By Peter Oliver Ochieng
For 10 years now, Fred Masinde has practiced tomato and water melon farming in his farm at Pinnacle area, Kanduyi Constituency in Bungoma County. He rotates the two crops each planting season in order to reap maximum benefits.
Initially, he grew maize and sugarcane but stopped after registering a string of loses, eventually settling on tomatoes and melons.
“I started with selling clothes at the Bungoma market. I then ventured into farming starting with sugarcane, before I moved onto maize but stopped due to poor prices,” said Mr. Masinde.
He does his farming on an acre piece of land. Over the years, Mr. Masinde like most of the farmers in the County, has relied on customers who visit his home during harvesting to buy his farm produce, mostly at low prices.
“The market has always been a problem. For example, now as we speak if you go to any market in Bungoma you will find that one tomato is Sh10. When customers come here; be it from within or far they want to by a tomato at Sh5. You cannot refuse because tomatoes are not like maize to be stored as you wait for market prices to improve,” says the farmer.
As such, over the years Fred Masinde toiled hard hoping that something drastic happens so that he gets market access and be able to sell his produce at a favorable price.
Almost a month ago, as he was moving up and down in a bid to attract customers to his farm, he was attracted by music outside a store in Kanduyi, few metres from Uwanja wa Ndege.
He moved closer and saw a display of tomatoes, Irish potatoes, cabbages and all manner of traditional vegetables. The store referred to as Andy’s Greens is being run by four youth, with an aim of providing market access to farmers in Western Kenya.
Mr. Masinde introduced himself as a tomato farmer and requested to know if he could supply his produce at the store. His wish was granted and every week, he supplies 80 kilograms of tomatoes at the store.
At Andy’s Greens, they pay Sh50 per kilogram of tomatoes. That means every week; he is able to earn Sh4, 000 from supplying his farm produce at the store. That translates to Sh16, 000 per month.
Depending with weather patterns, Mr. Masinde harvests his tomatoes twice a week. He can harvest up to 100 kilograms of tomatoes per week, and with 80 kilograms already taken up by Andy’s Greens, it becomes easy for him to sell the remaining 20 kilograms to his other clients.
“Andy’s Greens have really helped me. I now know that the moment I harvest, 80 kilograms of tomatoes are taken. They have given me a reason to continue working hard on my farm. Their payments are prompt,” he said.
He is now sure of a weekly profit margin of between Sh3, 000 to Sh4, 000, compared to when he was not working with Andy’s Greens when he earned between Sh1, 500 to Sh2, 500 weekly because of lack of customers who could take his products in bulk.
With a ready market now, Masinde’s major challenge is depending on rainfall to practice farming unlike other farmers in other parts of the Country.
“I urge the County government of Bungoma to assist farmers set up infrastructure for carrying out irrigation agriculture rather that depending on rain fed agriculture. The reason why farmers in places like Mwea produce rice and tomatoes across the year is that they depend on irrigation farming.”
Andy’s Greens store is operated by four like-minded youths namely; Chris Mbaya, Faith Ndanyo, Ken Nyukuri and Andrew Wekunda. All of them are University graduates.
Chris Mbaya did a course in hospitality management and tourism at the Cooperative University, graduating in 2018. Andrew Wekunda is a lawyer; Faith is a teacher while Ken Nyukuri studied business and commerce at the University.
According to Chris, Andy’s Greens is a brain child of their team leader Andrew Wekunda, who previously worked with the One Acre Fund Organization. Andrew initially knew the other three, making it easy for him to bring them together.
The store was opened in Bungoma mid 2020 purposely to have a place where farmers’ produce can be channeled at fair prices, before being moved on to consumers, said Chris.
“When we started, Andrew had a small farm where he had planted kunde. We used to pluck the kunde and hawk it in town. Later, we started deliveries to people’s homes who reached to us through our Facebook page. Remember we started operations at the time when the government had shutdown markets to prevent spread of COVID-19,” he said.
They soon ran out of Andrew’s stock at the farm and settled on making trips to various markets around, majorly the Chwele market. From his previous hustles, Andrew had bought a van which was key in helping them to move from market to market to get fresh farm produce so as to satisfy their market.
However, they were not moving forward because a big chunk of their earnings went into fuelling the van. After brainstorming, they decided to change their modus operandi and only focus on buying their products direct from farmers.
“There is a day we went out for field work to look for farmers and convince them to start supplying their produce to us at fair prices. We went all the way to Mt Elgon and spoke to farmers producing various products – tomatoes, Irish potatoes, cabbage and traditional vegetables,” says Faith Ndanyo.
“After they started selling to us directly, they slowly started doing away with brokers who for long had held them ransom when it came to pricing. That move made things better for the farmers because of a ready market, while for us it worked wonders because our clients could get fresh farm produce from us without having to go to major markets such as Chwele,” she adds.
Chris says their intention has always been uplifting the farmer while supplying fresh produce to “clients. The major thing was and remains giving farmers a ready market. Different organizations are training farmers, providing inputs to them but they do not train farmers on how to sell their farm products. We came in to help the farm get a ready market.”
They have created a network of farmers in Bungoma County. “Our network consists of over 10 farmers supplying different farm produce,” said Chris.
The farmer only needs to call them whenever he/she is planning to harvest. From the store, they have purchased a lorry and managed to employ two drivers whose role is to pick agricultural produce from farmers. This in turn does away with the costs a farmer would have incurred while transporting the produce to the market.
At Andy’s Greens store, prices are favorable to both the farmer and the consumer. For instance, they purchase a head of cabbage at Sh20 from the farmer and sell it at Sh30. In most markets, the same size of cabbage goes for between Sh40-Sh50.
They buy a 100kg bag of Irish potatoes at Sh1, 700 and sell it Sh2, 200. “Our prices lean so much on helping the farmer realize maximum benefits from his/her venture. The farmers we work with are happy because, for example those who sell potatoes know that after two to three days, we are ready to take about 70 bags from them,” insisted Faith.
“This has made some of them to even start thinking of how to expand their farms because of the ready market we have provided,” adds Chris.
Their biggest challenge, however, is the rough terrains they have to scale to and from farms to pick the produce. “Our lorry has broken down severally because of the bad roads especially to Mt Elgon, but that does not dampen our spirits,” said Chris.
Faith and Chris concurred that the store is paying big time. Their sales range from between from Sh5000 to Sh20, 000 a day.
“When we started, we had no salary but now there’s a salary at the end of the month. We have employed two drivers and four people for packaging, and all of them are on salary,” said Faith who is an English and Literature teacher.
She graduated from the Kibabii University in 2020, but has never thought about going to class to teach.
“Farming is not an ugly thing. It is never dirty and ugly. It is something easy that so many people can start without capital. Start with what you have. If you have a farm, start by farming, if you don’t have one, start by selling farm products from your area. Let us beautify farming.”