Small-scale horticultural farmers in Nyandarua have found a home in co-operative societies, which have opened a door to improved returns from crops they only previously cultivated for lack of better alternatives.
The newly formed societies operated for decades as self-help and merry-go-round groups of between 10 and 15 members.
Even then, the majority of them confess they had a hard time raising the weekly and monthly contributions, but now have no problem and can afford making contributions, mainly through deductions.
Despite a long list of the challenges farmers expect county and national governments to address, some of the cooperative societies are on the journey to becoming horticultural produce exporters.
They have successfully used the movement to secure guaranteed markets through contract farming with minimum price per commodity. The contracted farmers have specialised in snow peas, sugar snaps, garden peas and Irish potato varieties guided by the buyers.
“Co-operative movements have made it easier for the growers to access funding from financial institutions that find it easier to deal with co-operators than individual small-scale farmers,” said Nyandarua County Government Trade and Co-operative executive member Ms Muthoni Wamuiya.
Her department is involved in lobbying for soft loans for the cooperative society members from Tower Sacco Limited.
“Our ultimate desire is to have every farmer belong to a cooperative society. It is impossible to address individual farmer resource needs and address market challenges, but it is very easy under the cooperative movement,” said Ms Wamuiya.
Ms Wamuiya says 30 farmer self-help groups have converted to cooperative societies and her department is in the process of assisting and facilitating registration for others. Ms Sofia Nduta, a farmer from Mutamaiyu Village in Gathara Ward of Kinangop Constituency, is all smiles as she narrates how she sells her Irish potatoes at between Sh35 and Sh58 per kilo, while her neighbours sell a 150kg bag at between Sh600 peak season and Sh2,500 in scarcity.
She is a member of Mwendi Kurima Co-operative Society that started in 2002 as a farmer self-help group and then registered as a cooperative society last year.
The society chairman Mr David Muriithi says the movement has attracted and registered 350 new members after converting to a cooperative society. The members specialise in carrots, cabbages, sugar snap and garden peas for export markets.
Currently, the members have contracts with four exporters: Sereni buying Dutch Robin and Makis Irish potato varieties at Sh35 per kilogramme, Flamingo buying snap and garden peas, Taimba buying Shangi potato variety and Twiga exporters buying cabbages from the growers.
Ms Nduta has been a farmer since 2008 when she moved to the village to reside in a rental house with her three daughters. She then leased a half-acre piece of land where she did farming whose income barely met the cost of production, forcing her to do casual jobs to support her family. Ms Nduta eventually got a breakthrough last year after the formation of Mwendi Kurima Co-operative Society. From potato contract farming, Ms Nduta early in this year bought a quarter acre portion of land at Sh300,000, increased leased land from half an acre to two acres and comfortably paid school fees for her two daughters in secondary school.
At Geta village in Kipipiri Constituency, Ms Julia Waweru, a member of the 120- member Aberdare Fresh Produce Co-operative Society, says joining the movement has helped the farmers increase their production with access to funding for farming activities.
“The society was started in 2014 with the intention of bringing together the farmers to engage in export market farming. We are contracted by Jade Fresh Limited to grow sugar snap, snow peas and garden peas for the export market” said Ms Waweru.
The chairperson Mr John Maina says the society is a combination of four self-help groups. “Registration of a co-operative movement has made it easier to get the support of the county government through agribusiness training, agronomy services, access to funding and subsidized fertilizer price. We are among self-help groups assisted by the government to register as a company,” said Mr Maina.
With support from the county government, society has increased horticultural produce from 100 tonnes a week to 300 tonnes between last year and this year.
“We are now looking at the export market. We are in the process of acquiring the export license, the journey has started and the trade and the cooperative department is guiding and supporting us,” said Mr Maina.
He said with contract farming, a grower is sure of the market including quality and quantity to produce. The buyer is offering Sh100 for garden peas and Sh130 for the sugar and snow peas.Like other co-operators, Mr Maina says with the export licences, the society will overcome static markets for horticultural products due to perishability. The farmers want the county and national governments to support them in construction of more collection centres with park houses, grading sheds with improved roads.
But the journey towards having the much-needed park house is likely to start in October when the county government supported by donors start construction of a Sh1 billion cold storage facility in Ol Kalou town. In May, Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia signed for the project with a German investor, Badische Anilin-und Soda-Fabrik (BASF), and the Kenya Investment Authority.