For ten years now, Fred Masinde has practiced tomato and watermelon farming in his farm at Pinnacle area, Kanduyi Constituency in Bungoma County.
He rotates the two crops each planting season on his one acre farm in order to reap maximum benefits after his dalliance with maize and sugarcane gave him a string of losses while his other trade of selling clothes at the Bungoma open air market gave him minimal returns.
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.
“Getting the market has always been a problem, now as we speak if you visit any market in Bungoma you will find one tomato selling at sh10. When customers come here, be it from within or far they want to buy a tomato at sh.5. You cannot refuse because tomatoes are not like maize to be stored as you wait for market prices to improve,” says the farmer.
As a result Masinde has always desired to get direct market access and be able to sell his produce at a favorable price.
Almost a month ago, as he was moving up and down to attract customers to his farm, he was attracted by loud music outside a store in Kanduyi, on the outskirts of Bungoma town.
He moved closer and saw displays of tomatoes, Irish potatoes, cabbages and all manner of traditional vegetables.
The store referred to as Andy’s greens is being run by four young people, 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 now supplies 80 kilograms of tomatoes at the store.
At Andy’s Greens, they pay sh.50 per kilograms of tomatoes. That means every week, he is able to earn sh.4, 000 translating to sh.16, 000 per month. “Andy’s Greens have really assisted me.
Depending on weather patterns, 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 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 Sh.3, 000 to Sh 4,000, compared to when he was not working with Andy’s Greens when he earned between sh.1, 500 to Sh 2,500 weekly because of lack of consistent customers who could take his products in bulk.
With a ready market now, Masinde’s major challenge is depending on rainfall for his farming unlike other farmers in other parts of the Country.
“I urge the County Government of Bungoma to assist farmers to carry out irrigation agriculture rather than depending on rain, he says adding, “The reason why farmers in places like Mwea produce rice and tomatoes round the year is because they depend on irrigation farming.”
Andy’s Greens store is operated by four like-minded youth, Chris Mbaya, Faith Ndanyo, Ken Nyukuri and Andrew Wekunda, all 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 brainchild of their team leader Andrew Wekunda, who previously worked with the One Acre Fund, an Organization that assists farmers improve yields.
The store was opened in 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 at the height of Covid-19, we started deliveries to people’s homes that reached us through our Facebook page.
They soon ran out of Andrew’s stock at the farm and settled on making trips to various markets within the county, majorly Chwele market.
From his previous hustles, Andrew had bought a van, which they started using to move from one market to another to get fresh farm produce so as to satisfy their market.
However, they were not making any progress because the largest amount of their earnings went into fueling the van.
This was sorted when they decided to change their mode of operation and only focus on buying their products directly from farmers
“There was 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 including tomatoes, Irish potatoes, cabbage and traditional vegetables,” Faith Ndanyo said.
Chris says their intention has always been uplifting the farmer while supplying fresh produce to clients.
Different organizations are training farmers, providing inputs to them but they do not train farmers on how to sell their farm products. “Thus we came in to help the farmer get a ready market, Chris says.”
From their baby steps, they have managed to buy a lorry and employed two drivers whose role is to pick agricultural produce from farmers thereby saving the farmers the pain of 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 sh.20 from the farmer and sell it at sh.30. In most markets, the same size of cabbage goes for up to sh50. They buy a 100 kg bag of Irish potatoes at sh.1, 700 and sell it sh.2, 200.
“Our approach leans so much towards 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.
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 who agrees with Faith that the store is paying big time with daily sales ranging from sh.5000 to sh.20, 000 a day, thereby affording them to pay themselves a salary.
“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.
– By Kenya News Agency