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How agribusiness startups are pointing farmers to international markets

selina wamucii staff

Kenyan farmers especially smallholders are now accessing international markets thanks to the growing number of agribusiness companies and startups which are pointing the farmers who have been growing traditional crops and selling them to local markets to high value crops for export.

According to a last year report by Africa’s start-up portal, Disrupt Africa, Kenya is among the top African countries with the high number of agri-tech startup markets at 60 per cent, a position it shares with Nigeria and Ghana.

For instance, Selina Wamucii, a Kenyan social enterprise has in four years of operation assisted over 7,000 small scale food producers access markets in what has seen it named among companies to inspire Africa by the London Stock Exchange Group.

According to the enterprise’s co-founder John Oroko who was brought up in a smallholder farming family, Kenya is faced with firsthand realities that rural farmers grapple with accessing markets and earning decent household incomes.

“Smallholders are among the hardest working people on the planet, yet remain a majority of the world’s poorest.  It matters to me because I believe we have the best opportunity to transform Africa’s agricultural value chains while passing the benefits of an efficient chain to producer communities across the continent,” said John.

Since co-founding the company in June 2015 he has managed to enlist over 7,000 farmers across the country who grow high value food among them fruits, vegetables, fish, seafood, spices and other agro commodities which find their way across markets in Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.

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Selina Wamucii farmers sorting out banana fruits for export.

Selina Wamucii has also been working with locally trained agents referred to as Produce Agents who guide farmers on good agricultural practices covering growing, harvesting, grading, collection and the eventual transportation of the produce to designated zonal warehouses.

To become part of the network, farmers sign up to join Selina through their mobile phones via USSD where their information details are captured that include names, geographical locations, what they are producing, the various stages of progress throughout the season, harvest time lines and projections and actual volumes at harvest.

The system also streamlines the sourcing process, making it faster and less expensive with a digitized value chain.

For Premier Seeds Limited, a vegetable seed company based in Nakuru County and working closely with smallholders in the Rift Valley region who have traditionally relied on the overcrowded cereal farming is now giving the farmers a lifeline in growing basil among other herbs whose multiple health and nutritional benefits has made the farmers access export markets.

According to Simon Andys the founder and CEO of Premier Seed, international buyers say East Africa meets a paltry 15 per cent of their demand for the herb even as markets continue to balloon following discovery of new uses of the herb.

“The markets have expressed insatiable appetite for the herb. With our first farmers, we are producing 1.6 tonnes of basil against a demand six tonnes per month from the importer we work with hence the pressure to produce more,” said Andys.

Today the company has 800 contracted framers with 100-200 of them growing basil which has become an instant hit among Nakuru farmers making an initial foray into horticulture for its ease of cultivation and growth traits.

The herb takes an average of 42 days to mature and is harvested every ten days for up to eight months. A typical greenhouse measuring 8x30m produces on average 125 kilos of basil every week with a kilo going for Sh390 in local markets and up to Sh500 a kilo in international markets.

“Premier Seed help farmers in accessing certified seeds, soil analysis, trainings on Global GAP, agronomical support and correct application of fertiliser and chemical to ensure that the farmers’ produce meet international standards,” said Andys.

Twiga Foods, a company that provides fresh produce supply chain on its side has linked 8,370 farmers in Kenya to markets in a move aimed at bridging gaps in food and market security through an organized platform for an efficient, fair, transparent and formal marketplace that includes farming advice.

To work with the firm, farmers are required to visit the company’s website and register which is followed by a visit and assessment of the farmer’s farm then adds him/her onto the system. The company then issues a purchase order to book the produce and indicates the date of harvest.

“Once the produce is ready, we harvests and weighs the farmer’s produce and issues the seller with a receipt. Farmers receive payment within 24 hours,” said said Kikonde Mwatela, Chief Operating Officer of the company.

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