The median age in Kenya is 19 years-old, while 80% of the population is under age 35. This means almost one in five young people of working age is jobless and with little work to go round, large sections of the community are trapped in a cycle of poverty, struggling to make ends meet and unable to invest in their futures – this is where Farm Africa comes in. Through its Growing Futures initiative, and with funding from Aldi UK, Farm Africa is helping reverse this cycle, empowering smallholder farmers to grow export quality Kenyan crops like peas and beans, set up crucial markets in the UK to absorb supply and work with exporters on a continuous shipping campaign.
And this is just one of the great projects Farm Africa runs – and just one of the reasons the London Produce Show and Conference is proud to name them the official charity partner for 2017.
Meet Isaac, Emily and Selly, members of a Farm Africa young farmers group in western Kenya
They are an examples of the young people Growing Futures supports. The strategy is simple. Through funding, key staff can be hired to work on the ground in Kenyan county Trans-Nzoia. These experts train young people on how best to grow export-ready crops like French beans, snow peas, sugar snaps and cabbage. Smallholder farmers are given agricultural guidance to grow better quality, higher yielding crops and be given access to exporters and a solid market, like Britain, where consumers are eager to buy high quality Kenyan produce.
Farmers can improve their incomes, make a better life for their families and communities as well as eventually expand production or even diversify what they grow.
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody involved”, Geoffrey Nyamota, head of engagement at Farm Africa told PBUK while he was on a recent visit to the London office of the charity which also has operations in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.
“As of now we have about 20 groups of young farmers growing a wide range of horticultural crops both for the local and export market. These include French beans, snow peas and sugar snaps for the export market and then for the local market we have cabbage, chillies and other vegetables.
“We’ve been able to identify vibrant markets for the sales so we take the farmers through agronomic training, teach them how best to grow those products and of course they are linked to a specific market, like the UK.”
Part of Nyamota’s job is to procure relationships with smallholders, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and key market players so the supply chain runs efficiently as well as helping small companies get access to finance for farm investments and expansion.
“The exportable crops like French beans, snow peas and sugar snaps, are exported through the renowned company in Nairobi, Vegpro.
“Currently, we are running this fives times a week with most of the crops coming from the farms, going into Nairobi where it’s processed and dispatched. The idea is that a good amount of the export crops end up in UK stores.
Nyamota says there are several other farmers and exporters interested in getting involved in the project, which has major potential for expansion.
“I was there about two weeks ago and one aspect I really like about the programme is the fact a number of these farmers grow for the international market and they’ve had to go through GlobalGap certification and all the systems to make sure the food they produce meets various conditions, taking care of their own welfare and the welfare of those who work for them.
“Because of the certification process, it’s enlisted a number of other producers who are interested in the product farmers are producing because these are very high quality export vegetables.
“And we have an increased the number of other exporters who are interested in contracting the same farmers in Trans-Nzoia and the Growing Futures programme.”
Changing lives and communities
Once the farmers taking part Growing Futures are fully equipped with the skills and knowledge to successfully set up agricultural enterprises, they become entrepreneurial job creators, driving economic growth for Kenya as a whole.
“By supporting young people in rural areas to increase harvests and create better incomes for themselves, Growing Futures will not only play its part in eradicating extreme poverty in Kitale (Trans-Nzoia), it will help young people build for the future,” Oliver King, corporate managing director at Aldi UK says.
“The project will encourage young people to become job creators rather than job-seekers, turning them into drivers of economic growth and reducing their communities’ dependence on aid.”
Before Farm Africa’s intervention in the community, farmers did not have a straightforward market for their commodities, according to Nyamota.
“Some of the youth who had gone through school didn’t have jobs and when there’s unemployment, well some would engage in illicit activities,” he adds.
“I remember in 2007 when we had post-election violence in Kenya, a number of the youth were involved. But when young people are kept very busy and generating incomes through these kinds of initiatives, it means that crime is definitely going to go down.
“And then, the fact there is going to be continuous income through the growing of vegetable crops, they have a real income to help support their own education like if they want to study agriculture at university or anything else.”
There are many other personal success stories from Kenyan farmers benefiting from the Growing Futures project.
“I met one lady in April who used to struggle to pay the school fees for her kids until she got this connection to work with Farm Africa on the Growing Futures programmes. Now she can pay the fees through the income she gets from growing French beans and cabbage from her farm.”
Initially this farmer was earning 3,000 Kenyan Shillings (£22.35) from a half acre for the first three months, increasing to 130,000 (£966) over the next three months, says Nyamota.
“Now she’s planning to expand her production because she has enough money from the sales she’s made to invest in horticulture on top of improving her personal living conditions and looking after her children.”
Joseph Kaunda, aged 34, cabbage farmer
Joseph and his wife Micah got involved with Farm Africa through a farmers group he was a member of called Mtundu Self Help Group. When the organisation first found Joseph he was growing cabbages but after being taught better production techniques, his yields and quality significantly increased and now he no longer needs the support of Farm Africa.
“I had a little knowledge from high school about farming but Farm Africa has taught me a lot. We were educated about how to start farming, how to prepare the seed beds in a particular way and how to do correct spacing when we plant, and to use farm yard manure,” he says.
“Spacing is important for proper and healthy seedlings, if you don’t space them properly the crops are thin or are more at risk of being destroyed. I didn’t know the right stage to transfer the plants from their seed beds to the field.
“When I was not doing Farm Africa, for one acre we would use a lot seedlings, the spacing was poor and the plants were not doing well so we got a poor market price. We also learned the right grams of seeds to use for one acre.
“I have seen a 65% increase in the volume we are producing and the profit.”
Beatrice Wakwabubi, aged 32, French beans and cabbage farmer
Beatrice is a farmer and single mother who cares for her son Joshua, aged five. She also is the secretary for the Songea Youth Group, a farmers group working with Farm Africa as part of the Growing Futures project. Beatrice rents 0.2 acres of land for farming where she used to plant maize and assorted vegetables, but switched to French beans and cabbage after her farmers group began receiving training and support from Farm Africa. Beatrice’s income has already increased by 40%, and she has also benefited greatly from the practical and emotional support she gets from her friends in the farmers group.
“Life is hard because I am the oldest of my siblings (13) and have to fend for all the younger ones in my family. But things are better now because I can easily get money to rent land and the extra proceeds I get helps me to pay for school fees for my brothers and sisters, and to buy the chemicals to help my farm production,” Beatrice says.
“I also keep some money aside to pay for labour to help on my farm – the money I earn helps me to keep going. Cabbages are my main crop but I am doing the French beans to add to my income.
“French beans bring more because they produce in a shorter time. Cabbages take 90 days, but French beans you can sell in 60, so by the time you have finished selling your beans then you can start selling your cabbage.”
Selly Chelangat, age 28, French beans farmer
Selly is a single mother with one child, Timothy aged 10. She is a member of the Tugomo farmers group, which is receiving support from Farm Africa.
Selly used to carry out casual labour on the farm of her neighbours, Emily and Isaac. The couple received training from Farm Africa and shared their newfound farming knowledge with Selly.
Since learning about French bean production from Emily, Selly has started growing French beans on a small plot of land, which she shares with another neighbour and friend, Ester, who is a member of the same farmers group. The pair work together and share costs.
“I was taught how to do the planting, spraying and harvesting of French beans. I feel that it was good to learn and I am happy about it because now I apply it to my own farming.
“Before I was farming French beans I was farming maize and local beans. I have found French beans give me more money. I like them because they only take a short time to grow, bring good income and don’t involve too much work,” Selly says.
“With the extra money I earn with my French beans I am able to save some with table banking. I would like to add another plot of land to grow more French beans. I would also like to have a stall selling second hand clothes. I want to open a business to help me pay for my son Timothy to go to university.”
During the London Produce Show (June 7-9), representatives from Farm Africa will be available at booth 335.