Kibuye food market, Rwanda.
food market

The Kenyan food market is largely informal, with farmers selling their produce to middlemen who in turn sell it at open-air markets.

The model has been blamed for the sale of unsafe food and impoverishing farmers since the middlemen buy produce at low prices.

The traders who visit farms, for instance, buy a kilo of tomatoes at 30 shillings (0.3 U.S. dollars) only to sell at triple the price.

Kenyan small farmers, who produce the bulk of food consumed in the east African nation, are however keen to change this trend.

The farmers are joining hands to form small cooperatives and associations through which they are accessing formal market.

Milk, vegetable, tomato, honey, French beans, eggs and mushroom producers are some of those who are coming together to bulk their produce and sell to the formal market.

The farmers are selling their produce to supermarkets, hotels, schools, hospitals and government agencies as they are now able to raise the quantities of supplies required.

Moses Ikonya is a member of Mushroom Growers Association of Kenya and through the entity, they are selling their produce to two leading supermarkets and international hotels in Nairobi.

“We have 120 members spread in different parts of the country. We formed the association to boost the welfare of our members, including by accessing market,” said Ikonya.

Through the association, they bulk their produce, ensuring that they can meet orders required by the various customers.

“Each week we need 300kg of mushrooms to supply to the various clients. One farmer cannot manage such an order thus our coming together is a blessing,” he said.

The group sales their produce at 8 dollars a kilo, with a punnet going at 1.7 dollars.

In the informal market, a kilo of mushrooms goes for 5 dollars.

All their members grow the button variety, with Ikonya saying no one is allowed to do the contrary.

“We also ensure that our members grow quality and safer mushrooms. This way we cannot lose the market,” said Ikonya, adding members part with 10 dollars annually for membership and 5 dollars for registration.

To guarantee the quality, the association trains its members on production, imports spawns (seeds) from South Africa for them, facilitates access to growing media (substrate) and looks for the market at various retail outlets.

“It may be harder for a single small farmer to do all these but through the group, work become easier,” he said.

For tomato farmer Vincent Wesonga, they formed a trading company comprising four people, through which they supply tomatoes, traditional vegetables and onions to two supermarkets in Nairobi.

The farmer, who grows the crop on a leased farm in Emali, South of Nairobi, said they also buy produce from other farmers and sale.

“The formal market offers better prices because consumers are guaranteed of quality,” he said.

A farmer, however, needs to have the cash to cater for operations costs since payment is done at the end of the month or quarterly.

“Most farmers have clung to the informal market because they sale in cash and are paid instantly but while they get the money, they barely make any profit,” he said.

Wesonga, a trained banker, said selling farm produce in the formal food market portends a bright future for farmers.

“Most consumers are now health-conscious and are searching for quality produce, which can be found in supermarkets or formal food stores. In the near future, if you would not be selling your produce to the formal market, then you won’t sale as it happens in developed countries because consumer trends are changing,” he said.

Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy, said cooperative societies and associations are the future of farming in Kenya.

“The Kenyan farmer started with the cooperatives in the 60s and 70s but years of mismanagement saw them collapse. The farmers have largely been farming individually but the associations are coming back and the good thing is that those who are forming them now are friends,” she said.

The associations have over the years have been used to access the export market, according to her. Enditem

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