Kisumu widows mint fortunes from traditional vegetables
Agroup of farmers in Nyamasaria within Kisumu East sub-county, Kisumu County is leading the frontier in horticulture farming, an agribusiness which is transforming lives.
The farmers under the umbrella of Awuoth Women Community Based Organisation (CBO) have discovered a niche in growing traditional leafy vegetables as a commercial venture.
Established in 2010, the group brings 500 smallholder farmers, majorly middle-aged widows who have a common purpose of championing agricultural productivity locally.
The farmers comprise of 400 women and 100 youth below 29 years old largely drawn from communities in East and Central Kolwa wards, growing cowpeas (kunde), green amaranth (terere), spider plant (saga) and black night shade (managu), and a bit of kales and spinach to substitute the supply locally.
The social enterprise aims to empower the farmers to produce the vegetables to increase households’ income, access diverse foods for their dietary needs, as well as promote food security.
The caucus chairperson Yuanita Hongo says the women are economically empowered and they can support their families comfortably.
Half of the women are widows who initially struggled to fend for their families.
Notably, she says their activities have significantly contributed to food sufficiency and transformed living standards in the area.
“Basically, the group originated from a merry-go-round initiative that focused on HIV/Aids advocacy among some of our members and the community. We also aimed to fight poverty, which is prevalent in the area,” Hongo recalls.
The farming enterprise, however, did not look promising, especially at the onset, but it later gradually cascaded to cover other farmers who developed interest.
“The farmers were able to enhance their production after being convinced that vegetables can fetch good income. Many developed interest to come on board,” she says.
The farmers produce three seasons in a year, with each member producing vegetables on an eighth of an acre and deliver their harvest at the group’s aggregation centre where they get paid per kilogramme on delivery.
For instance, the CBO buys a kilogramme of cowpeas, managu and saga at Sh20, Sh30 and Sh40 respectively, and distributes it to available markets, including vendors, walk-in customers, nearby schools and hospitals.
Alternatively they are offered market links nearby to sell their vegetables.
The group has also entered an agreement with a business outlet at Mega City mall dealing in fresh agricultural produce where it supplies vegetables twice a week.
The group undertakes value addition by drying surplus vegetables, which are preserved using a solar drier and fabricated charcoal cooling unit, to be sold later.
The remaining stock is washed, cut, blanched, solar-dried, weighed and packed in polythene bags for sale.
With the innovative interventions, Awuoth Women CBO is able to preserve the collected vegetables through drying and cooling to increase their shelf life, as well as maintain nutritional value.
In this way, the group has also been able to greatly reduce post-harvest losses for the farmers hence enabling them to maximise on their earnings.
“The interventions have helped cut down post-harvest losses. Initially the farmers were losing a lot of money, because much of their produce got spoilt and was thrown away for lack of buyers,” Hongo says.
So far, the acres under the vegetables in the wards have increased from 65 to 284 acres as more farmers have continue to join the venture. “We buy from farmers and pay them promptly. This has motivated them to increase the acreage of land under the traditional vegetables production,” she states.
For easy coordination, the farmers are classified into10 clusters.
“We have demo sites at each cluster, which we use to train the farmers. They are also trained on agri-nutrition and to this end the message has reached many households, which is promoting healthy feeding,” Hongo says.
And to ensure sustainable agricultural production, the farmers not only rely on rain-fed agriculture, but also practice irrigation farming.
“We are able to practice irrigation during dry spells, because most of our farms are strategically placed along the river belts,” she adds.
Averagely, the group generates between Sh32,000 and Sh40,000 in a month.
Part of the income is invested in the group’s savings and loaning kitty, where members acquire loans to grow their agribusinesses. They get loans from the group revolving fund kitty, depending on the amount of their shares. Last month, approximately Sh 500,000 was disbursed in loans. The highest loan to have been given out to a member is Sh200,000.
“The money we get from our individual farms and at the group level is ploughed back to keep the venture afloat. In doing this, members have been able to increase their acreage of production and grow earnings over the years,” she explains.
Jerusa Odhiambo, a member of the group, says the farming activities have turned around members’ fortunes.
Odhiambo notes that a significant economic transformation has been experienced in the entire community since the inception of the agribusiness.
She is glad that the long overlooked, indigenous greens are now capturing global attention for their nutritional and environmental benefits, which gives her hope.
The indigenous vegetable is gaining favour across the world due to its richness in iron, which is important for body development, anf for breastfeeding mothers, it enhances the production of milk.
Saga can yield 100 bags of leaves and one bag of seeds per acre of land. The crop is ready for harvesting within 45 days after sowing.
According to research by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the vegetables yield better with organic manure than with artificial fertilisers.