A group of five single women who benefitted from organic farming training have managed to build two day care schools in Ruiru at a cost of Sh700,000 with the proceeds from supplying fresh produce to traders at Nairobi’s Wakulima Market.Having fled their different homes following harassment from male siblings because of their marital status, the women found common bond in their woes, and decided to look for part-time jobs.
It was then they heard of a free organic farming course in a nearby shopping centre. Not knowing where to apply the knowledge they would acquire, since they had no land to farm, they nonetheless decided to attend.
The training opened opportunities for them when a member of the micro finance institution Jamii Bora floated the idea that the women join the MFI. Surviving on casual labour from well wishers, the women managed to save money through the MFI, and after two years of saving decided to take a loan to jointly buy land. They put up a modest shelter and concentrated the rest of the land on organic farming.
“Its never easy when you are starting, especially when you are not sure of the future of your investment, but the fear of what we might lose if we relaxed on this one kept pushing us forward even when the odds were against us,” said Miss Wanjohi, one of the five women. Seven years on, the five are now among the largest suppliers of fresh organic produce to Nairobi’s biggest fresh produce market.
Specializing in the farming of cereals, avocado, passion fruit, kale and pawpaw, the business has been fuelled by ballooning demand in recent years, with customers’ health awareness of fruits and vegetables also pushing up the prices of these commodities.
A 50kg bag of kale that sold for around Sh500 two years ago, now fetches twice that, while the price of passion fruit and pawpaw has moved from Sh1,000 in 2008 to between Sh3500 and even Sh4500 per 57 kg bag.
“On average, and during a good harvest, we manage to supply 10 to 20 bags of various commodities per week, and the demand keeps on soaring,”said Miss Waituika, another of the five women in the group.
However, success has rested on constant improvement. The women had to diversify after an over reliance on cereals failed to deliver the projected returns. More recently, the rising cost of hiring casual labourers and the need for faster and more efficient farming techniques has seen them hiring farming equipment from local equipment stores.
“We had a serious re think of the whole farming process and while hiring casual labourers was also a way of assisting the rest of the less fortunate in our area, we realized that we were in business, and
if we were to stay afloat we had to keep revising our strategies to position ourselves at per with our competitors.That’s how we arrived at the decision to start hiring farming equipment, which we have realized are very cost effective. We also hire some of our former casual labourers as loading and unloading personnel,” said Miss Wanjohi.
With the growing output, the group was also forced to abandon the hiring of pick ups to get its produce to different markets, which was becoming expensive, and instead pooled resources, and with the help of Krep Bank bought a truck and a pick up of its own.
But their biggest breakthrough came with their decision to invest in another area altogether. In 2007 they approached Equity Bank with an idea to build a day care centre, through a loan that they are still repaying. They bought land and built what has now become a favourite day care centre in Ruiru: St Joseph, the worker day care and nursery.
The success in enrollment numbers has motivated the group to start another day care centre that they also want to expand to a primary school. “It’s not a Cinderella story as it might sound, we have
struggled to convince the banks and others who had shown support that we can sustain these day cares. It was also hard to get prime land in a strategic area in Ruiru.
Our next project, which includes another day care and primary school with lower classes for starters, which we intend to open officially in June, has been birthed by our belief that investing in education for our people is important, so that no one has to be kicked out of their homes like we were,” said Miss Wanjohi.
The group supplies the food for the daycare centre from its farms, and the high enrollment figures ensure teachers are well paid and basic school needs met. The daycare has a total of 150 children, with Miss Catherine Warigia, who happens to be Miss Wanjohi’s only daughter,
The group now intends to roll out its food supplies to other major fresh produce markets in the country, including Nakuru and Mombasa, buoyed by its success at the competitive Wakulima market with over 1000 traders feeding Nairobi’s more than 3 million residents.
“We have competed with suppliers who have big farms and our produce has always attracted the traders. We have never had any day when our trucks have returned with produce after they failed to be bought. We feel the time is ripe for us to move and capture the other markets,” said a confident Miss Waituika.
By Bob Koigi
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