Very often, fruit and vegetable farmers in the country have to grapple with greedy middlemen to market their produce.
The situation is no different in Laikipia County where passion fruit farming is considered lucrative, but farmers have long been unable to enjoy the full potential of their crop because of brokers’ price distortions.
“Fruits act as our bank account, helping cushion us from the ravages of drought that occasionally wipe out our maize and bean crops,” said Daniel Ng’ang’a, a passion fruit farmer.
Mr Ng’ang’a made an average Sh300,000 in profits last year from his orchard in the semi-arid region. He sold his harvest at Sh55 per kilo through brokers.
“We would make more money from this fruit if we reduced the involvement of middlemen or brokers and got access to more local and international markets. Currently, we have to sell our fruits through brokers who transport them to Nakuru or Nairobi,” he said.
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Ng’ang’a has an acre and a half of his four-acre farm in Karungu Bii under passion fruit. He recently purchased an additional three acres to increase the crop’s acreage as well as to grow avocados and mangoes.
His expansion plan was largely based on the entry of Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), an NGO working with farmers to provide market information, which has increased their hopes of earning more from their produce.
ALIN has initiated a market linkage project in the region, where farmers have been put in seven commodity groups to enhance their marketing channels.
“Organising farmers into commodity groups helps them bulk their produce, bargain collectively and negotiate for better prices. Economies of scale further reduce transportation and handling costs,” said ALIN Deputy Director Antony Mugo.
Through the organisation, farmers have been trained on group formation and dynamics, finance management, quality control and bulk marketing.
They have also been linked to the Horticultural Crop Development Authority (HCDA), the industry regulator, for training in production practices, standards and marketing.
The NGO has also helped connect farmers with Government extension officers for training in crop husbandry skills, while mobile technology has improved access to market information.
“Farmers only need to send a text to access our Soko Pepe platform to immediately access current commodity prices in various towns in the country,” said Mr Mugo.
Through the linkage initiative, passion fruit farmers are now able to access local and export markets.
“We have been able to sell our passion fruit to Kenya Fresh for export. The company was offering a better deal, buying our produce at Sh90 per kilo, compared to the Sh70 brokers were paying for the same quantity,” said Peter Muturi, the chairman of 60-member Sipili Passion Fruit Growers Self Help Group, one of the commodity groups.
“The removal of brokers is providing farmers with better prices, increasing their confidence in the fruit and the acreage under export-oriented crops.”
East African Growers has also shown interest in the county’s produce.
“We no longer have problems getting markets since we are linked with many buyers in bigger towns, such as Eldoret,” added Mwangi Muthee, the chairman of Olmutunyi Conservation Self Help Group.
Farmers have also been able to form a co-operative society to access micro-credit, and reduce their costs of production by buying fertiliser and other farm inputs in bulk at lower prices.
The groups’ biggest challenge now is battling the passion fruit disease, dieback.