By George Munene
Steven Mwanzia of Stephen’s Natural Foods, is seeking outgrowers who can provide him a reliable supply of organically farmed yellow and red maize, wild berries, traditional vegetables and edible weeds.
After 10 years in the indigenous foods space juggling teaching, production and value addition, Steven plans to outsource production to farmers and major on value addition.
Steven currently has 25 outgrowers spread out across the country.
For traditional yellow and red maize he is working with farmers in Kitale, Malindi and Ukamabani to meet at least 100 maize bags monthly which he sells directly to consumers, grounds into flour or fortifies with sorghum and cassava used in the making of fermented porridge. Whilst farmgate prices of a kilo of maize hit a two year low of Sh1700 for a 90 kg bag in October of this year, he buys from his farmers at a constant price of Sh4500, a kilo going for Sh60. “You won’t find fairer prices anywhere in the market. Consumers are willing to pay a premium for organically sourced indigenous produce –this helps to keep the farmers I have well-remunerated and motivated”
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He also provides farmers with a ready market for wild berries such as gooseberries and golden berries. He needs at least 40 kg of berries daily, enough for making 70 bottles of 750 milliliters wine. They are also repurposed into jam, juice, jelly and powder. Golden berries can produce 15 kilograms of fruit over two years with a three-month dormancy window. A farmer can harvest up to 20 tons from an acre of berries. For a kilogram of berries Steven pays Sh200.
Stephen is also sourcing for farmers who can grow and supply edible weeds and traditional vegetables such as dock plant, broadleaf plantain and dandelions.
“My clients place faith in me to source for pesticide and fertilizer free produce, as I am not at every farm watching over all the agronomic practices of a farmer, I have had to build trust with the stable of farmers I work with over time,” says Steven.
The 33 year old confesses to have never seen inside gates of a secondary school but in his passion to reintegrate indigenous African foods into our everyday diets, he has found his life’s work. This has seen the self-taught traditional foods researcher transverse the globe featuring as a guest lecturer at Rwandan Kigali and Ruhengeri universities. He has also consulted with KALRO’s African leafy vegetables program and worked with USAID’s Youth agripreneur and Forgotten fruits and crops programs.
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As his five year lease on his current 16 acre farm at Tigoni expires, Stephen plans on downsizing to a smaller two acres in January. “It is impractical to be a farmer, and have adequate time to focus on research, consultancy and value addition,” he explains.
“The quantities we are currently working at are nowhere near enough to meet the ballooning demand for our products,” Stephen says. Though he is strategizes on getting the Stephen’s Natural Foods brand atop supermarket shelves— as with food— he believes in organic expansion: “No NGO or government-supported my business; I have pushed myself to get where I am.
Stephen’s Natural Foods: +254 790 279330