatrice says that the most important thing for her, is supporting other women in her community to build their confidence and sense of self.
There is one small piece of advice that she says she repeats over and over: Don't dream of so many birds, I tell them. Just begin with one.