In 2009, Beatrice Nkatha decided to start a firm that would be instrumental in boosting the livelihood of Tharaka-Nithi County residents through growing of sorghum.
With just 40 growers when it began, her firm, Sorghum Pioneer Agency, has since grown to serve 14,000 farmers, making it one of the largest suppliers of sorghum to East African Breweries Limited.
Now the sorghum revolution has swept villages in Tharaka-Nithi, reducing poverty levels in the process.
The residents, especially women, now enjoy financial independence, says Ms Nkatha.
“It was a very humble start for us and it is hard for anyone to believe how far we have grown,” says Ms Nkatha in an interview.
“This firm has helped this region to grow and beat the poverty that was rampant before.”
Ms Nkatha says farmers’ earnings have been growing from Sh17 per kilo in 2009 to hit Sh30 currently, with the combined revenue for all the 14 farmers standing at Sh120 million on average in a season.
Farmers harvest a total of 4,000 tonnes in a good year, according to Ms Nkatha, who says the crop has revolutionised the economy of Tharaka-Nithi. When the firm started, farmers were doing land preparations manually and threshing sorghum using bare hands. Now they use modern methods.
“We have mechanised our activities and farmers can now access tractors and threshing machines after harvesting their crop,” she says.
Also, she points out, previously farmers would take a whole day thrashing a single bag but this has changed with the introduction of the machine that has seen farmers generate 300 bags of sorghum daily.
The firm advances loan to farmers in form of farming implements or even cash to meet their immediate needs with the money recovered after the crop has been harvested.
Ms Nkatha is a beneficiary of African Women Agribusiness Network Afrika (AWAN-Afrika) where women are trained on good agricudltural practices to make the most out of their venture.
AWAN-Afrika held its first continental meeting in Nairobi last week bringing together women from 25 countries who forms this network.
Through this forum, Ms Nkatha was introduced to women agripreneurs from across Africa and also connected to markets in the region, a move that has helped to grow her business.
She has also been a mentor to other women applying the knowledge she acquired from training offered by AWAN-Afrika.
AWAN-Afrika executive director Beatrice Gakuba says the key focus of the organisation is to open up market access to women beyond their country borders following the coming into effect of Africa Continental Free Trade Area.
“The objective of our body is to create awareness among women and take them to a new world market of 1.2 billion people where they can sell their produce following the coming into effect of continental trade free area,” says Ms Gakuba.
AWAN-Afrika has partnered with Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation under the campaign dubbed ‘value4her’ to develop a data base for women entrepreneurs and buildg a knowledge base on the performance of women-led agribusiness.
“The project addresses the challenge of poor access of women to finance by providing competitive innovation fund to enhance linkages between women-led agribusiness,” says Ms Sabdiyo Dido, senior technical advisor value chain and agribusiness.
Increased demand for beer has lifted production of sorghum seed in the country with ready market for the produce through contractual farming. This has turned around the fortunes of the crop that had once been abandoned.
A market report by Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK) shows that high demand for industrial use of sorghum has seen seed firms increase more variety in the market since 2015 with production also going up.
STAK says the market share for the top four sorghum seed companies has steadily increased from 81 percent in 2013 to 95 in 2017.