Women counts on fresh produce to build schools

A group of five single women who benefitted from an organic farming training have managed to build two day care schools in Ruiru at an amount of Ksh 700,000 with the proceeds they have gotten from supplying fresh produce to traders at Nairobi’s Wakulima Market.

Having fled their different home due to harassment from their male siblings, the women found common goal in their woes, and decided to look for pass time jobs. That’s when they heard of a free organic farming training in a nearby shopping centre. Not knowing where to apply the knowledge they would acquire from the training since they had no land to farm they nonetheless decided to attend to pass time.

The training opened opportunities for them when a member of the Micro finance institution Jamii Bora floated the idea to the women to join the MFI. A long and bumpy road that has eventually paid off. Surviving on casual labour from well wishers, the women managed to save money through the MFI and after two years of saving decided to take a loan to jointly buy land. They put up a modest shelter and concentrated the rest of the land on organic farming.

“Its never easy when you are starting especially when you are not sure of the future of your investment, but the fear of what we might loose if we relaxed on this one kept pushing us forward even when the odds were against us,” says Miss Wanjohi one of the five single women referring to the many disappointments they had to put up with including poor farm management and erratic weather.

 However seven years on, the five are now among the largest suppliers of fresh organic produce to Nairobi’s biggest fresh produce market and other major fresh produce markets in Central Kenya Nairobi. Specializing in the farming of cereals, fresh produces like Avocado, passion fruits, kales and pawpaws, the business now at its 6th year has not disappointed. Demand for fresh produce which has ballooned in the recent years owing to customer’s health awareness of fruits and vegetables have pushed the prices of these commodities up.

While a 50kg bag of kales cost around Ksh 500 two years ago, the price has doubled while the price of passion fruits and pawpaws has moved from Ksh 1,000 in 2008 to between Ksh 3500 and Ksh 4500 per a 57 kg bag. “On average and during a good harvest we manage to supply over 10 to 20 bags of various commodities per week, and the demand keeps on soaring,” said Miss Waituika another of the five women in the group.

But even with the bliss in their business venture has also been stiff competition and tough times that has forced the women agroproneurs to re strategize. They increased their farm to accommodate a diversity of crops after over reliance on cereals failed to return the projected returns. Recently due to the chocking cost of hiring casual labourers and the need for faster and efficient farming techniques the group has invested in hiring farming equipments from local equipment stores.

“We had a serious re think of the whole farming process and while hiring casual labourers was also a way of assisting the rest of the less fortunate in our area, we realized that we were in business, and if we were to stay afloat we had to keep revising our strategies to position ourselves at per with our competitors, that’s how we arrived at the decision to start hiring farming equipments which we have realized are very cost effective. We also hire some of our former casual labourers as loading and unloading personnels,” says Miss Wanjohi.

With the growing number of produces the group has also been forced to abandon the traditional way of hiring pick ups to transport their produces to the various markets which they have considered expensive in the long run and instead pulled resources to buy through the help of Krep Bank a truck and a pick up.

But their biggest break through has been their decision to try their luck in another investment with impressive results. In 2007 they approached Equity Bank with an idea to build a day care, through a loan that they are still repaying. They bought land and built what has now become one of parent’s favourite day care in Ruiru; St Joseph the worker day care and nursery. The success of the day care in terms of impressive enrollment numbers has motivated the group to start on another day care that they want to expand to primary schools.

 “Its not a Cinderella story as it might sound, we have struggled to convince the banks and others who had shown support that we can sustain these day cares. It was also hard to get a prime land in a strategic area in Ruiru. Our next project which includes another day care and primary school with lower classes for starters which we intend to open officially in June has been birthed by our belief that investing in education for our people is important, so that no one has to be kicked out of their homes like we were,” says Miss Wanjohi.

According to the group running the day care hasn’t been a problem since they don’t have to buy food, they supply it from the farms, and the huge enrollment figures ensure that the teachers are well paid and the basic school needs are met. The day care has a total of 150 children with Miss Catherine Warigia, who happens to be Miss Wanjohi’s only daughter managing it.

The group now intends to roll out its supplies to other major fresh produce markets in the country including Nakuru and Mombasa buoyed by the success they have received at the competitive Wakulima market that hosts over 10.00 traders and feeding the over the 3 million residents in Nairobi. “We have competed with suppliers who have big farms and our produces have always attracted the traders. We have never had any day when our trucks have returned with produces after they failed to be bought, we feel time is ripe for us to move and capture the other markets,” says a confident Miss Waituika.