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Oct 23, 2018

Fighting invasive worms, empowering women

Poverty in Kenya tends to have a rural and female face. The poorest counties in Kenya are in rural areas- with a whopping 8 out of 10 residents in the poorest county, Turkana, living below the poverty line. Furthermore, while over 80% of Kenyan women are engaged in small-scale farming, only 1% own land. Unfortunately, many of these women’s livelihoods are being threatened by climate change and invasive species that destroy crop yields. 

Related article: Combatting malnutrition, food waste, and climate change through sustainable agribusiness

The army worm attacking crops in Kenya 

One woman, Jacqueline Gichuki, is trying to change that. A farmer herself, she noticed that many of her and her neighbors’ crops were being destroyed by an invasive pest called the army worm. The army worm specifically attacks maize- a staple food in the Kenyan diet- in addition to beans, peas, and potatoes. In fact, Gichuki says that nearly all the farmers in her area, Laikipia County, lost their beans one season because they were unaware that the army worms could move from the maize to the mature beans. The solution at the time- using chemical sprays- was proving to not be effective. For the 3 years that Gichuki’s crops were being attacked by army worms, she tried coming up with different solutions to kill them- working 1 plant at a time.

Eventually, she concocted an organic solution that worked. Using Mexican and African marigold and some species of aloe vera, she was able to kill the army worms for 2 seasons. Gichuki’s intrigued friends began to use it, and she started sharing it with nearby farmers. While some were hesitant that it would work, others decided to give it a try and found it to be successful. Originally, Gichuki wasn’t intending to start a business at all- she just wanted to help her fellow farmers. 

Demand for Jackie's Army Worm Killer grows

However, as her concoction began to gain notoriety, someone from a nearby innovation fair came to visit her. They told her about the fair and encouraged her to participate in their innovation competition. Gichuki ended up competing and actually won the 1stplace prize. She subsequently attained media attention, appearing on TV and in newspapers with her product. Then, she went back to her farm to make more of the solution. 

The process of making the solution proved to be tiresome, though. Gichuki could only make 1 liter at a time, and she was literally using a carrot grater to do it. She was thus astounded when someone from an institution later came and asked her to spray 70 acres of crops. She made a concoction for 1.2 acres of land and went and sprayed it herself using a hand pump- and when she came back, the worms were dead. 

Tackling climate change and helping the community through Jackie's Army Worm Killer 

Through the organic army worm killer, Gichuki has been helping her community and the environment in a variety of ways. First of all, the solution boosts the yield of maize and other crops. In addition to ensuring that farmers can make a living, it fights hunger through preventing crop loss. Furthermore, farmers don’t have to use the chemical sprays, which have to be applied on crops many times; in addition to not being very effective, the chemicals make the crops less healthy for human and animal consumption. 

Gichuki has been able to be successful because people are impressed that her small piece of land can yield such great quantities of maize- without the use of chemicals. Furthermore, the fact that everyone wants to go organic nowadays means that she has come up with her solution during the right market timing.  

Expanding the business with women's empowerment opportunities

A client of KCIC since March 2018, she hopes that the organization can help her to scale up her business. She would like to buy a small machine to facilitate her work as well as open a small workshop; since she currently makes the solution outside her home, everyone gets interested- meaning that her ideas may not stay her own. Finally, she wants to buy one bigger tank in which to store the concoction. Gichuki also envisions employing 10 women from her community once her business expands. 

On that note, Gichuki is very involved in other efforts to empower women and girls. First off, her 2 young daughters- in class 6 and class 2- know how to make her solution. Additionally, she is a volunteer who gives empowerment workshops to women in Laikipia. She advises them on how to sustain themselves through planting crops as well as selling items like yogurt and detergent. She has trained over 700 women, encouraging them so they can get out of poverty. As Gichuki says, the most important thing is that her work has to come from the heart.  


By: Alise Brillault 

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