Behind the motto 'Uhuru Shamba: Produce with a Purpose', lies a story of job opportunities, access to education and a ray of hope for dozens of families whose plight was forgotten, after they suffered harrowing violence following the 2007 elections, which displaced them from their homes, and saw them lose their livelihoods and loved ones.
Uhuru Child Kenya was started in 2009 to provide support to the displaced persons of Jikaze IDP camp in Mai Mahiu. It has since grown to provide over 37 jobs, 80 scholarships, and hope where none existed. Cofounded by Joseph Griffith-Heritage, the not-for-profit organization has a farm and now a school to its name. The farming business is supporting the school in a social enterprise model where the proceeds from farm sales also go to supporting children individually, through scholarships.
The four acre farm, called Uhuru Garden, is in Jikaze village in Mai Mahiu, where many internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain concentrated. The farm grows lettuce, which it supplies to ten different restaurants, and has employed over 16 workers, all of them IDPs, who weed, plant, harvest, and package the lettuces. The high standards involved in farming and tending the lettuce has seen the farm win more customers through referral. Such has been the case with most of the restaurants it supplies in Nairobi. One day, while delivering to Zucchini grocery store in Village Market, ArtCaffe, one of Nairobi's upmarket restaurants, spotted the supplier and the Head of Procurement, Mr. Moshe Morey, approached him with a view to having the farm supply the restaurant.
“We were supposed to send a few samples for them to test, which we did. After a few days of testing, their head chief recommended our lettuce and our relationship with ArtCaffe was thus born,”said Joseph. Uhuru Gardens supply other major restaurants, like Tribe, Windsor and Java, but ArtCaffe is now its biggest customer, with 40 per cent of its revenue coming from sales to the restaurant group.
“Some hotels ask for 30 heads of lettuce, others 60 per day, but ArtCaffe buys 150 kilos on an average day,” said Joseph. This earns the farm up to Sh250,000 a month.
The relationship that started in 2011 is based on mutual understanding, says Joseph. “They picked our lettuce because it was of high quality. We have had to stick to the standards, while ensuring delivery is on time and packaging is top notch. They keep their end of the bargain by paying us on time and giving us prompt feedback.” However, the relationship has meant discipline in production. The farm has introduced drip irrigation to ensure year round uninterrupted production and plants about 7000 lettuces every week. Joseph lauds the farm manager and the staff for the dedication that has seen a smooth cultivation and production process.
“Everyone knows their work and terms of delivery and they stick to what is expected of them.
That is one very important aspect of the business that has assisted us meeting our target.” The staff are on the farm throughout to ensure drips are working, there is a constant supply of water and there is weeding whenever necessary.
But Joseph, together with the other two cofounders of the project, have also owned the project. Every harvesting period they agree on who will supervise the entire process. Joseph does it three times a week. He lives in Tigoni, Limuru and travels to Mai Mahiu, a two hour drive, arriving there at 5am in the morning, which he says is the ideal time for harvesting. He then goes back with the lettuce to Tigoni, where with other staff they wash them and package, before he delivers them to the clients himself.
Such dedication has birthed impressive revenues, which saw the farm build Uhuru Academy in Limuru early this year, which now has 21 students, with 13 of them being on full scholarships. “These are bright, needy students, who have been struggling to get access to education, but the burden on their parents is overwhelming. We do a thorough vetting of the education background before giving the scholarships.” The school currently has Form One and Form Two classes, but hopes to be a fully fledged secondary school in two years time. The farm has, however, paid over 80 scholarships since it started making profits in 2011, mostly to displaced families in Mai Mahiu.
Said Joseph: “The money we get from the sale of these produce is also the salaries for those in the farm, the teachers, guards and other staff in Uhuru Academy.”
Uhuru Kuku another project of Uhuru Child concentrates on rearing chicken, with Kenchic being their main client. They supply some 12,000 chicken every seven weeks. As demand for high value crop soars in the country, Uhuru Child Kenya is also now moving into the production of tomatoes and berries.
Joseph hails 'new age' farming, which has assisted the farm in meeting the growing demand. “We are lucky we have found a ready market, but it doesn't come easily.
You have to keep raising the bar and standards and we are glad we have caught the attention of customers. We pay very good attention to good agricultural practices that ensure quality produce while preserving the environment.” This is evident in the minimum or zero use of chemicals to contain pests and use of organic fertilizer.
Uhuru Child now hopes to open up more space for farming to add more diverse crops and create more jobs, with many in the area still unemployed. “It would be a smooth transition especially for these girls who might finish school to come and work in professional areas in the farm at a time when many of the graduates stay unemployed for long. It's a dream well laid out and we are happy that our clients like ArtCaffe are the building blocks to our realizing that dream. We believe in helping each other together in a way that helps everyone,” said Joseph.