Markets & Finance

Molo women turn to agribusiness to boost income


Ms Priscilla Mugure of Turi Green feeds her cows at her farm in Molo. NATION | Suleiman Mbatiah

Women in rural Nakuru, who for years have toiled as peasant farmers, have started putting their small plots of land to better use. They have abandoned subsistence farming for agribusiness after being guided on modern methods of farming. Dairy farming and horticulture are their choices so far.

Apart from increased earnings, they work fewer hours on average than they used to when their farms only produced enough for family use and gifts for friends during visits. Because of the thin yields, they said, there was little room to think about making money from their plots.

But now a group of 2,700 farmers spread across Molo, Kuresoi North and Kuresoi South sub-counties are reporting improved living standards after changing tack, according to members who spoke with the Business Daily. This is after they were trained by Groots Kenya Association in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture.

“It is no longer about growing vegetables to feed yourself or gift to friends, relatives and neighbours during visits, but making money out of it,” says Ms Margaret Njeri, one of the farmers from Elburgon in Molo.

Doing things differently, they say, has given them a way around the challenges of tilling tiny plots. For example, Ms Njeri grows vegetables in sacks, leaving her with ample space in the kitchen garden to grow other crops. She says her weekly earnings have increased since adopting the new farming method in July 2012.

“Each sack can take 60 pieces of sukuma wiki (kale) or spinach. Three of them make a sizeable kitchen garden. In the rest of the space, I grow onions and beetroot.”

Most of the members have at least an acre of land on which they grow oranges, lemons, tree tomatoes, pumpkins, courgettes, green peas, egg plants, avocados, beetroots, tomatoes, onions, spinach and kale. Ms Njeri is part of a lobby group of 19 women called Golden Ladies which they use to get better markets for their horticultural produce.

“We collect the vegetables or any other horticultural produce from each farmer weekly and supply our customers, who include wholesale traders and hotels,” she says. As a group, they can negotiate for better gate prices as opposed to dealing with brokers individually.

“In a week, I can make Sh2,000 against the Sh200 I used to earn from selling only sukuma wiki,” she says.

Ms Anne Wachira, another farmer from Nyota Ward in Kuresoi North, says she is reaping a tidy profit from her piece of land.

“I was more into potato farming and had little knowledge on how much I could make from growing more profitable crops in just one acre until I got the training on agribusiness,” says Ms Wachira, who is also the treasurer of Golden Ladies. She is saving to buy more land to expand her farming activities.

Balanced diet

Ms Nancy Kirui, a dairy farmer, says she no longer feeds her cows on Napier grass alone, but has identified more nutritious lucerne, calliandra and dried Kikuyu grass.

“The knowledge that calliandra provides the roughage that the dairy cows need to produce milk changed how I handle my cows. The realisation that even cows need a balanced diet has made me a wiser dairy farmer.

“Depending on the weather, I now get an average of 10 litres up from the previous two, which I sell to hotels in Nakuru town,” she says.

Ms Maureen Bahati, the Groots project officer, says that women in rural areas have little information on how to improve agricultural productivity despite having the capability to increase yields. “Rural women farmers concentrate more on subsistence farming than commercial farming. They do not know that whatever they have on their farms is actually wealth.

“We therefore sought to engage them on ways they can transform themselves into agricultural entrepreneurs. We have trained 2,700 women farmers in Nakuru County and they are now reaping the benefits,” she says.

She notes that rural farmers need access to agricultural information to increase their participation in crop and dairy production, which in the long term will boost the country’s food security.

Ms Pauline Maina, an officer with the Ministry of Agriculture, says it is only by helping women appreciate that farming is business that they can be freed from the vicious cycle of poverty. Ms Maina, who is a trainer in agribusiness, says rural women farmers, who make up the largest percentage of the workforce in the farms, are limited by the perception that agriculture is about food for the family.

“Women work hard in the farms but after harvesting they are quick to give out the produce without thinking much about the effort and the money they have invested in the production.

Experience and education

“Whatever is in their farms is their source of wealth. They must be able to make money out of it at all times,” she says.

In Kenya, women comprise 80 per cent of rural farmers, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. However, what they produce is little compared to the men and this can only improve if they have equal access to inputs and services, Ms Maina says.

FAO indicates that yields among women farmers could increase by nine to 24 per cent if they had the same experience, education and inputs as men.

[email protected]