A project that trains farmers to embrace high environmental standards in production making their goods competitive in the export market is on takeoff with 150 farmer members now actively involved in the pilot.
Modelled on a Europe, Middle East South America and North Africa programme, the initiative is targeting farmers with as little as a one eighth of an acre to allow them get accreditation that ultimately makes their goods acceptable in European retail stores.
Dubbed The Integrated Farm Management and championed by Linking Environment and Farming organization the project is already being used by farmers in 17 countries in Europe, Middle East, South America and North Africa with farmers being trained so that they can be certified as farming to LEAF Marque standard.
Recognizing the economic and social significance of export horticulture in Africa, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) challenged major UK retailers to take steps to increase the flow of African produce to Europe, especially from smaller scale producers. It offered to match funds pledged by retailers to invest in efforts to get more African produce on shop shelves through grants from the Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund (FRICH).
The UK food retailer, Waitrose, rose to the challenge with three clear aims: to achieve an increase in sales of African fresh produce in its 241 stores of, for example, green beans and peas from Kenya and prepared fruit from Ghana; to involve smaller scale farms in the supply chain; and to promote sustainable farming practice.
The pilot groups of smaller scale farmers in Kenya are being introduced to the IFM approach so the first group can attain the LEAF Marque standard for its crop within the shortest time possible.
The first training phase was held in the Mwea region, where groups of green bean growers have leased land abandoned by the government. "Beans are a beautiful crop to a small scale farmer like me," explained Anthony Mucheke who is growing two acres of beans. "It can be a reliable source of cash." Also on the course was a group of snowpea farmers from the cool slopes of the Aberdare ranges, including young farmer James Jiguna.
He was glad to hear for himself what the Ghanaians have achieved and what the 50 members of his group can work towards. "I think LEAF combines the best farming practice - some of what we have always known - with new approaches that young people like me can put in practice. I think all farmers can excel," he said.