The road from Eldoret to Kitale is lined with a succession of farms and little villages. In this region in Western Kenya, not too far from the Ugandan border, farmers are busy tending their fields. While some of the farms are big and mechanized, most plots are small and the work is done by hand by the farmers and their families.
In Wamuini Soko Huru, a village at the end of a dirt road outside Kitale, a group of farmers is sitting inside a one-room house. They are all members of the same association and they have sold some of their maize to the World Food Programme for the first time as part of the Purchase for Progress pilot initiative.
On that April day, specialists from the World Food Programme were there to provide additional training and answer questions. Teresia Karanja sold WFP 30 bags of maize she and her husband have grown on their small piece of land nearby. In the past, she used middlemen to market her food. Middlemen traditionally purchase food from small-scale farmers and sell it in local markets or to magari -truck traders- who transport it to urban areas. The result: the prices farmers get for their crops can vary a lot and do not necessarily reflect real market value. “I got a fair price this time”, said Karanja of the food she sold to WFP.
Offering farmers prices that reflect the market accurately is important, but the Purchase for Progress initiative achieves a lot more.
A few kilometers away, in Mukuyu, a WFP truck is parked in front of a small granary built with wide wood planks and a tin roof in the backyard of a farmer’s house. Inside, bags of maize are picked up and loaded onto the truck. The food is going to WFP’s warehouse in Eldoret and will be used in the agency’s programs in the region.
David Gitau is standing right next to the truck, pen and notepad in hand, making sure everything goes smoothly. He’s the chairman of the Jipe Moyo Self Help Group, a farmer’s association that has 62 members, all of them small-scale farmers with plots ranging from about a half to a little over 2 hectares. As a group, they have decided that joining the Purchase for Progress pilot programme would be good for them. “We learned how to clean the maize properly and received training to improve the overall quality of our food,” said Gitau. As he puts it, “cleaner food equals better prices”. Better handling also reduces post-harvest losses, which in Kenya can be as high as 30% of the production.
Training Farmers to Help Them Access Structured Markets
Training is one of the key elements that define the Purchase for Progress initiative. “Farmers are trained on how to keep their records, how to handle their commodities after harvest, how to store them and how to access good markets using market price information” explains Rosemary Babu, who oversees the programme for WFP in the area. She adds that sharing market information with farmers is essential because they mostly depend on the price the middleman offers them.
“We are training them to be experts in the market and we emphasize the need to have storage facilities because if each farmer has a few bags at his granary, no large buyer will be attracted by that,” says Peter Kimotho, WFP Purchase for Progress specialist based in Nairobi. “They need to come together, have a storage facility, bring their commodities together and that way they will be able to attract large markets which will be able to purchase from them at fair prices.”
The government of Kenya supports the initiative and the Cereals Growers Association, a farmers organization that has partnered with WFP, provides additional training to Purchase for Progress farmers. “They have to learn and follow post-harvest handling standards, but even more importantly, Kenyan farmers have to learn the benefits of working together”, says Michael Otieno, a field officer with the Cereals Growers Association. He is convinced that by pooling resources and improving the quality of the food they produce, small-scale farmers will be able to access bigger, more structured markets.
While WFP is using Purchase for Progress as an additional tool to increase the quantities of food bought locally and used in its programmes, the ultimate goal of this project is to help small-scale farmers adopt a sustainable business model for their trade and move away from subsistence agriculture.
In Kenya, Purchase for Progress began as a pilot project in 2009. “In the Eldoret region, we had 7 very active groups for the past three years, explains WFP’s Rosemary Babu. “We have registered new associations and we are now purchasing food from 33 groups.” In the whole country, WFP aims to work with approximately 10,000 farmers by the end of 2013.
Babu says there are many success stories. Farmers appreciate working with a structured market, and in her numerous trips to the field, she has seen people who went from farming one to more than 4 acres and they’re still expanding.