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    By George Munene

    The Farmer Service Center is made up of a network of over 300 agricultural extension workers in 12 counties that help farmers with the entire farm to market value chain. 

    Started in January 2020, through its extensive network FSC helps farmers source ready markets for their crops before they even begin work on their farms. This is extended to the marketing of their crops as well as helping farmers gain basic financial literacy. At the farm level, farmers are trained on proper agronomy and correct post-harvest handling practices.

    They also aggregate demand for products and services from disparate smallholder farmers—leveraging on the economies of purchasing in bulk to coordinate with agricultural service providers and have inputs delivered at the local level and at subsidised costs. These products and services include farm inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides, tractor tilling services, etc.

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    “It is comparatively cheaper to order for 100 bags of fertiliser than it is for two, similarly it is far more expensive to order tractor services to plough an acre as opposed to having 100 acres of farmland tilled,” explains Geoffrey Wanjala, Busia’s FSC Senior Agribusiness Cordinator.

    Farmers are able to source for most of their inputs from the comfort of their homes reducing the usual overheads they would incur in transport costs.

    The satellite FSCs also in turn help buyers mobilise agricultural commodities in bulk and from one central point reducing their logistics costs.

    “Our farmer service center persons work from their own homes, others have physical centers and mini agrovets at the grassroot level; helping bridge the market access gap for agro-input manufacturers who mostly just have sales representative interacting with local farmers,” Wanjala elucidates. 

    To keep the model running and have it be impactful, Geoffrey contends that FSC officials need mentoring to shift from previously being farming group leaders to become entrepreneurs; some have opened agrovets within their localities as well a cut from suppliers from the inputs supplied to farmers. They also get a token of appreciation from buyers whom they help source for produce. Through the TOT, training of trainers, partnership model with companies within the agricultural space FSCs get assistance in building their capacity to be more effective with their help to farmers.

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    Depending on their regions, Farmer Service Centre personnel are partly chosen for their specialisation in the agricultural value chain of the various crops. 

    The Farmer Service Network can also be accessed online through Facebook where farmers can acquire agribusiness solution tips, have answers to any agricultural questions and referred to the FSC officers available in their regions.

    Farmer Service Centre

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    By George Munene

    Affluent Farmers, a Njiru-based agriculture start-up is training farmers and buying back their mushrooms as well as giving them access to mushroom markets.

    Mushroom farming has risen in popularity because of its low starting up costs and requiring very little space to setup, the fungi is also a high-value crop with a kilo fetching up to Sh800.

    “The company’s birth a year ago was driven by the constant question we would get after sharing information on our journey in mushroom farming; mushrooms are lucrative but delicate crops and farmers often lack the right information on their growing and market linkages,” explains Ephantus Kibe, Affluent’s co-founder.

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    “We offer farmers standardised two days training at a cost of Sh3000. This entails giving them all the theoretical material they need and taking them through its growing process on our urban farm at Mwiki, Kasarani,” says Kibe. “We also follow up with our trained farmers by buying back their mushrooms as well as sourcing for and giving them access to markets and middlemen given our long-established contacts in the mushroom trade,” he adds.

    Mushrooms are sold in punnets; 250 gram containers that fetch between Sh100 and Sh200 each depending on variety and seasonality which drives demand. A two kilogram polythene bag can produce 600 grams of mushroom.

    The main varieties grown in Kenya are the oyster and button mushroom. Button mushrooms which are white or brown and are named for their button-shaped fruiting body have a higher demand amongst consumers for their familiarity with them and are perceived to have a better taste.

    “Like with most agricultural sectors, we have also been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; most spawn/ seed used to grow mushrooms is sourced from imports from South Africa which have been disrupted by the cessation of cross-border travel. This led to a spike in prices that has been counterweighed by the closure of hotels which make up our main markets,” Kibe says.       

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    For mushrooms, all a farmer needs is a grow house, spawn/seeds, substrate(mushroom feed)—this can be sawdust, straw, bean husks or any other agricultural waste that can form a bed mushrooms can feed on. One tone of sawdust can be used to feed 500 bags 2kg growing bags. The temperature inside the house needs to be kept between 18-25 °C and at humidity levels of 75 to 90%. This makes stone or mud houses ideal for growing mushrooms as, unlike iron sheet houses both the humidity and temperature within them are easily regulated.

    Other factors to consider are maintenance of high hygiene levels and having access to water that is used to lower temperatures in the grow house.

    Oyster mushrooms grow in one and a half months while buttons take two to two and a half months to harvest.  

    Affluent Farmers: 0756832065

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    17314899 colorful fruits and vegetables colorfully arranged at a local fruit and vegetable market in nairobi

    By George Munene
    According to agricultural commodity watchers, onions, tomatoes, potato and cabbage farmers are scheduled to benefit from surging prices in the coming weeks and months.
    This year has seen the best of times as it has the worst of times for Kenyan farmers. Agricultural produce prices have been driven by unaccounted for wrinkles; Covid-19 restrictions which curbed cross boarder travel curtailed imports of agriproducts leading to an unprecedented increase in prices across Kenyan markets. Erratic weather patterns which are bound to only further affect farming patterns going forward also wreaked havoc on anticipated supply patterns.
    “Farming is also becoming more speculative In Kenya, we are witnessing mass rushing into and out of agriculture that creates artificial bubbles rendering the usual seasonal price patterns difficult to decipher,” says Joshua Mamwaka, a wholesale trader at Muthurwa’s Wakulima Market.
    We try to forecast where and when the opportunities lie into the new year for Kenyan farmers.
    Onions prices hovered around Sh100-120 in April and May, a price Joshua has not seen since he started keeping track of commodity prices in 2015. In August, just three short months later, prices had fallen to a record low of Sh40 per kg, and when he thought the bottom had fallen out they fell even further to Sh34/kg in November. “Prices are just now beginning to rise with a kilogram back up to Sh40. With Tanzanian onions slowly receding from the Kenyan market—they now makeup about one-third of onions and are mostly small-sized with the large onions extinct and the preferred medium-sized onion hard to find. This is compared to mid-June when 80 per cent of the Kenyan onion market consisted of Tanzanian imports. I foresee prices climbing to between Sh50 and 60 for a kilogram in January and February and even above Sh60 over the March and April months when long rains start, “says Joshua.

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    The restriction in travel in March caused by Covid-19 saw a halt in the arrival of truckloads of Tanzanian onions that are preferred by Kenyan consumers because they are well dried and cured having a longer shelf life of up to two months compared to Kenyan onions which on average last just 1½ weeks.
    Tomato prices have also followed a similar pattern; farmgate prices hit a record Sh 80-100 per kilogram in February. This was largely caused by the December short rains which persisted into January and February. “This drove speculative farmers looking to cash in on the momentarily inflated prices into growing tomatoes. Kenyan traders also crossed the border into Tanzania at Kimana, Loitokitok bringing back trailer loads of tomatoes. This flooded the market causing prices to plummet to as low as Sh25 a kilogram, Sh 300 for a 30-kilogram bread crate. Tomatoes prices are however currently on the upswing over the past week owing to heavy rains—which are often accompanied by curtailed production— in tomato-producing regions.
    Potato farmers have experienced similar highs and subsequent lows; due to delayed rains which rot potatoes whilst they were still in the shamba in September the quantities of potatoes produced in the country fell and prices rose to Sh4000 for a 90-kilogram bag in October; a period traders expect the prices of potatoes to be at their lowest. The price of a 90kg bag of potatoes in the country usually ranges between Sh3000 and 2000. ”September prices are now being experienced in December with a 90 kg bag going for just Sh 2,100-2,400, a 20-kilogram bucket for Sh400— this is nearly half where prices were just a month ago. I expect prices to remain relatively stable at below Sh3000 up to mid to late January before gradually picking up before the heavy April rains,” Joshua elucidates

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    In July, cabbages in the market were in short supply; a large cabbage went for a wholesale price of Sh40. With their especially low barrier of entry, this saw many first time farmers take up cabbages. Markets have since been overwhelmed; an extra-large 4kg cabbage goes for Sh15 and traders are still struggling to find buyers. The woes of cabbage farmer have further been compounded by the prolonged part-closure of eateries, schools and other institutions which make up the bulk buyers of cabbages. “With the opening of schools and the usual January to February dry season which sees little agricultural production given our farmer’s dependence on rains, I would have readied my field in anticipation of fetching better prices over this period, ” Mamwaka says.
    Garlic farmers are amongst the few with a reason to smile this festive season; local/ kienyeji garlic has held at artificially high prices—Sh300 per kilogram—over the last two weeks, though prices are steadily self-correcting back to Sh200/kg. A kilogram of imported garlic, 80 percent of which comes from China, with the rest from Tanzania and Ethiopia, goes for Sh250 per kg. “The arrival of containers of Chinese imported garlic at Mombasa, prices can shift prices by Sh30 less for Kenyan garlic farmers,” Joshua explains. Garlic prices are usually at their highest from March to May when China and the rest of the world’s garlic supply is at its lowest. Prices were at Sh300 per kilogram between these months before halving to Sh150 between June and July and rising again.

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