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Enterprise

Taita women farmers get lifeline amid Covid losses

Banana farmers carry their produce at Taveta sub-county in Taita Taveta County
Banana farmers carry their produce at Taveta sub-county in Taita Taveta County. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Women banana farmers in Taita Taveta County have faced following the outbreak of Covid-19. Without safe avenues to sell their produce, their produce is rotting in the farms.

This is because the restrictions imposed by the government have cut off access to key markets. The farmers who used to sell their produce in markets in Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale counties and within the Taita Taveta can no longer do so freely due to the restrictions.

However a company known as Mucho Mangoes Ltd has come to their rescue, helping them mitigate losses.

Mucho chief executive officer, Didas Mzirai said the pandemic has increased the burden on women who are now suffering due to lack of market for the produce.

Women farmers, he notes, have few opportunities to sell their fruits leading to surpluses which are now rotting in farms. This has affected the women’s ability to provide for their families.

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"We support our society's most vulnerable women by providing them with a ready and reliable market for their farm produce which was otherwise rotting in farms due to market disruptions brought about by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic," Mr Mzirai says.

"When tourist hotels were closed down, there was a market lost for our farmers. When employees lose their jobs, their food purchasing power is diminished, and that's a loss for the farmer. When major markets were closed down, that was another big loss for the farmers. But we are changing the narrative."

Last year, the company won the Sustainable Development Goals ambassador challenge, which is supported by the United Nations (UN) and implemented through ActionAid. Mucho was recognised for contributing to the achievement of SDGs by adding value to local produce, empowering farmers in reducing farm losses, increasing their income, creating job opportunities for youth and women.

More than 300 women banana farmers have benefited from the programme.

"Through the programme we are able to provide gendered access to opportunities to rural women farmers for them to cope and recover from this pandemic," he says.

The company has also distributed face masks, handwashing soaps and buckets to the farmers across Taveta Sub County. They have also conducted a series of awareness programmes across the sub county to sensitise residents on importance of adhering to health regulations on Covid-19 disease.

"We did this to equip residents with the materials, resources and education to enable the locals in rural Kenya to protect themselves and reduce the cases," he said.

The company that started in 2015 has also in the past been empowering rural smallholder farmers to produce best quality mangoes and banana fruits as well as help them reduce post-harvest losses.

"At Mucho mangoes we empower farmers by providing them with free training in pre and post-harvest handling skills. We also provide them with free organic pesticides and insect trappers to eliminate pets and diseases" he said.

He said the company has been in the forefront to ensure the farmers produce fruits that meet international standards.

"We help the farmers produce yields that meet global standards, eliminate food wastage by providing ready market and in the end improve their income," he said.

The company also buys fruits at favourable prices and add value to them. The company produces banana flour and baby weaning porridge. This is aimed at boosting farmers’ earnings.

A beneficiary, Ruth Mkawughanga tells Enterprise closure of markets have affected their agribusiness sector that used to fetch them an income.

"For many of us a whole season work is gone without any profit. Some of the banana plants have dried up because we gave up on the farms," she said.

Apart from lack of markets, the farmers have been incurring losses due to middle men who have been buying the produce at very low prices.

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