Category: Business

Like many other African countries, Kenya’s population is exponentially growing. This has a direct impact on the food demands of the country. Kenyans’ staple food is Ugali – also sometimes called sima, sembe or posho. This is a dish of maize flour (cornmeal) cooked with water to a porridge – or dough-like consistency. This meal is eaten throughout the country but not all the country’s 47 counties produce maize. It is only in western Kenya that maize farming has thrived due to the conducive climatic conditions.

maize plantation

maize plantation

The region does not only produce maize but also many other food stuffs. As such, it has been christened the country’s food basket. This region is endowed with the most favorable conditions for agricultural production. The favorable conditions have given rise to relatively high carrying capacity for both human and animal production and a large proportion of the population here is engaged in a wide range of agricultural activities.

Cassava Plantation

Cassava Plantation

In this region, crop production covers a wide range of crops which include both cash and food crops. Besides maize, other crops grown include: sorghum (sorghum bicolor); cassava (manihot esculenta), common beans (phaseolus vulgaris); field peas (pisum sativum); potato (solanum tuberosum); finger millet (Eleusine coracna) and coffee (coffea canephora or Robusta coffee) and bananas (Musa spp).
With all these, the region is truly a food basket of the country.

Esther and Agnes selling farm products

Esther and Agnes selling farm products

As youths, our main impediment towards becoming farmers has been our lack of access to land. I have held onto this thinking until recently when I realized I can actually make a living from agriculture without being a land owner. I see people trade in agricultural products – vegetables, cereals, fruits and many others. With this, they would easily pass for your typical farmer selling his or her produce but as I discovered, that’s not true. They are what I would like to call second class farmers.
Esther and Agnes from Kibera slums belong to this class of “second-class” farmers. But I heard one Swahili speaker call them “Mama Mboga” which loosely translates to mother of vegetables. How can you be the mother of vegetable when you are not a farmer? To them, they believe that their work is to link consumers to the farm; they go to the farms and get to their customers whatever they need from there. They have opened up small shops – christened as “Kibanda”. It is in these shops that they conduct their trade – here, they sell eggs, tomatoes, onions, kales, pepper, cabbages, fruits and all that you can get from the farm.

Asking them how they obtain these products, some of them are farmers and so they get them from their farms but others have farmers who do the supplying. The farmers sell these products to them at slightly lower prices compared to their selling prices on the market. Probing further, I learnt a crate of tomatoes is delivered to them at Ksh4000, and it can fetch up to Ksh 10,000. Its paying to be second class farmers for them.

In their "Kibanda",all types of farm products can be found.

In their “Kibanda”,all types of farm products can be found.

“Farmers are the ones who keep us a live,” says Esther, “If they stop farming then we will be finished,” Adds Agnes. If you ate today, you should therefore thank a farmer. This strengthens the assertion that agriculture is the most important sector with the potential to create jobs and change people’s lives. According to these two ladies, this business is what feeds their families and educates their children. “We don’t have land but still benefit from the fruits of farming” says Agnes.
These women are playing an important role in linking farmers to the markets but still benefiting from the same. You don’t have to be a farmer to play a role in agriculture. Hence the importance of understanding agricultural value chains.

In Kenya, the long rains season is setting in according to the warning by the weatherman and as usual, cases of common cold are expected to rise. As people seek to keep this viral disease at bay, one farmers’ group in Kakamega County has one of the best remedies. These farmers are growing and processing medicinal herbs that ward off common cold, among other ailments. This has attracted both local and international attention.
For the Muliru farmers’ group, it all started in 1996 when farmers turned their vegetable gardens into farms of a medicinal herb that the community has relied on for years to cure the common cold but was then diminishing. This herb, locally known as Mwonyi and scientifically known as Ocimum Kilimandschacum is well-known to communities around Kakamega forest for treatment of symptoms of common cold and measles.
Traditionally, this medicine has been prepared by plucking and boiling the leaves in a pot and then inhaling the vapor to cure the cold. Someone must have seen their struggle and thanks to the International Center for Insect Physiology (ICIPE), The University of Nairobi and The Kenya wildlife service, a research was conducted and better ways of exploiting the herb to benefit both the farmers and the environment were discovered. What followed was mass cultivation of the Ocimum plant and manufacturing value added products.

Balm produced from Ocimum Kilimandschacum

Balm produced from Ocimum Kilimandschacum

The group members contributed money and bought a piece of land to construct a processing plant and offices for their activities that became fully commercial. In 2000, they raised sh160, 000 and borrowed sh850,000 for construction of the processing plant and the offices. As we speak now, over 460 farmers have been engaged not only in Kakamega but also in the neighboring Vihiga County. The group has also learnt to diversify – they are engaging in organic production of vegetables.
Farmers admit the combination is paying off. They get Ksh10 for a kilo of wet Mwonyi herbs while dry ones fetch sh40.At the plant, a distillation machine installed in 2002 is used to extract oil and granules for making balm. Once the oil has been squeezed from the dry and wet leaves, the waste is converted into organic manure, which is then used in the cultivation of their traditional vegetables in a garden adjacent to the plant.
A kilogramme of the produced oil goes for Sh6,555. This sees the farmers selling about 7kg to 10 kg per week which they produce. Before this product is released into the market, it is sent to ICIPE for refining and packaging. Other products produced from Mwonyi and other herbs include Naturerub balm, which are sold in supermarkets and chemists. Actually, the work of these farmers has made them win international awards. This saw the group receive an award of $5000(Sh430,000) .They again bagged another award in the same year worth $5000.
Just like the moon, there are two sides to this story too. Despite these achievements, these farmers experience some challenges. They name high costs of production as the main one. This is exacerbated by lack of electricity on their facility leaving them with the costly option of using gas. This gas costs them up to sh57,000 a month. Also, they are facing competition from imported balm and those from established manufacturers.

As youths engage in agriculture, owning land has remained their biggest challenge. But as one youth says it, “You don’t have to own a land to make money from agriculture” His dream of being a successful farmer having been thwarted by lack of land, Victor resorted to selling sugarcane tops to dairy cow farmers in the neighboring villages. Initially, his customers comprised of a few farmers who did not have enough land space to grow fodder but his emperor gradually grew as more farmers discovered how cost effective and profitable it was buying cane tops for their cattle than planting.

sugarcane tops

sugarcane tops

Victor sold cane tops from their land, went for the neighbors’ and when this could no longer satisfy the growing demand, he started buying from the neighboring villages at a lower price and selling for profit. Victor himself is amazed at how what used to be a source of frustration for many farmers on their farms is now a source of cash for him. At first they did not know what to do with the wastes, it was a bother and they were willing to give it for free but now, he has to buy it from them.
Victor does not regret the fact that he has to buy these sugarcane tops in order to resell them. He still makes sufficient profit to meet his needs and to keep him in business. “This was my new opportunity, I found a way of making money from these wastes,” says Victor. He also helps his customers to make silage. – They chop cane leaves into smaller pieces and soak in molasses. The mixture is then enclosed in tightly-closed drums for a month. “This way, cane top takes the shortest time to convert into nutrients once mixed with molasses and enclosed in a container to keep away oxygen,” says Victor.
To this point, Victor says he doesn’t regret having taken the path he did, collecting and selling cane tops helps him put food on the table. To other youths, he urges them not sit around complaining about joblessness of lack of land for farming. Just like he did, they can too. Just get doing something and the rest will follow.

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