John Mbabu from Meru county has been growing sorghum and beans among other crops in his eighth of an acre piece of land.
Despite investing a lot on the farm, the yields were low and he almost gave up. To pile up the misery, getting access to the market has always been a challenge.
However, a new project to help farmers like him get access to the markets couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Stitch in Time project supports small holder farmers to do farming as a business by making them attractive partners to financiers for input financing, agro input suppliers and crop insurance among others.
"Getting a market for my sorghum and beans was a challenge. Though it is my first time under the project, I am already enjoying bumper harvest and ready market for my produce,” Mbabu said.
Ruth Kinoti, the managing director of Shalem Investment Ltd in Meru, started the Stitch in Time project, where she buys cereals from farmers at a good price and looks for a market for their produce.
"The prospect of touching many local farmers’ lives and reviving their hope through guaranteed market for their produce is what motivated me to venture into full time agri-business,” Kinoti said.
She says the desire to change people's lives gave her the courage to quit her teaching job after 12 years and start the project.
The 50-year-old’s efforts have not been in vain. She won the coveted International Rabobank Agribusiness Incubator Award, which was presented to her last year at the EMRC Forum.
Her business model was voted the most effective in transforming rural small holder farmers.
She was recently named the first Kenyan female recipient of a FoodTrade grant after successfully pitching her innovative ‘A Stitch in Time’ project.
Kinoti says the project “stitches” together all the main actors —farmers, aggregators, traders and buyers — in the agribusiness value chain.
"It creates a unique mechanism for facilitating collective marketing for small holder farmers so as to increase the volume of high quality target produce in the regional market,” she says.
So far, more than 7,000 farmers have benefited from the project. “We are in partnership with FoodTrade in order to increase the number to 20,000 farmers by end of 2017,” Kinoti said.
"Registration into the Foodtrade-funded programme is absolutely free. The only requirement is willingness to raise standards of the produce traded. Farmers who will improve their quality standards will earn well for an extra effort,” she said.
Kinoti adds that she is still grappling with the challenge of identifying markets and mobilising farmers to produce more amid ‘false notions, political scepticism, competition and cartels’.
Kinoti says they want to create a platform where farmers can process and sell grains and legumes to be able to earn more.
She is planning to increase her warehouse capacity from the current 2,000 tonnes and has already bought a 15-acre piece of land where she intends to put up a mobile grain dryer and cleaner.
"My dream is to help farmers have their own dependable stores in the near future so that it will be possible to institute warehouse receipting system. I also hope to work with farmers from all counties in Kenya,” she says.