During my high school days, I always had a dream that I would one day help my parents put up a better house than the one we lived in. In late 2014, I realized I could take a loan and actually help my parents put up the better house.
On the day I gave the money to my dad, he told me that there was a one-eighth-acre plot near where he was working that would be good for us (my husband and I). I told him I had just given him all the money I could spare, and the only way to get the plot is if he could use part of the money I had just transferred to him to buy the plot. He agreed, and I repaid the money over a couple of months. Later, we did another similar transaction and by the time the house was completed, about one and a half years later, I had a quarter-acre of land.
How many of us know that when you give you actually command a blessing your way. That when you give it comes back to you full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. By December 2015, when we finally opened the new house, I was so excited about the house and the quarter-acre plot of land. Talk of double blessings!
My dad is an agriculturalist so I grew up on a farm and that’s why I know agriculture can be profitable and a way out of poverty, if farmers have options. So after many considerations, like putting up rental houses or a nice restaurant, I have decided that what I really want to do is to do something that will also benefit the community around.
On the quarter-acre plot in Chaka, Nyeri County, Kenya, we will put up a strawberry demo farm. My brother, based in Chaka, is 30 years old while am 33.
Oh, my name is Esther Kahinga and my brother is Peter Kahinga, we are part of the directors of Reiss Global—the company that will run the Chaka Demo Farm. Chaka is a semi-arid and hot area that favours the growth of strawberries. We shall grow organic strawberries with the help of an agronomist.
In the first year, we will enlist at least ten farmers who will also grow strawberries on a one-eigth-acre portion of their farms. We shall buy the strawberries from farmers at competitive prices and package them for sale in retail outlets or hotels in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
The objective is to ensure farmers earn better incomes by planting high-value crops and then selling them to markets where they can get better returns. The demo farm will serve as a seedling multiplication centre, a collection centre, and also a capacity building centre where farmers will receive training and support.
The consultant agronomist, who will be available once or twice a week, depending on demand, will also support the ten farmers. From year two onwards, more farmers will be enlisted.
Chaka is an area where poverty levels are a bit high, as evidenced by a sad incident that took place last year.
In July 2015, a quarry in Mandera County, about 700km from Chaka, was attacked by Al-Shabaab gunmen and six of the 14 people that were killed hailed from Chaka.
Between December 2014 and July 2015, Chaka and the neighbouring villages lost 32 young men, mostly aged between 27 and 40 to Al-Shabaab. Nancy Mureithi, a resident of the area, says most of the young men are desperate to earn a living, so when the slightest opportunity arises, they do not consider the risks.
I guess a couple of us have heard about social enterprises and their ability to transform lives and address poverty. If you know about Kiva, d.light, Acumen or Ashoka then you are familiar with social enterprises.
Though there are many definitions of a social enterprise, it is simply defined as a business that applies entrepreneurial approaches to social problems to change the status quo and build lasting solutions.
Reiss Global will run the Chaka Demo Farm as a social enterprise so that it’s sustainable in the long run. In the first year, the project may not break even, but as we learn the ropes and increase the number of farmers we’ll be working with, in a couple of years, the project will be self-sustaining.
In the first year, the company will sell packaged strawberries, but as our experience grows and the business expands, we will seek to process the strawberries into pulp that we shall sell to milk processors in the country. We’ll make the organic jam that is gaining popularity among the middle class in Kenya.
Strawberries have been selected because they have high demand in Kenya, are nutritious and preferred by people who like healthy living. Their demand is high in supermarkets, hotels, and the dairy industry.
With our model, Reiss Global will be addressing two pressing challenges farmers in Chaka and Kenya face—lack of support/extension services and inaccessibility to competitive markets. This means farmers will be able to produce high-quality strawberries and also earn better incomes. Since the strawberries will be grown organically, they will also be environmentally friendly.
The budget for the demo farm includes:
- USD 1,000 for the shade net, drip irrigation kit, water tank, strawberry seedlings, and labour for setting up the shade net structure.
- To preserve the freshness of strawberries delivered by farmers, the demo farm will need a refrigeration unit that costs about USD 1,000.
- Materials for packaging the strawberries, complete with a brand name and logo, will cost USD 200
- It is estimated that at least USD 800 will be required for the agronomist who will train farmers and also offer extension services for a couple of months.
- The balance of USD 2,000 will be used to subsidize the cost of starting a strawberry farm for the ten farmers that we shall work with initially.
If Reiss Global can get agronomy services from the network, the funds allocated for that will be used to rope in more farmers.
To measure the success of our work, we shall collect the baseline of our farmers’ income as at the time of joining the project and collect the same information once harvesting starts. We shall also collect qualitative data on what the increased income is used for.
Eventually, as the number of farmers grows and production increases, the company hopes to one day acquire fairtrade certification and therefore export strawberry products into the European market.
Reiss Global will work with partners to make the project a success. The project will collaborate with Lachalan Kenya Ltd, who provide organic fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides. Projam Enterprises will provide the shade net and Amiran the drip irrigation kits.
Initially, farmers will be required to raise some funds to start the farming project, while Reiss Global will provide some inputs like seedlings and organic fertilizer to the farmers, depending on availability of funding.
The seedlings will be sourced from an already existing organic strawberry farm near Nairobi. The resident agronomist at the Chaka Demo Farm, will also receive training from the same farm.
According to the World Bank report on Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness, ‘agriculture and agribusiness together are projected to be a US$ 1 trillion industry in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2030 (compared to US$ 313 billion in 2010), and they should be at the top of the agenda for economic transformation and development’.
The report adds that, ‘urban food markets are set to increase fourfold to exceed US$ 400 billion by 2030, requiring major agribusiness investments in processing, logistics, market infrastructure, and retail networks. The growing middle class is also seeking greater diversity and higher quality in its diets.’
Why is the Chaka Demo Farm interested in YAP?
Because the programme presents an opportunity for the company to bring positive change to the people of Chaka, in Nyeri County. YAP will expose us to experts in agribusiness, networks that will be instrumental in exploring the export market and visibility as we share our journey with the Chaka farmers.
In effect YAP will help us achieve a dream: that one day farmers in a part of Kenya will earn better incomes, because we took a step to start something. Be a part of this, like our story or share your comments below.
About the co-founders
Peter Kamenju Kahinga holds a diploma in telecommunication engineering and certifications in CCNA voice and NEXAN structured cabling system design. Esther Wanjiku Kahinga holds an MSc in agricultural information and communication management and a BSc in information sciences.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Esther Wanjiku Kahinga (Kenya): stakahinga[at][gmail.com.
The content, structure and grammar are at the discretion of the author only.
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