Growth through farming

The agricultural sector is one of the leading employers in the world. With the need for capital, land, water, and other essentials, producing a bounty to feed consumers takes a lot of hard work and support. Farmers recognise the need for the right amount of care and attention to achieve successful sales. 

The knowledge acquired through various capacity building sessions facilitated by Swisscontact greatly benefited Kwa Kyai Rural SACCO members and helped them achieve new production heights.

Kwa Kyai, a horticultural co-operative located in Kibwezi has 114 members, 60 of them are women. They produce mangoes, okra, brinjals but, their primary crop is tomatoes. Before going through the training organised by Swisscontact, farming yielded little returns. Farmers would till large portions of their land but achieve poor results because of their farming practices. Access to markets was also erratic and this led to a lot of wastage,” explains Benson Kalei, the chairperson of the co-operative.

Swisscontact partnered with Kwa Kyai in 2017 and sponsored all farmers for a Good Agricultural Practices (GLOBAL GAP) certification course to improve their market access.

Rhoda Muthoka, a seasoned farmer for 20 years is one such beneficiary. “Before I started farming tomatoes, I produced vegetables like kale, cabbage, spinach and okra. As members of Kwa Kyai, we noticed a growing demand for tomatoes and collaborated to produce on a larger scale,” Rhoda explains.

This decision to hone her focus has paid off as she earns more and reports that their tomato business has gone international.

“We started producing for the local market. We used to sell to Mombasa, Marikiti, Nairobi and around Kibwezi. The local market was unstable. Some days we would farm and have no one to sell to which led to wastage. We also faced problems transporting our goods. In 2017, Swisscontact introduced us to a ketchup manufacturing company based in the Netherlands. They were interested in purchasing our tomatoes, specifically dried ones. Swisscontact helped us with the contract negotiation and work began immediately. 2021 marks the fifth year of our partnership agreement. The steady market demand has really helped our farmer group,” Rhoda admits.

Rhoda and her fellow cooperative members have experienced first-hand the importance of education in improving their overall yield. “The training made me very happy since I learnt a lot. I particularly remember record keeping, proper chemical use, food hygiene, and harvesting hygiene. Apart from the knowledge, I got a certificate, acceptable in the international market, as proof of my participation. This qualification gave me access to a broader market. Swisscontact even organised for a technical advisor to come to visit our farms and advise us. Now my productivity has increased from 10 kilograms to 500 kilograms.”

Most of the cooperative members have ventured into tomato production to achieve the production levels stipulated by the off-taker. Farming this way has its fair share of challenges as all participating cooperative members are accountable for each other.

“We have regular check-ups to spot check different member farms to ensure adherence to the global standards. If the product has issues, it reflects on the group not on an individual since we sell together. There is no way to distinguish the individual outputs,” Rhoda clarifies.

From getting roughly six tonnes a month to producing 20 tonnes of tomatoes, Benson’s responsibilities have increased. His duties now include issuing monthly market trend reports to the farmers, combining a list of challenges and possible opportunities.

80% of the population within our area depend on farming to meet their needs. Tomatoes especially do well in the Kibwezi area due to the favourable heat. It takes about 75 days to harvest the tomatoes and Benson and his members use crop rotation to keep them going.

“Before we could not give out loans but after the linkage with the off-taker and an increase in sales, farmers have increased their savings and we are now able to issue loans to our members. They use these loans to purchase farm inputs like seeds, fertilizers and farm chemicals,” Benson explains happily.

“Working with KETCHUP has given me a chance to do work I’d previously put on pause. Before I ventured into tomato farming, I earned approximately CHF 1 which was too little to support my family. After signing the contract with the off-taker, I now earn a minimum of CHF 40. It only takes 24hours before I get my payment. I have been able to open a bank account and now qualify for loans. I’ve chosen to hire an eighth of an acre to add to my farm,” explains Rhoda. “It’s important for farmers like me to unite, improve our skills and aim for bigger markets.”

Despite the challenges experienced in farming, like pest control and blocked markets due to lockdowns instituted to curb the spread of the covid-19 pandemic, Kwa Kyai’s future still looks bright. The SACCO hopes to soon increase its membership to over 200 farmers.

“I’m motivated by the possibility of achieving my plans. I would like to buy a car in a few years and believe I can do it through my earnings from farming,” explains Rhoda.

The Inclusive Finance Programme (IFP) was financed by Stiftung ESPERANZA, Credit Suisse Foundation, Kanton Basel–Landschaft, Kanton Zurich, Stadt Zurich, among others, and was part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which was co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA).