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    High Yield

    Farmers in Homabay District who have traditionally decried low yields due to poor soils have found solace in chilli farming now earning them over Sh1,000 a week in exports, ten times what they earned from maize thanks to a partnership with a chilli exporting company.

    Magdaline Ajowi a farmer in Rangwe village of  Homa Bay District  had become accustomed to watching her barren one eighth acre piece of land harvest after harvest. Poor soils as a result of over use of fertilizers meant that the maximum she could get from her farm was a paltry two bags.

    Her story reverberated across HomaBay district whereas hundreds of farmers succumbed to poor soils. After months of frustration a representative of Mace Foods, a company involved in horticultural exports predominantly chilli   introduced them to the Bird’s Eye Chilli variety. This is the smallest type of chilly, which is about a centimetre long and red in colour when ripe. The crop has a ready market in the European Union.

    After Mace Foods set shop in the area. Agronomist Nickson Agao was deployed to the region to buy the product, but realised that farmers were unable to produce the quantity required. Mr Agao says he further engaged the company to enable him train and convince farmers that the business was viable. Less than a year later, farmers in the region can afford a smile.

    The crop only requires four months to mature from seed to fruit. It takes about a month at the nursery and once transplanted, it takes about three months to be harvested. "We usually solicit seed from supporters of this project on behalf of farmers as part of the programme to fight poverty in this region," said Mr Agao.

    The success of the crop has opened doors to more buyers increasing the farmggate price.  Mr Peter Ouma Muga, an employee of East African Growers, now buys seeds for farmers and distributes to them free of charge. He says this is part of the social responsibility of the company, which has given him some days off duty to assist communities in doing business agriculture as opposed to subsistence.

    Magdaline now say they can now employ young men and women to help pick the crop, whose harvest is quite involving. Mr Agao says: "We ship the chilly to Amsterdam in before it is transported to Germany, our headquarters." A kilogramme of dry chilly sells at Sh100 and if a farmer delivers 10 kilogrammes a week, she earns Sh1,000 which is paid on the spot.

    Last year alone, Mace Foods collected 14 tonnes of chilly from the region, despite the fact that the crop was introduced late in the year. By end of March this year, farmers had delivered six tonnes which they describe as impressive. The chilly is of high quality in the sense that its pong is high and its colour lively red, which sells fast in the EU market. No chemicals are used, and this makes Kenyan pepper stronger in the foreign market.

    And how do the farmers handle diseases? They crush chilly and spray the plants to kill any parasites. Composite manure is used as opposed to chemical manure. The area around Lake Victoria is suitable for this type of chilly, and if all people embraced the crop, the region would be soon financially stable.

    The high temperatures at the lake region makes the chilly dry without developing any aflatoxins, which would otherwise compromise its quality and make it dangerous for consumption.

    The crop, if marketed and embraced by the community around Lake Victoria would take advantage of the current suspension from the EU market of Asian chilly. Kenya is rated second in quality chilly production in the EU market, according to Mr Agao, adding: "We need more farmers to join and capitalise on the readily available market".

    Michael Otieno Okoth is an expert of nursery development and transplanting of the crop. He says a packet of seeds contain about 8,000, which translates to 8,000 trees that cover about an eighth of an acre. Although the crop is drought resistant, rainy season makes it sprout fast and bear fruits at a faster rate, says Mr Okoth.

    The chairman of Ndiru Chilly Farmers, Mr Charles Odera says Mace Foods introduced the seeds in the area, paying half of the cost until well-wishers came in to assist pay for the seeds fully. "At the beginning, it was difficult to grow the crop, but now we are used to it. We can now employ young men and women to pick our crop," says Mr Odera.

    He says farmers are now able to pay school fees for their children, build decent houses and buy themselves food. Mr Muga said he had distributed about 500 packets of seed to farmers. He says that a packet, once planted, would yield 4,000 kilogrammes, which would translate to Sh400,000.

    "Talk about this region where the poverty index is very high and you realise that such a project will get us out of the woods," says Mr Muga. The chilly project has been adopted by the people of Kagan, Kochia and Gem, all in Rangwe Division.

    The farmers, apart from chilly, have taken to growing pineapples, onions and bananas for commercial purposes. Mr Muga said the farmers would soon diversify their crops to growing ginger, chamomile (an ingredient for cooking tea believed to kill stress), water melon and butternut.

    The project, although small, could help alleviate poverty in the region, taking into account the short maturation period and the farm input required to get instant money.

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    A farmers’ cooperative has delivered Uasin Gishu farmers from the burden of poor market prices, tripled their earnings and exposed them to market opportunities, in a model that is now being credited countrywide for insulating farmers from market vagaries.

    Amid market challenges for agro based products, innovative farmers from Uasin Gishu County have devised a market oriented cooperative society helping them tap into the lucrative markets and registering year round supply.

    Started out as a farmers group two years ago under the name Ami Farm, the 50 farmers inspired by the success stories of others in the area had only one aim, to mint millions through agribusiness. However, after two seasons of immense toiling with no returns, the members lost hope with some contemplating on trying out other ventures. Philip Tanui the head of the group narrated that all was not rosy as they had initialized. “We had established a greenhouse but the returns were not good. To make matters worse, the market for our harvest was a hustle. The market leaders could not trust us because we were unreliable and our crops were a bit seasonal and therefore could not sustain the much needed year long supply.”

    But a visit by the Kenya Agricultural Value Chain Enterprise (KAVES) after hearing the farmers’ plight changed their plight made the turnaround.  One of the extension officers advised them to form a more focused organization. Based on the tip, the members met and formed farmers’ cooperative society with clear cut plans and policies. Tanui noted that the formation of Master Seed Mararu Cooperative Society was a turning point as it has tripled the growth of their fortunes and multiplied opportunities.

    We have divided our group into members of five with every subgroup assigned a crop of their choice. The organization has put into consideration the fact that markets demand a constant supply and to sustain this, the crops are planted in shifts. For instance if a group of five members plants kales this month, then the next five members who are also interested in planting the same crop plants after about five weeks.

    According to Tanui, this plan enables them to supply constantly year round without disappointing their market. “It is very difficult to get stable markets especially for us who target large supermarket chains like Nakumatt and restaurant. Therefore having suffered initially, we have laid out procedures that ensure that once we get a client to supply our products, we do not run dry.”  

    Knowledge acquisition and exchange is also another front that the cooperative members are embroiled. We have an ultimate goal of uplifting our members and since some members have different projects and also access online tutorials, we encourage exchange of the skills and adoption of modern techniques. The team meets every Wednesday and unlike other cooperative societies, Tanui and his friends meet in their adored office ‘farms’. “We want to inspire each other with what we are doing and therefore organize our meetings in members’ farms where the host show cases for us what he or she is doing.”  

    Due to the organizational record books, and growing financial strength, other agribusiness partners are also partnering with them. Currently, the team has over ten acres of land under snow peas. East African Growers has signed a contract with the members to grow the crop and offer them ready market. The firm offered us seeds whose cost is deducted after the sale of the harvests to them. 

    Although snow peas are lucrative in the market, Tanui noted that their group members have planted in small sizes of land with some members planting only on a 0.2 acre land due to the labour intensive nature of the crop especially during harvesting. “0.2acre land produces yields amounting to over Sh24000 but because the crop requires more attention and inputs for instance quick harvesting. This is the reason as to why we have adopted it on a small scale and diversified it with other crops.”

    For one to join the group, a registration fee of Sh500 is paid and one is required to purchase at least 15 shares each costing Sh1000 over a span of one year. The money according to Tanui helps in the running of the cooperative. The greatest role the group is currently playing is pooling together of harvests and selling the produce as a single entity which helps us to have a higher bargaining power and also ensure that we have constant supply.

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    Being expelled from school for lack of school fees was the spark that inspired 14 year old Laetitia Mukungu to start a rabbit cooperative movement, a move that has metamorphosed into a behemoth now supplying to biggest hotels and keeping girls in school.

    When her mother, the sole breadwinner of the family, lost her job Laetitia had no choice but to drop school due to lack of school fees. She went to live with her grandmother in the village where she became a tutor in Math, Science and English. Seeing the plight of school girls struggling with fees as their parents were not able, she decided to do something about it.

    She borrowed Sh50,000 from the School’s head teacher and started the Women’s Rabbit Association, a cooperative that farms rabbits, helps support local women and pays for their childrens’ school uniforms and stationery. The rabbits are sold to Kenyan restaurants. Each woman who works on the rabbit farm gets a salary and free farming supplies such as seeds.

    The business began as an income-generating project to support the kids in the school. Laetitia learned that rabbit meat was in high demand but supply was low. She also learned that rabbits were the most productive of domestic livestock. They have a short gestation period of 30 days and are produce 42 babies per year. Rabbits are cheap, easy to feed and take up little space, making them suitable for most small-scale rural farmers.

    Rabbits are also quiet and can be raised in any environment, even in a school. They rarely get sick and are appropriate for rural women who have no money to spend on vet bills. Not to mention rabbit meat is high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol.
    She knew that rabbit breeding was a perfect rural enterprise, since it “is not complicated and requires no professional skills, which makes it suitable for rural women who are largely uneducated.”

    In 2012, Laetitia was one of 12 finalists in the Anzisha Prize, a youth entrepreneurship competition which opened doors for her. She has since been invited to speak at international conferences and she’s received more funding for her project.
    Laetitia used some of the revenue from the business to launch a micro-finance bank to help village women start their own small businesses such as selling fish and fruit. “I lend the women from 5,000 shillings to 10,000 and they repay within a year, with…
    interest,” she said.

    Now 17, Laetitia is in her final year at the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. While she is at school, her mother and some local women managers are looking after the rabbit farm. They have a vested interest in keeping the project going, she said.  Local producers cannot keep up with the demand for rabbit meat, Laetitia  said.

    To boost production, she is planning to offer the cooperative women three months of training so they can start their own micro rabbit farms. They would be expected to sell their animals back to the Women’s Rabbit Association. This will boost her profits and further empower the women, she said.

    Laetitia hopes to begin her university education this year. “I really have a passion for agriculture, and would love to study agricultural engineering,” she said. “I have already applied and hope to get into the EARTH University in Costa Rica. My plan is to study there and come back to Africa.”

    The Anzisha Prize is for African entrepreneurs age 15 to 22 who have developed and implemented innovative businesses or solutions that have a positive impact on their communities.

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