Euniah is a smallholder banana farmer. Things changed for her when she joined the Rioyuko Muungano Self-help Group in Kisii. “The group was set up after we saw that there were opportunities in commercial banana production and realized great opportunities existed in Nairobi and Kisumu. We knew that as individual smallholder farmers, there was no chance to take advantage of the emerging opportunities.”For the last two decades, Euniah Mokeira, is awake by 4:30 a.m. every day, to attend to her household chores, so that she can make time for business. On the morning we interviewed her, Euniah was planning a journey from her hometown, Kisii, to Narok, where she was to meet a potential bulk buyer for her group’s banana produce, both dessert and cooking varieties.
Today, Euniah is the secretary of the group but also serves in the marketing committee, where she is involved in searching for markets for the groups’ banana produce. Since she joined the marketing committee, Euniah has brought new energy to the committee. “It is a great business. Joining this group and particularly the marketing committee has taught me a lot about the banana value chain. I now know what happens all the way from the farm to getting bananas to the customers.”
“It is a highly profitable business when farmers come together and aggregate their banana produce with the main goal of marketing. It gives us a bargaining platform and we are able to earn more. Before, brokers took advantage of desperate situations and lack of information. Although it took us some time, we have learnt to aggregate and market as a group of farmers.”
We spoke to several group members and each proudly enumerated the number of generations that have lived on the same land, farming bananas but nor really breaking from the cycle of poverty. “Back in 2009, brokers used to make advanced down payment of Ksh 20 (USD 0.25) for a banana bunch and wait for the male bud to emerge after which they would remind the farmer of the deal they made. That was our cycle of low returns as small holder farmers,” recalls Euniah.
“Although we still supply local traders, we have learnt not to fully rely on them. We have expanded our reach to markets further away from our County,” says Euniah.
Euniah explains one of the charts in the banana and collection marketing centre, which was set up by Africa Harvest, with the support of USAID Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP). The chart shows that the group made Ksh546,985 (about USD 6,837) in gross earnings for the period Feb 2014 to February 2015. This is as a result of aggregating the banana produce and selling larger volumes to new markets.
Africa Harvest helps small holder farmers by promoting sustainable farming practices in banana farming, which could help turn Kenya into a regional player in the fruit market. “By drawing on the skills and resources of the private sector, we are able create a learning environment to teach farmers on business skills. The goal is to raise productivity and incomes of small scale banana farmers in both Kisii and Nyamira County. This in turn will raise the quality and yield of local produce, ensuring both farmers and consumers receive a fair price,” says Mrs Wangari Kiragu, Africa Harvest’s Project Manager.
Africa Harvest trained the farmers in the two Counties of Nyamira and Kisii in banana agronomy, business management, business planning and financial literacy, simple book keeping and other skills that would assist them in making better decisions when it comes to their business. This was under the USAID/KHCP-funded project. Euniah is among 147 trainers of trainers (TOT) trained during the project period and who have gained some business know-how to go along with their hands-on experience. The ToT course includes courses in debt management, pricing and marketing. Euniah says these courses helped her understand how to make her banana farming business financially sustainable.
“We want farmers to move from subsistence farming to farming-for-profit,” says Mrs. Kiragu. “Unfortunately most farmers have little capacity and skills to compete with large scale farmers. Encouraging the farmers to form groups enables them to play in the same league as large scale farmers,” she says. ”Higher volumes attract serious buyers and it becomes easier for the group to fetch better prices. With aggregation of produce they can amass quantities of produce that are marketable and demand better prices.”
“The important thing is really to get smallholder farmers set up and off on the right foot from the very beginning,” says Mrs. Kiragu. “There is a strong willingness by farmers to make this work. Though the USAID/KHCP Project ended in December 2014, Africa Harvest is still in touch with the Rioyuko group.”
“Itis important that the farmers know the true meaning of ‘Umoja ni nguvu’ (unity is strength) and accord themselves a platform of raising banana productivity and subsequently, their incomes through aggregation. The future belongs to the organised,” concludes Mrs. Kiragu.