When Farming and Entrepreneurship Meet: Climate Smart Agriculture in Simplified in Kenya
Meet Kerubo. Kerubo is one of the casual workers at Miyonga Fresh Greens. In September 2014, Kerubo was employed as a caretaker at a piece of land next to Miyonga Farm. Her daily routine included waking up early to her house hold chores and before taking her employers three goats to graze and drink water by the riverside. While her employers goats were grazing Kerubo would look for casual farm work in neighboring farms because what she earned was not enough to sustain her family. Kerubo’s would save the extra income and use it to pay for her Children’s school fees while. Some days she would get extra work but she would often walk for two weeks with no extra income from casual farm work.
Kerubo’s is just one of the many women in Mahakos County in Kenya working two jobs and low wages but are committed to seeing their children educated and have a chance at a better quality of life than they did.
Kerubo’s story changed when she started working for Miyonga Farm.
Miyonga Farms is a farm that believes that by applying modern management practices and scientific and technological knowledge farming can lead to improved economic and social impact to the community. Miyonga Fresh Greens grows fresh fruit and vegetables to meet the ever increasing demand for healthy food. In the 18 months since Miyonga Farm was established, we have transformed from being small out-growers and contracted farmers with 1.5 acres of land access to 10acres of leased land. Our strategy Growth. Diversity. Impact
Since establishment in September 2014, Miyonga Fresh Greens have planted, produced and sold for export, high quality, GAP certified Green Beans and Baby Corn from our 10 acre farm in Machakos. Europe has demand for 500,000 metric tons (MT) of French beans however in the last five years European imports of peas and beans from developing countries have settled at around 200,000 MT leaving a deficit of 300,000 MT. Almost all EU imports of French Beans and other vegetables are sourced from developing countries such as Kenya, Egypt and Morocco.
Miyonga growth was fueled by the realization that the only thing that would make a difference in the lives of Kerubo and her friends Sophie and Florence is a stable source of income. This required increasing the acreage to increase production as well as investing in learning the skills to run the business professionally. I enrolled in a business acceleration program Sinapis a mini MBA on entrepreneurship. My main motivation was to ensure that I was not just farming, but running farming as a profitable business. By ploughing back profits and increasing the acreage of land helped ensure that Kerubo would not have to work for a day and walk from farm to farm chancing upon some work for the next two weeks. Kerubo and friends could have work not only 5 days a well by all month. In July , 2015 Miyonga Fresh Greens presented our business plan at the Pre Global Entrepreneurship Summit and won first place giving us access to seed capital that went towards increasing the farm production by investing in drip irrigation. At the point Miyonga Fresh Greens was selling to exporters.
With investment in drip irrigation, Miyonga Fresh Greens was able to produce enough volumes to become direct exporters and so we registered as exporters. Our next challenge was access to markets. In February 2016 as part of the strategy for growth, Miyonga Fresh Greens invested in participation at the Berlin Fruit Logistica 2016 with the objective of market research and making direct access to buyers. At the fair, Miyonga received an increasing number of inquiries for direct export supply of more fine beans, baby corn, p peas, herbs and fruits including mangoes, bananas and avocado. The increased production of fine beans and baby corn also means that there is a lot of waste (leaves and maize stalk known as mabebe) that can be used to feed dairy cows and goats.
Our model is simple: Crop rotation. Grow crops with known market demand that mature at different times of the year and have different soil nutrient requirement. Keep livestock that consumes the waste and provide manure and bees (USD1000) to increase production and offer alternative source of income. Fruit trees for future income, soil health and sustainability Use technology – solar powered drip irrigation and online planning and coordination of activities and farm inputs.
With the established contacts and direct access to markets, Miyonga now needs to diversify and invest in greens houses for growing of herbs and to invest in dairy cows and goats that would consume the “waste” from the farm. We shall reach out to KALRO and World Agroforestry Centre identifying the best varieties of fruit trees for the dry Machakos and Makueni area while the expertise from International Livestock Research Institute and East African Diary Development will be sought. With all these crops we need to ensure effective pollination, ICIPE and would be good technical advisors.
Why this is important?
In Europe the season for fine beans is between January and April, after April the market (when summer is over in Europe) the demand for beans reduces. This means reduced income from beans. Diversification would help ensure. Crop rotation that would help in soil conservation and soil health. This would complement Wanda Organic we manure we are using. With the use of use of greenhouse (USD2000) there will be water and energy conservation – Miyonga plans to use Solar powered drip irrigation systems from Sunculture .This that would means reduction of pollution from use of petrol or diesel to pump water and irrigation helps in efficient use of water – Anyone from IWMI reading this? We need you!
Is this sustainable? You have beans for the short term, Pulses and herbs for the midterm and fruit trees for long term source of income. With the cows and goats nothing goes to waste. Is this Climate Smart Agriculture?
A business that makes nothing except profits is a poor business – Henry Ford
Stability for Miyonga means improved livelihood and quality of life for women like Kerubo and friends. This is not only through creation of employment. With part of the winning going into constructing housing and purchase of two heifers (US 1000). The heifers will calf and the calves will be leased out to the women working in the farm who will fully own the cows and goats after paying back for them fully. The women will not need to worry about the cost of feed since the leaves and the stock from the beans and baby corn will be used to feed the heifers.
Women invest 90% of their income back to improving their families and the income the women receive from the farm as well as the cows they will own will play an important role in giving access to education, better nutrition and health services to their children.
When we first established as a business, casual workers were required to sign against their payments. We noticed that every time we asked the women to sign in, they would shy away. That is when I realized that most of the women could not read or write… but they knew how to withdraw and make payments via Mpesa. We plan to work with Joywo to provide financial literacy to the women. At this stage, I could not do much for the intellectual capability of the women but I can help ensure that they have financial literacy to invest and make use of the income they earn.
Regular source of income to the 12 women and 6 men at the farm and 20 at the pack house and 50 more casual come to harvest twice every week . That’s close to 300 lives impacted (Average family of 4) . Access to education, better health and better nutrition for children is the impact that Miyonga is all about?
What about Market linkages to our produce? Globally the demand for healthy food is increasing while the demand for organic food is exploding. According to the global health and Wellness report 20154, by 2017 retailers will be spending a total of USD 1 Trillion (1,000,000,000,000 –that’s 12 zeros!!) on fresh produce. The zeros we see is the number of lives we can impact in Kenya! We know we can’t do this on our own. We know we can get smart partners – With expertise from Export Promotion Council and Horticultural Crops Directorate, Trademark East Africa on Market access and CGIAR on the supply chain and value addition, we shall be smarter!
Blogpost and pictures submitted by Yvonne Otieno (Kenya) – yvonne(at)miyongafreshgreens.co.ke
Lower picture courtesy Sinapis
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