At the beginning of 2007, a group of 24 women mainly casual labourers came together to save their meager earnings through a ‘merry-go-round’ scheme, an informal mode of banking common with groups of rural women across Africa where members contribute an agreed fund regularly, which they lend to each other. Koptegei Widows Group remained dormant as the women, who earned little from working as farm labourers, lacked meaningful resources to save.
“Although we live in a district which has a potential to produce 30,000 tonnes of maize, lack of capital and skill always held us back from starting any income generating farming activities on our farms”, confessed Christine Chebii Ngogi, the leader of the group at the beginning of 2009.
The breakthrough for the Koptigei Widows Group came when Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, AGRA, an international organization that works to assist small scale farmers market their produce, partnered with the Cereal Growers Association (CGA), through the Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative from the World Food Program.
P4P is designed to use the huge purchasing power of the WFP, which buys thousands of tonnes of maize every week for its hunger-alleviation projects, as a way of transforming the livelihoods of smallscale farmers – through buying the WFP maize directly from smallholders.
At the same time as P4P began working in the women’s district of Transmara in the South Rift valley, Equity Bank also arrived.
Since most of the women were illiterate, P4P first trained the group in quality control, food storage and handling, and basic warehouse management. The women also borrowed equipment like temporary warehouses (wiikhalls), tarpaulins, weigh scales, stitching machines, and a generator.
CGA linked the group to Equity Bank under Kilimo Biashara, another AGRA grantee, to help them access credit and facilitate their trading activities. The bank provided them with small loans at preferential rates to buy seeds and fertilizers.
P4P then trained them in post harvest handling (aspects of quality, grading, weighing, bulking and storage), book keeping, collective marketing and the tendering processes of the WFP and how to access and use market information from e-services such as the Regional Trade Intelligence Network (RATIN) to know “who wants, what, where”. This helped them price their maize.
With the training and financial backing, the group participated in a competitive WFP P4P tender targeted at smallholder farmers who can match the stringent high quality standards of WFP and deliver to contract terms. Koptigei Windows Group won a tender to deliver 250 tonnes worth Sh6m.
The program has raised the living standards of the women, most of who were victims of the 2007 post-election chaos.
Miriam Chemboi, a beneficiary of the program, has got her two sons back to University after they dropped out in their first year, when the widowed Chemboi could hardly get money to sustain the family’s basic needs.
“This is the best thing to have ever happened to me. Before we could get assisted by the WFP, middlemen would buy our maize at a pathetically low price, but we had no choice. Now look at me. My two sons are now in their final years pursuing good degrees,” she says. Her sons are studying aeronautical engineering and computer science at the University of Nairobi.
Due to the demand for the maize from WFP, which is mainly given as relief to calamity stricken areas, the women have already bought land in other areas of Transmara district, where they now grow maize to increase their supply to WFP.
WFP hopes that by 2013, at least half a million smallholder farmers, mostly women, will have increased and improved their agricultural production and earnings under the P4P program.
By Bob Koigi
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