Start where you are, with what you have, but don’t stay in one place. This is Beatrice Nkatha’s advice, especially to young women who have found themselves in life’s clue-de-sac. Starting out as a tailor, Beatrice is now a regional businesswoman, trading in sorghum between Kenya and Tanzania.
“I had no money and no experience when I started,” she narrates. “But I was determined. At no time did I think it would not work”. Hers is not a rags-to-riches story. It’s a story of tenacity. When tailoring failed to give her adequate returns, she started selling grain using “goro goros” (2kg tin cans) to make ends meet.
Later, she joined a group of women who were buying cereals in bulk and retailing the same in Meru. Soon, she was providing leadership. She became a trustee, managing and maintaining a rented bulking store. Her first breakthrough came when the women decided to leave the business. She took it over despite the low income it provided her. Determined to turn it around, she began leasing land and engaged in farming to improve her earnings. In three years, she had enough funds to start growing the business. That’s when her involvement with Africa Harvest started.
“It was like a link from heaven,” she recallswhen Africa Harvest introduced commercial sorghum production in tharaka in 2009. Fast forwarding to today Africa Harvest is working with UNDP’s African Facility for Inclusive Market (AFIM). Although Beatrice already considered herself successfulthe involvement of UNDP-AFIM in regional trade of sorghum grain in Kenya and Tanzania is a big jump for her, “ but I was ready,” she recalls.
Her involvement with Gadam Sorghum trade had started earlier, offering brokerage services for one of the initial grain aggregators involved in buying sorghum for the East African Breweries Limited (EABL). “I later became a full agent for EABL, working closely with Africa Harvest, which was supporting farmers with agronomy and seeds”. Her involvement with the UNDP-AFIM project was a natural progression. Her continued hardwork and exemplary performance resulted with the project assisting her in identifying where to purchase a sorghum thresher. She also received advice on how to finance the purchase.
Beatrice was the Aggregator of the Year 2011-2012 for delivering 1,450 metric tonnes to EABL. “I believe sorghum has truly changed the lives of farmers, as they are now able to pay school fees,” she says as a matter of fact. “Buildings have popped up in the area and the youth have embraced farming, having tasted good money from the sale of sorghum. If you look around, many have bought boda-boda’s (motorcycles) and have branded sorghum on them,” she says, with a smile on her face.
Beatrice is one among the five aggregators identified to provide market as well as backward linkages (in the future) for farmers involved in the sorghum for regional trade project in Kenya and Tanzania. The project funded by UNDP-AFIM catalytic fund for regional agri-business value chain development. Its goal is to improve food security and economic potential for smallholder farmers through participation in regional Sorghum. The project targets 2,000 smallholder farmers, 10 micro and small enterprises in Kenya and Tanzania. Africa Harvest is the project’s implementing partner. The two organizations have refined the aggregator model, a platform upon which future interventions along the value chain will accelerate commercialization and linkage to regional trade in sorghum grain.