A farmer led cooperative group in the semi arid area of Embu has assisted its 330 members more than double earnings while pointing them to rich and consistent markets in just two years, at a time when majority of the farmers in the area had resigned to over exploitation from rogue traders and poor infrastructure.
In an area known for producing some of the country's best cowpeas, pigeon peas, sorghum and green grams, farmers in the area never enjoyed income from these produce even as markets for them grew in the country. The traders keen on exploiting the farmers would pitch tent in the area just when schools were about to re open. Majority of the farmers who draw their daily income from agriculture would therefore sell their produce at paltry prices to meet school fees and other demands.
The situation was further compounded by the rough terrain and the impassable roads which made it hard for farmers to reach prime markets. But Mbeere Mwangaza Farmers' Cooperative Society Limited has been the best thing to have happened to the farmers. The group has been able to negotiate for better market prices for the farmers through combined selling model. The farmers in their respective groups also sort, filter and package the produce themselves cutting down on the expenses. This has seen their produce, for example green grams move from Sh60 a kilo to Sh120. Cowpeas on the other hand climbed from Sh20 to Sh100 a kilo. But the group has also learnt of markets they thought never existed before. While selling sorghum to middlemen, they would claim there was no market justifying why they bought it at low prices. This, even as the East
African Breweries Limited expressing their appetite for the produce. The farmer cooperative has since made contact with the brewer and supplies the sorghum directly to them.
To counter the menace of the poor infrastructure, the cooperative uses donkey carts to collect farmers produce and bring it to a central position. “Our farmers are staggered in different areas which are far apart. We need to give them the motivation that they can concentrate on producing their produce and leave the burden of collecting the produce to us. That way farmers no longer have to worry about rough terrain,” said Philip Kioko the secretary of the group.
At the farm level farmers do the basics in sorting out their produce which includes sorting out the dirt and threshing before the produce is taken to the collection centre. Alot of the activities at the collection and sorting center is done manually since the group hasnt invested in modern machines. For example the sealing of the final product for markets is done by using candles. Upon delivery of each produce a farmer earns 80 per cent with the remaining 20 per cent catering for administrative costs.
The group now boasts of 330 members with new members only being allowed if they are seconded by an existing member. “ This is the only way we can get serious and weed out non serious members. We have come a long way and we cannot have people derail us. Again we need to know that any new member agrees and share in our vision,’’ said Kioko